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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.
I do not have any good photos of this, but then any really good ones would have to have been taken from the papal apartments…. besides, it was the sound and sensation that made the moment rather than the visual.
On our first Sunday in Rome, just after the Papal Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, we decided to wait in the piazza for His Holiness’ weekly Angelus address, which he offers at noon any Sunday he’s in Rome, from the window of the papal apartments. The usual assortment of Romans, a couple groups of pilgrims, and tourists were there. What was a little less usual was that about 1/4 of the piazza was filled with bikers – and not just the little Roman motorini that zip through traffic at 50cc’s or whatever, though there were plenty – but honest-to-goodness motorcycles. After offering greeting and blessings to pilgrims and tourists in about eight languages, Benedict offered a special word of welcome to the bikers. The response was a roar of engines that filled the piazza, and shook the dust off Bernini’s colonnade! Quite an experience! So to all those Harley fans out there (Zandyr, Lana, Chris, et al) remember: the Pope, he loves you too!
I am in Rome. After a flight cancellation, delayed luggage, and a fairly typical (read: nail-biting) taxi ride from Fiumincino airport to my new residence, I arrived at the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas at about 1700 (5pm for us non-Europeans), just over 24 hours after Nancy dropped me off at SeaTac. Just in time for a brief tour, a moment to admire the view from my room, and a short nap before venturing to the nearby church of Santa Maria in Domenica for Mass and then dinner with the other residents.
With this blog I hope to regularly update family, friends, and insomniac internet wanderers as to my life in the Eternal City, as well as to provide reflections on the courses, research and other theological or ecclesiastical goings on. My intent is to save your inboxes but keep in touch, and to provide either catechesis or opportunity for theological discussion, depending on the reader. Please feel free to respond publicly or privately! I’m looking forward to a view of the church from Rome, though I have a long way to go on my Italian before it becomes unfiltered!
Some initial observations:
Technology: I am seriously considering investing in trans-Atlantic homing pigeons and a stock of quill pens. Our wireless connection at the residence has only worked for a few hours a couple of times over the last week and a half, apparently because of some issue with the electricity – twice the routers have been fried by the electrical system in the monastery! Likewise, the wireless at the Angelicum University has not been connected to the internet any time I have tried it, but I was able to ‘borrow’ a cable from a physics conference on campus last week. Not that it mattered too much, as my laptop crashed literally the first time I turned it on in Rome. Thankfully my files were backed up, but I left some important software backups at home, like my Italian lessons from Rosetta Stone…
Liturgy: My first Sunday Eucharist was the Pontifical Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica for the opening of the Synod of Bishops for Africa. If you’ve been there, you know San Pietro is “in the round”, albeit in a cruciform shape, with the altar in the center – much like St. Brendan’s in Bothell. And, like St Brendan, the presider (in this case the Holy Father) was able to celebrate both ad orientem and versus populum, simultaneously. That is, to face east, one must also face the largest section of the assembly in the long nave adjacent to the piazza. Communion was taken in the hand, along the center aisle, with the Eucharistic ministers moving back and forth between about five or six rows. The cup was not offered, and we stood during the Eucharistic prayer. The mass parts were in Latin, given the international character of the liturgy, but readings in English and Portuguese, with prayers in the languages of Africa, from Ge’ez and Arabic to Swahili and French. Most other liturgy has been in the community; more on that momentarily.
Diet, Exercise, and Environment: The university is just about a 35 minute walk from our residence, and the Centro Pro Unione (Center for Union), which serves as the library for my department, is another 30 minute walk beyond that. Though, as I walk around in my shorts and shirtsleeves sweating enough to flood the colloseo, I no doubt stand out like a sore thumb, as the Romans are all dressed in black, some wearing coats already, all in long pants, and never seem to break a sweat. It must be 75 and its very humid, but apparently it’s a big relief from summer! As for food, I have never eaten so well in my life! After just a few days, I actually feel healthier. Even the cappuccino seems fresher, smaller, and less addictive.
I also really appreciate the pausa – or siesta – the break from about 12:30-3:30pm which is especially necessary on hot days. You just cannot get anything done in the heat, so why not nap, and save your energy for the more active evening time? So classes are held 830-12:30, then 3:30-7:30, and many businesses are on similar hours.
To orient yourself to my daily route, look at a map of Rome (google maps is good), start just south of the Colloseo at the monastery of Sts. John and Paul (on the site of the Temple of Claudius), follow Via Claudia north along the east side of the colloseo, then along the Via dei Fori Imperiali past the Foro Romano and the Foro Augusto to the Monument for Vittorio Emmanuele II. Turn right at Trajan’s Column, up the stairs to the church of Santi Domenico e Sisto – that’s the Angelicum “campus”. From there to the Centro Pro Unione, head back west and somewhat north to the Piazza Navona, passing the Church of the Gesù, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and the Pantheon if you like. Just behind the Palace Pamphilj, the Society of the Atonement has their headquarters and the Centro. Rest assured, I have already been shown the famous Gellateria La Palma nearby!
Community: I am staying at the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, which has an interesting history. Foyer Unitas was originally founded in 1962 by a small Dutch religious order of women known as the Ladies of Bethany as a house of hospitality for any non-Catholic in Rome, just off the Piazza Navona in the same building as the Centro Pro Unione. The Lay Centre is the brainchild of Dr. Donna Orsuto and Riekie van Velzen, who had been connected to the Foyer Unitas, as a college for those of us coming to Rome who did not quite fit in to the ecclesiastical residences. The NAC, for example, houses only seminarians and priests, leaving religious to live with their orders, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers, along with other lay students, to fend for themselves. Founded in 1986, it was housed first at Foyer Unitas (hence the name) and then in the English College, the Irish College, and now at the Passionist Monastery of Sts. John and Paul.
We are 21 residents this year, from Albania, Canada, Germany, Greece, Ghana, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, Turkey, and the U.S. Three Muslims, three Eastern Orthodox, an Anglican, and the rest of us are Catholic. We have a medical doctor, a lawyer, and a nurse all studying for new vocations. Breakfast and lunch are self serve during the week, with dinner at 7:45 followed by Compline (night prayer). Wednesdays are our community nights, with mass at 7:00pm followed by dinner and usually a presentation. During our first several days, we’ve had brief presentations during dinner each night, and a day of reflection on Sunday. We’ve already had some orientation to community life from a Jesuit, a Benedictine, an Augustinian, and a Marist, in addition to our director (Donna Orsuto) and assistant (Robert White).
The location is a profound blessing. We are in the historical center or Rome, within the Aurelian walls, but with large enough private gardens that we are removed from the street noise – something unheard of almost anywhere else in the city. We sit on top of one of the famous Seven Hills of Rome, Monte Celio, and my bedroom window looks right down on the Foro Romano, the Colloseum, and the Capitoline Hill with the Monument for Vittorio Emanuele. From our patio ledge, we can see the dome of San Pietro.