Yesterday was the beginning of Triduum, the three high holy days that immediately precede Easter.
Holy Thursday's service remembers the Last Supper and when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. This service is one of the most solemn of the year. It is full of all the rite and ritual people typically associate with the Catholic church. To me, it is the Church in all her beautiful dignity. It is not your typical liturgy. The service begins with joy and gladness, with the the triumphant Gloria ringing out for the first time in six weeks, and ends in quiet sorrow, as the Eucharist is processed around the church, then placed on the chapel altar for silent prayer, usually with the these words from a song accompanying it - "Stay here, and keep watch with me, the hour has come. Stay here and keep watch with me, watch and pray."
This is my first year in my new parish, so last night was my first Holy Thursday liturgy at St. Gabriel's. At my former parish, a few people were selected to have their feet washed during this service. So I was totally unprepared for the entire congregation to arise and line up for the foot washing. In several lines over the church, the whole congregation took turns washing each other's feet. (I should have realized it, as we had five songs listed for this part of the service). It moved me to tears, to see family members, friends, and strangers bend to tenderly wash the foot of person seated, then sit to have their own foot washed. It is something so humbling, so incredibly connecting, to re-enact this part of the disciples life. It reminds us to care for one another, to serve one another, to love the presence of God in each person. You can easily get ticked off at the jerk driving like a maniac just to get to the church parking lot before you, but it is hard to hold a grudge against anyone when you bend to wash their feet.
And of course, today is Good Friday. We have been building towards this day for weeks now. Just this past Sunday we participated in the reading of the Passion. There is something so horrible, so eye-opening to have to chant the words "Crucify him" in answer to Pilate's question, "What do you want me to do with this man?" It stabs me through the heart, to know that time and time again, with every hurtful choice I have made, I have crucified him. And today, it all comes to a head, as my sins place him on that Cross. Today is a day of sorrow and meditation. We place ourselves in the fear of the disciples, in the weeping of the women, of the duty of the centurion, of the sorrowful thief hanging at His side. We fast to show our sorrow, to participate a little in the Sorrow of this Day.
Good Friday service is one of my favorites. After a quiet and solemn day (well, except for doctor's appointments and music rehearsals), the evening is almost a relief. To gather with others in a church - it must have been similar to what the followers of Jesus felt when they were able to meet together after that horrible day.
All seemed lost then. Of course, we know the end of the story, and what awaits us a mere 24 hours away at the Vigil is Joy Unbounded.
Good Friday is the price to pay for the glory of Easter Sunday.