Thursday, April 05, 2012

On beginning the Paschal Triduum.

As I prepare to begin the Paschal Triduum this year, I find myself thinking of some choice words offered by a brother Jesuit who helped to direct two liturgical choirs during his years in philosophy studies. Working with the two choirs took up a lot of his time: each week, he devoted many hours to studying scores and leading rehearsals - all while trying to keep up with the demands of graduate work. Even though he loved working with the two choirs, this Jesuit also admitted that this extracurricular commitment could be rather exhausting; sometimes, he said, it stopped feeling like a labor of love and became "another damn thing" - one more burdensome responsibility among others encumbering a busy life.

Another damn thing. If you're heavily involved in church life, the Paschal Triduum can start to feel like that at times. The liturgies of the Triduum offer much of great beauty and depth, words to uplift the soul and ritual actions that remind us just what the Christian life is all about. Of course, the Triduum is also a lot of work for those who have to plan and execute the various services. The temptation to view the Triduum as 'another damn thing' can be very strong, especially when the stresses of one's 'ordinary' life refuse to let up for the three days: there are still pages to read or write, bills to pay, mouths to feed, promises to keep. We may look forward to these days all year long - I certainly do - but then, when the Triduum actually arrives, we may nonetheless find ourselves so preoccupied with practicalities that we lose the chance to focus on the deeper meaning of these days.

As I think back on my experiences of the Paschal Triduum in the years since I took vows, I realize that these are always very busy days for me. As a graduate student at Fordham and as a faculty member at Saint Joseph's, I have invariably had some major academic projects hanging over my head as the Triduum rolls around: papers to write or to grade, reports to complete, and so on. Having become heavily involved in the liturgical life of parishes in New York and Philadelphia, I've also learned to count on not being able to get much academic work done during the Triduum for the simple reason that I spend much of my time during these days either in church or on the way there (my parish in New York was about an hour away from Fordham by subway, so I spent a good part of each day of the Triduum in transit; my parish here is about a twenty-minute drive from campus, though congested highways and quirky Philadelphia traffic lights can lengthen the trip considerably). As I work through the Triduum, praying through the Triduum sometimes seems an elusive goal.

In spite of the busyness of these days, I find that a moment always comes when the overwhelming reality of it all breaks through, typically during the Paschal liturgy itself, when some word or some sight grips me in a new and different way and leads me to think, "Oh yeah, this is what all that work was for!" As I prepare to enter into these busy yet ultimately exhilarating days, I pray that all of us who gather to celebrate the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord may enjoy such moments of illumination - moments when God reminds us that the Paschal Triduum is much more than 'another damn thing.' AMDG.


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