Each Holy Week for the past several years has been very different. Last night I went to my church’s Maundy Thursday service. It’s been commented more than once that our church is more Catholic than the Catholic church in town. I had been to Stripping of the Altar services before, but none so striking as last night. While the congregation read Psalm 22, the ministers stripped the altar. Usually so ornate, it was completely stripped — all the hangings on the walls, on the altar, all the cushions where we kneel for communion, even the candles and candlesticks were removed, leaving only bare walls and a plain wooden table. The bells were rung for the last time until Easter, and we left in silence.
Tonight’s service to commemorate the Lord’s Passion was even more solemn. What I noticed immediately upon entering the church was that the one lamp that is normally always kept burning was not lit. All was dark, and became darker as the sun faded outside, leaving the colourful stained glass windows grey and blank. The Light had gone from the world. The cross that had been carried out last night was brought back in with the words, ‘Behold the wood of the Cross, whereon was hung the Saviour of the world’, and we replied, ‘Come, let us worship’. The ministers, choir, and congregation then went forward for the veneration of the cross. I stayed back; for me it felt too much like directing my adoration toward a specific object. I was not the only one to stay seated, and that is one reason why I like my church: we follow traditions, but not so rigidly that everyone must do the same, there is still freedom and diversity. I was content to sit and pray and sing the chant along with the choir.
- Pange, lingua, gloriosi
- Corporis mysterium,
- Sanguinisque pretiosi,
- quem in mundi pretium
- fructus ventris generosi
- Rex effudit Gentium.
We sang in English, but I’ve sung this in Latin, and the Pange lingua chant is simply beautiful.*
And now we mourn.
* I chose the youtube video with the prettiest recording of the chant. It happens to be during a Corpus Christi procession at a Catholic church in Oregon. Must be very high church, because I didn’t think Corpus Christi processions still happened! But then, my primary experience with the Feast of Corpus Christi is from reading fourteenth-century cycle dramas, so…