There are only three days a year when I can sleep as late as 6:30, enjoy breakfast with the paper, then wander across the deserted campus to the church and unlock it. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday all begin without morning Mass, so after I have prayed the Divine Office for the morning, it seems like leisure to stroll into the church with my list of things to do.
Though I enjoy this later start, I realized this year that I enjoy even more completing all the tasks that each of those days brings in order to prepare for the rites that come later. This quiet, invisible work is essential to the Sacred Liturgy, and therefore has a liturgical character as well; that is, a sharing in the work of worship and giving glory to God that is the public prayer of the Church. Moving furniture and assembling equipment, setting books and texts, even adjusting the thermostat, may not seem like prayerful acts to you, but they deepen my participation in the explicitly worshipful elements of these holy days.
In this I am by no mean alone. When I unlock those church doors, invariably I find Anthony Dao, our maintenance factotum, already at work preparing the church, cleaning it, and heaving up from the boiler room items that we use precisely once each year. For the last few years his four children have joined him in this, working almost as hard as he does. This year when I arrived they were bringing the flowers up from the “garden” at the altar of repose in the MSR.
Those are not the only kids who spend time and effort, either. My altar servers all spent about ninety minutes each day rehearsing for the demands of the liturgy of the Triduum. I was delighted to have the skilled and generous help of ten or fifteen servers, all between the ages of 10 and 18, for the long rehearsals and even longer complicated rites. They were superb, and I was edified by how seriously they took the requirements they accepted. Easter Sunday, whose Masses are relatively uncomplicated only by comparison, also benefitted from large groups of young people who gave up their time to make everyone’s worship more fitting.
We have a room we call the “working sacristy” to distinguish it from the “priests’ sacristy,” but during Holy Week that doesn’t help at all because both sacristies are filled with people working. Norma and her posse of helpers and polishers and launderers put in long hours with vessels and vestments and candles and all sorts of elements we need for the sacraments to be celebrated. You probably don’t see that, either: everything we need at whatever Mass you attend just seems miraculously to be already right there. That’s how it should be; but please appreciate what a neat trick that is.
You also would be shocked to arrive at church and see people in dirty jeans and work gloves crawling about the floor on all fours, but that is exactly what you would have found Thursday morning in the MSR, as Julie Wilson, Peggy Hicks, Kathy Horstkamp, and Ron Farias arranged two truckloads of flowers into the Garden of Gethsemane around our altar of repose; and Saturday morning in the church as Melissa and Peter Franklin, with Ron and Peggy again, bedecked our altar with a well-ordered floral explosion.
Watching them as I moved about the sanctuary with my tasks, I began to perceive that anybody who does not participate in all this work is missing something, an understanding and experience that enhances the Easter-finery worship that we all enjoyed so much.
Our choir and musicians, under the gentle guiding hand of John Henderson, put in hours of rehearsal and preparation to be able to provide hours and hours of beautiful music, different each day. The music made everything better and more beautiful; even the rehearsal of the brass and organ fanfares for Easter provided a motivational soundtrack to our church decorating squad. Consistent excellence is what we have come to expect; like the liturgical items that are ready to hand in the sanctuary, we rarely wonder at the work that goes into making it happen so seamlessly. How blessed we are to have them!
Similarly, the friendly reception of the front lawn has become Just One of Those Things We Have at Easter. But what work goes in to making it happen! Jasmine Kuzner, Juliet Marandure, Jeff Reddig and Liz Dooley marshaled an array of collaborators and contributors (especially of goodies) to make it all look effortless and elegant. And let’s hear it for everybody who made the egg hunt such a rollicking success, including the kids who waited patiently for the start signal. Join me in praying it helps some of our visitors decide to come join us more often.
And speaking of people who have been working to make this happen, please welcome our newest brothers and sisters, the neophyte Catholics who received the Sacraments of Initiation at our Great Vigil of Easter: Kishana Nyoh, Uyen Phan, Moriah Van Vlerah, Kim Brantley, Carolyn Fletcher, David Kuzner, Kevin McCulley, Christopher Nagy, Nina Otero, Justin Freer, and Edna Zelaya. They had all been working since last fall to make themselves ready to receive the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Christ.
It is easy to agree that the work these folks did, by study and prayer, increased the efficacy of the Holy Sacraments they received. Who then would not just as willingly acknowledge that the work of all these others also enhances their worship and even their communion with Christ? The grunt work, the lifting and moving, the cleaning and polishing, the practicing and preparing: all of this integrates the prayer and praise into flesh and spirit, all of this increases understanding and integration of worship and sacrament.
This was their sacrifice, poured out with and like Christ’s own as a “waste” of their perfectly good lives and time. This outpouring they offered to God not to obtain His gratitude, for that would be silly, obtains rather divine glory shared with them by the risen Christ. That glory reaches through them to all who reaped the fruits of their labors. And for that, I hope you will join me in thanking them as you look back on these extraordinary, holy days.