April 9, 2020
Dear Parishioners and Friends:
In a few hours we will open the Paschal Triduum 2020 and, while it’s historically a very different experience for most of the world this year, it continues to exist nonetheless as the liturgical heartbeat of the Universal Church for the entire year! No Coronavirus threat or sanctioned containment alters that truth firmly held by Catholics who remain in their homes for these yearly festivities. Again, this year’s “arrangement” is not an ideal way of ushering in the Easter event but it remains our temporary and sad reality at this time and all of us are challenged to make the best of it and keep our eyes and hearts firmly fixed on the Lord’s Suffering, Death and Glorious Resurrection.
That said, I would like to review some essential elements of our faith about these holiest of hours on our annual liturgical calendar called the sacred Paschal Triduum celebration.
- The Lenten observance officially ends when we open the Triduum as the sun goes down on Holy Thursday.
- The upcoming three movements/ceremonies (Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, and the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night) make up a theological unity, but in three distinct parts. For that reason parish families, under normal circumstances and certainly unlike this year, are encouraged to participate in all three movements because faith integrity is best expressed in the three distinct movements together.
- The real difference between sacred drama and theatrics in our liturgical actions. For the record, I love theatre as much as the next person, but sacred liturgy is not the venue for theatre. Sacred drama plays out in each movement of the Triduum but liturgy is not show time. The goal of good liturgy for us is full participation of our minds and hearts in the mysteries that enliven us. There is a wholesome desire in all liturgical execution for genuinely beautiful and meaningful rendition but not at the risk of rendering cultic worship as empty reenactments or simply putting on airs of performance. A good example of this principle would be evidenced in the frequently misunderstood albeit powerful gesture of washing feet during the Holy Thursday Mass; it’s not a “play” demonstrating Jesus washing the feet of His disciples two thousand years ago. Instead, the ritual act signifies the disciples of the Lord TODAY faithfully embracing His new commandment of love and service by washing the feet of others.
- There is healing in ritual act, especially as seen in the role of therapeutic repetition. This is true in everyday life, like the way we make ourselves “presentable” each morning or in our nighttime rituals. However, in the realm of sacred liturgy, our spiritual healing is accomplished by Jesus, the Doctor of our souls through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in His Church. The annual celebration of the Paschal Triduum traces strong lines of spiritual health and wellness in the hearts of participants who are called to be co-partners of redemption and not just spectators of these saving events.
All these elements remain intact this year, even as we are challenged to “virtually” participate in the Church’s liturgy because of physical distancing measures in place. My fervent hope is that our households will utilize the particular worship aids available in their email inbox or on the parish website and bring their loved ones together in prayer in the home, along with joining me and others in the live-streaming of the sacred ceremonies.
Easter joy, power and newness of life flow from the Paschal Triduum celebration and spill over to the bright day of Easter Sunday itself, then through the Easter Octave (the first eight days of solemnity) and finally for a period of 50 days concluding the Paschal festivities with the Solemnity of Pentecost on 31 May 2020. I will take up this subject matter next week in another communication. Until then, let’s engage ourselves in prayer and praise in celebrating the head of our Christian calendar in the upcoming sacred hours and days. Strengthened by these annual events (the inciting cause of being an Easter people) we witness our faith, hope and charity to the world.
Finally, it is ironic that Holy Week 2020, a time for Christians to focus on the redemptive Suffering, life-giving Death and glorious Resurrection of the Savior, has been earmarked as potentially the most deadly time of our Country’s fierce battle against the raging COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s be mindful, then, of those serving us on the combat zone frontlines locally, in West Virginia, around our Country and throughout the globe and hold them in constant prayer. As well, let us remember those who have died from the Coronavirus and commend them to Christ, the Victor over eternal death. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
The voice of the Church, expressed in the Entrance Antiphon of Holy Thursday’s Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, now calls all of us to join our minds and hearts in opening the Paschal Triduum 2020 as a parish family of St. Francis de Sales scattered around greater Morgantown but gathered in our respective homes and always united in holiness and Gospel-mandated mission. The words, taken from St. Paul’s Letter to Galatians are indeed timely and touching for us: “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.” Cf. Gal 6,14
Please know of my love, prayers and moral support as we contemplate the magnificence of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery in calling all of us out of death into newness of life.
Yours in Christ,