The first time I participated in the Easter Triduum was also my altar serving debut. I was in third grade, nine years old. My training was held right after school by Sr. Mary Thorne, if I recollect correctly, and a few hours later I was serving my first mass, on Holy Thursday. That was twenty-three years ago and I have never intentionally missed any part of the Triduum.
In fact, I can only remember missing the whole thing once, because I was sick – but I had already done all the planning and training for the liturgies, and had very reliable volunteer lay liturgical ministers to rely upon in absentia. One other year, I was in the ER during the Easter vigil with a friend. Other than these two, I have worshipped during the high holy days, and usually as a server, lector, or liturgist and master of ceremonies. Even in my last interim parish ministry, where I was not the primary liturgist, I still had a contingent of catechumens to bring through the rites.
That said, it is kind of nice (but also a bit weird) to be absolutely and completely free of responsibility throughout the Triduum, and to be in Rome. There are three places where every Catholic should spend Holy Week at least once, in my opinion: Jerusalem, Rome, and Notre Dame. Though not necessarily in that order.
Throughout my four years at Notre Dame, I was an altar server in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and sometime assistant MC there and sacristan/liturgy coordinator at the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Keough Hall. Triduum was always a great deal of work, but always masterfully done, accompanied by beautiful music, and in the words of one visiting curial cardinal (who so enjoyed Holy Week at ND he came back twice while I was there), “This is better than Saint Peter’s!”.
I am inclined to agree, but with qualification. To be clear, I am disappointed in nothing of the Triduum here in Rome, except for the mob (the Romans’ answer to the queue, or line).
This is, after all, the first church (not in chronology, but in order). The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday was celebrated at the Pope’s Cathedral, the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, Mother-Church of Rome. The Service of Our Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and the Great Vigil of Easter were celebrated at the Vatican Basilica of Saint Peter. All were presided by the Bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI, and he was homilist at the first and last (Raniero Cantalamesa, OFM Cap., the preacher of the papal household, had the homily on Good Friday, as you may have heard.) I prayed the Way of the Cross from the edge of our property, a bluff overlooking the Coliseum with clear line-of-sight of the Holy Father about 300 meters away.
The prayer guides are published pocket-sized booklets, illustrated with prints of 15th and 16th century frescoes from Italian churches. The liturgy was celebrated in Latin, the mass parts chanted in Gregorian style, and deacons blessed with angelic voices chanted the gospel – on Thursday it was proclaimed twice, once each in both Latin and Greek! (Presumably in honor of the fact that this year, Passover and Easter on both the Julian and Gregorian calendars all coincide). The prayers of the faithful throughout the three-day liturgy were offered in French, Spanish, English, Polish, German, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, Swahili and Arabic. Readings were in Italian, Greek, Latin, French, English, German, and Spanish.
The exultet in Latin is amazing. The Passion on Good Friday in slowly chanted Latin is impressive, but also a little hard on the back. (OK, yes, the very act of complaining about listening to the passion, when it is after all, the passion, is a sin I will publicly confess here and now: Mea culpa, ego sum mereum humanum.)
I found this interesting, though: Over the last few years in liturgical circles we have been encouraged to discourage the reading of the Passion in parts, as it is often printed in the missalletes and music books, and instead just have three deacons or readers proclaim the reading in turn. At the papal liturgy at San Pietro, with the ‘new’ Marini in charge, they had each deacon proclaim different parts (Narrator, Jesus, Peter/others) and the choir as the crowd/assembly.
This touches on one of the great reasons to be in Rome: The liturgical diversity. I do not just mean the fact that there are representatives of all the major rites of the Church here in the city (Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Byzantine, Chaldean, and Latin), but also that within the Latin rites, within the Roman rite specifically, you have diversity. Just between the Roman Cathedral (San Giovanni) and the Vatican Basilica (San Pietro), with the same pope presiding and the same papal MC, you find different ways of celebrating and different customs.
One small example, during the Eucharistic prayer: At San Giovanni, we do not kneel, and there is no bell during the epiclesis and the two elevations, but there is incense. At San Pietro, we kneel from the epiclesis to the mystery of faith, and there is a bell for the epiclesis and two elevations, but no incense.
Another interesting note, if a little random. While the Mass of the Lord’s Supper traditionally commemorates the institution of the Eucharist in the form of the Last Supper, it has traditionally been called the institution of the priesthood, through the act of the washing of feet. Historically, of course, and theologically, this is not entirely accurate so back home we had long since opted away from this simplistic phrasing lest it require a great deal of explanation. However, in the pre-liturgy announcements at San Giovanni, there it was “The Institution of the Eucharist and of the ministerial priesthood”.
Twelve presbyters were the mandatum at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, whose feet the Holy Father washed, though none of this was visible to me. The diplomatic corps were invited to communion with the Holy Father as minister, which they recieveed kneeling and on the tongue, or, they recieved a blessing instead of communion, if appropriate; but everyone else recieved communion along the aisles (standing, and in tongue or hand as the communicant prefered).
After returning to the Lay Centre for dinner, a group of us spent the evening in an adoration pilgrimage of seven churches during the traditional period until midnight: Basilica San Giovanni e Paolo, Basilica Santa Maria in Domnica, the Baptistry of San Giovanni, Archbasilica San Giovanni, Basilica Sant’Antonio di Padova, Basilica Santi Quattri Coronatti, and the Chapel of the Holy Trinity.
St. Peter’s has a capacity of over 60,000 roughly the same as Notre Dame Stadium before the 1997 expansion. That plus room for another 400,000 in the piazza makes for a somewhat larger assembly than the 2500 or so who can fill the Basilica of Sacred Heart at Notre Dame. For an experience of the Church universal in the heart of the Church, you cannot beat Rome. But for that Church universal manifest in a local church, I do not think even Rome can beat Notre Dame. To a degree, its like apples and oranges. The assembly is different, and the considerations are different. One aims for a liturgy that represents the whole church, which is probably represented pretty well by those present. The other aims for a liturgy of the local church being wholly church in its place. For Latin and the biggest of big liturgy, it is Rome. For best liturgy captured in a particular church, music that is beautiful, reverent and accessible, it is Notre Dame. I am happy to have had my four years at ND, and hope to get a few more here in Rome!
For Easter Sunday, between the full papal Triduum experience and the rain, I decided to go to the little church served by the Trinitarian Fathers, Chiesa San Tomasso in Formis (St. Thomas in Chains), literally just outside our front gate and around the corner. About 30 people filled the church, including two priests and two other Lay Centre folk, director Donna Orsuto and visiting scholar Dr. Aurelie Hagstrom, chair of the theology department at Providence College in Rhode Island who is here for a month of Marian research. Such a different experience after the big liturgies to be in a small community! The only space for the after-mass social was the tiny sacristy behind the altar, as long as we entered from one side and exited the other!
After a quick cappuccino and cornetto to celebrate the end of Lenten fasting, we watched the Urbi et Orbi on TV and prepared for a mid-afternoon Easter feast. Only a couple guests joined us, making us about fifteen in all – a perfect way to spend a drizzly Easter afternoon.