About five weeks ago, the liturgy planning committee gathered to review the details of Holy Week, the period from Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion thru Easter Sunday. The folks on the liturgy committee are talented and dedicated folks that include every aspect of the celebrations: environment/décor, lectors, altar servers, choir/music, ushers, greeters, communications, faith formation, and the celebrants – priests and our deacon. Holy Week is a wonderful week of diverse, holy and meaningful celebrations which take the community from the high of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to the lows while hearing the reading of the Passion, to an exultant chorus – He is risen!! – on Easter Sunday. It is a rollercoaster of emotion, music, readings, and grandeur.
One of the hallmarks of Sacred Heart’s celebration of Holy Thursday, something that set us apart, was our Eucharistic procession. The procession is part of the Rite in which all the hosts consecrated during the Mass are processed solemnly to the Altar of Repose. In our church it is the St. Ignatius altar. And there during the hours until midnight, parishioners waited and prayed with Jesus, remembering his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Our procession, while solemn, left the church and traveled through the downtown area of Twiggs, Franklin and Madison before returning to the altar of repose. It is a very moving and public display of our faith – with parishioners active in movement, praise and song. The first year we processed this way, a religious sister wrote to say in all her many years of celebrating Holy Thursday, it was the most moving experience of all. It has been as moving every year.
But it will not take place this year. While we will livestream the Mass beginning at 7 p.m. on Holy Thursday, we will not have the public procession. It feels as though there is something missing. It is an odd feeling celebrating Mass in an empty church. There is something missing. While there will be the celebrants, readers, cantors, musicians, and the technical production team necessary to celebrate, the Mass is not allowed to be open to the faithful. Things change, as we all well know.
Five weeks ago, we planned to celebrate as we always had, to choreograph the movements, to ride the currents and rhythms of Holy Week with you: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. We were even planning on a 6 a.m. Easter Sunday Mass to help alleviate the intense crowdedness of the Sunday Masses. But you know what? We still plan to ride the currents and rhythms of Holy Week with you! It is just that the plan is different this year. Very different. A page or two later in this bulletin is a great article describing Holy Week and pointing to some differences this year.
As we have livestreamed several Sunday Masses this Lent, we have received lots of compliments, thank you’s, and expressions of how much it meant to the viewer to be part of their parish Mass and not simply viewing any online Mass. While as nice as those Masses may be, professionally produced, artfully celebrated, it’s not the same. It is missing the “family” of Sacred Heart.
One of the great notes we received came from our amazing and faithful Young Professionals. They gathered in small groups to be fully active and participate in the Mass. While in the church during the live stream, we had the call – “The Lord be with you,” the full throated “And with your Spirit” was missing. Not with the Young Professionals. They stood at the entrance procession, sang the opening hymn, answered the call with the response, sat for the readings, knelt during the Eucharistic prayer, and so much more.
While we are missing many things in the rituals this year, there is no need for you to miss out on full, active participation in the Mass: stand, sit, kneel, respond, pray, and sing! But all this points out a great opportunity for everyone at home. Beyond all these things, you have a chance to be creative in your house, your apartment, or wherever. Turn the coffee table into a home altar with an altar cloth, a candle, and symbols of the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Place a bible in place of prominence in the room, dim the lights, set the mood, be creative! And if you have children – you can prepare some fun activities for them when the homily comes on and their attention wanes. The activities can prepare the kids for Mass while others explore what they learned about the celebration. Families are being incredibly innovative these days – steer a little creativity to the celebrations of Holy Week.
Coronavirus may have closed a door or two, but God always opens a window. Take the moment. Be intentional and celebrate Holy Week in ways that are personal, inviting and make the home a holy place. It is our own “Back to the Future.” The “house church” was the original setting of worship in the earliest days of the Church. The “house church” can again be the place where holiness is nurtured and grows.
5 weeks ago, we had no idea what opportunity would be given us! Let us together make this the best Holy Week ever.