Most of us probably won’t (can’t) attend Holy Week liturgies this year. My heart goes out to all the catechumens and candidates who would be experiencing their first Holy Thursday liturgy tonight. My first one back twenty-four years ago, all the way back in 1996, made an indelible impression on me and tears still well up in my eyes as I look back on it. Wrote about it last year. The following is a re-post of that one, with some slight edits. (The weekly series on the soul will return next week.)
After the Holy Thursday liturgy a few people stayed in the pews to watch with Him. Fr. — had stripped the altar, had set up the tabernacle, palm fronds around it in the dimly lit, darkened nave. Hushed voices became softer and softer until they fell silent as the last stragglers left, leaving just three of us there. In the tabernacle the Lord was preparing to face the ordeal of ordeals. In the pews were His three disciples, fighting to stay awake, nodding off, not understanding what was taking place then, having no idea what would be taking place in a matter of hours.
I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to take in everything, everything I saw or heard or felt. I wanted to hold onto it, to remember. I heard snores behind me and grew more determined to remain awake and to watch.
At nearly midnight, the priest entered the sanctuary with two altar servers, one on either side of him, holding long-handled candle lighters which, in the dimlit darkness, looked exactly like spears. They’ve come to arrest Him!
I watched, unable to stop them. I looked around to see if anyone else saw what I did, but they were sound asleep. I was alone, beholding the unfolding scene.
The altar servers stood holding their spear-candlelighters while the priest stepped forward and bent down to open the tabernacle door and lifted the Lord from His place of repose. Then he walked slowly away, the two trailing behind with their spears. They left through the sacristy door. The tabernacle door was left open, exposing the emptiness within. All was silent—except for the snores behind me. I wanted to turn and shake them awake. They arrested Him! They took Him away! Did you not see? Why didn’t you help me? Why didn’t we stop them, why didn’t we help Him? Ah, Satan, get behind me. “Christ was obedient unto death.” And so must we all be.
I’ve been Catholic now for twenty-four years and all I can say is thanks be to God and praise to You, Lord! Please keep us safe and well so we may continue to praise You. Help us to become more and more configured to Christ, our Lord. Have mercy on us and on the whole world. Amen!
Thanks for reading my slightly edited re-post. I hope you’re having a blessed Holy Week even in the midst of the trials of the times. I leave you with this video from Dana and Fr. Scallon, the opening of their heartbreakingly beautiful meditation on the Stations of the Cross.
Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, may the Lord bless and keep you and yours safe and well, and may the peace of Christ be always with you. +JMJ+
Image credits: The Agony in the Garden, by Pieter Coecke Van Aelst, The Taking of Christ, by Caravaggio, both from Wikimedia Commons, both in the public domain.