Worshipping with the Communion of Saints

In all the hardship, loss and separation during the years of pandemic, God still found ways to bring forth life. We’ve learned a few things. We’ve come to imagine new ways of gathering for worship. When we enter Holy Week and the three days of Easter Triduum, we bring our experience to them.  And we experience the story of  God’s bringing new life from death in new ways.

These days are at the center of what we profess as Christian men and women. Those of us who’ll gather in person, are blessed by our companionship. For those who might not be able to gather in person, we can still gather as the Communion of Saints, as sisters and brothers held in the wide-open heart of God. Through music and images we can make the Paschal journey together and find our glory in the cross of Christ.


Holy Thursday

The liturgy of Holy Thursday, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, begins our celebration of the paschal mystery.

The church understands these days as being one extended liturgy, not three separate celebrations. The rituals of these days are filled with symbols that capture our imagination: a meal among friends, the washing of feet, a wooden cross, water, light, darkness, fire.

Let the music of these days into your hearts. Let the prayer seep into your soul. And savor the images that can open us to the presence of a God who loves us to death.


The entrance antiphon for Holy Thursday, taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, sets the stage and captures the theme of the entire Triduum liturgy. “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.” And so we begin our journey through these holy days.


The Scripture readings for Holy Thursday are all familiar to us and present three major themes: God’s unwavering faithfulness, Christ’s presence when we gather for the Eucharist and the call to selfless love and humble service. The three readings are woven together here and presented as one unit with each reading separated by the singing of a psalm response.


In every liturgy the homily is meant to break open the meaning of the Scripture for us today, at this moment in history. Every year we hear these readings, they will mean something different for us because we are different. And so we listen with not only our minds, but also with our hearts and imaginations. 


The ritual of the washing of feet provides one of the primary symbols and themes on this day. When Jesus tells us to “love one another as I have loved you,” he’s showing us how that love is made real. Our love for each other is not just expressed in words but in humble service. As we sing and listen to the song, let your imagination remember the way your community has celebrated this rite over the years.


While many of us still do not gather in a church building for Mass with a priest, it is still at the heart of our coming together to give thanks and praise to a God who has blessed us so abundantly. This song of thanksgiving was originally written as a way for people to pray The Great Thanksgiving when a priest is not available. As we sing, we bring all those people and things for which we are most grateful. We join them with the prayer of Christ in offering them to our God.


It is not surprising that in the church’s long history the Latin hymn “Ubi Caritas” (“Where Love Is”) has been central to the Holy Thursday liturgy. When Jesus told his friends to love one another, he made the connection between love and the presence of God. Where we see love, we see the face of God. So today we sing this English version as our communion hymn.


This beautiful Jewish Dayenu prayer has its origin in the Passover celebration where a family would recount all the memories of God’s goodness and favor beginning with creation to this very day. With each memory, they would acknowledge that even though “this would have been enough,” God added yet more to the abundance of gifts. For us Christians, this comes to include God’s giving us his beloved Son. At the end of this song, I’d encourage you to add your own remembrances to the list of God’s graciousness. 


The final of the Holy Thursday liturgy is the Stripping of the Altar. There is no closing hymn and this silent, somber ritual sets the stage for Jesus’ entrance into his Passion. One may decide to skip this final piece of music and rest in the quiet of the moment. But I’ve included this piece for those that might find it helpful. It’s a setting of the “In Paradisum,” the song of farewell that we sing at the end of funerals where we send our loved one into the arms of God.

Good Friday

The liturgy of Good Friday should be celebrated in the fullness of the Paschal mystery. It is less a day of mourning and more a day of remembering, of seeing once again the boundless love of God expressed in the self-offering of Jesus of Nazareth. There is a quiet, a silence and soberness, to the liturgy today. We carry in our hearts the suffering of our world, as well as the suffering that touches those we love directly. But in all of this, our eyes remain on Jesus hanging on a cross, the image of a God whose loves is so powerful that not even death can defeat it. It should not be missed that the Passion account from the Gospel of John is chosen for this day. In it the victory of Christ shines through every step of the way. Jesus death is not seen as defeat but as the passage of Christ into glory.


The first reading today is from the prophet Isaiah and sets the tone for today’s liturgy. The words describe the Suffering Servant who offers himself for our sake, the one who bears our burdens and our infirmities, our sin and brokenness, and takes it with him as he lifts us up. Listen carefully and allow the gift of the Servant to penetrate our hearts.


The first music to be sung on Good Friday is Psalm 31, the response to the Suffering Servant reading from Isaiah. The refrain, rather than coming from an actual psalm, are the words of Jesus on the cross, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” The words not only capture what Jesus prayed to his Father as he endured the Passion, but they also form a bridge to what our souls pray as we bear the cross that is ours to carry. We join ourselves to the words of Jesus our brother as we call upon our God and surrender our lives into God’s hands.


We all experienced the reading of the Passion numerous times. And so the challenge is to be able to hear it in a new way. Each year we listen to it with different ears because we are in a different place in life. But it also requires a manner of proclamation that allows us to savor the story, to be with it without rushing. It’s humanly impossible to listen for very long without losing focus. The abbreviated version of the Passion offered here is interspersed with a refrain that allows us to participate and respond. Close your eyes as you listen to the story and allow your imagination to take you into the events being described.



The act of venerating the cross is the central ritual symbol of this day. People express their honoring of the cross of Jesus in a variety of ways: with a kiss, with a touch, an embrace or a simple bow. For many people, it is one of the most powerful ritual acts of the entire Triduum. Each of us brings to the cross the brokenness, fear, shame and struggle that lives in our heart. When we honor the cross, we honor the one who embraces all of our humanity and raises it up toward heaven.


Though with different verses, this is the same hymn with which we began the celebration of the Triduum liturgy and reminds us once more of the central theme of these days, “Let us ever glory in the cross of Christ, our salvation and our hope.” It is a more contemplative, quiet setting than the one we used on Holy Thursday, but still reminds us that the cross is not for us a symbol of defeat, but rather a symbol of victory and of the triumph of God’s love over death.


While the Good Friday liturgy ends the same way it began, in silence. I’ve included this as a contemplation. Imagine it, perhaps, to be our meditation after communion. For all the metaphors we attribute to God and now matter how much we strive to understand God’s ways, there will always be a good deal that is simply mystery. The celebration of this day brings this home in a profound way. Why did God not step in to save his Beloved Son as he hung dying on the cross? Why did this have to be the way of salvation? This is where we are called to embrace the mystery that is God’s love. The song invites us to simply rest quietly in that mystery and to trust it.


This great vigil has its roots in the night of Passover when the Israelites stayed awake waiting for the Lord to deliver them. Like them, we gather as a family to tell the stories of our salvation and draw strength from the remembering. The most important thing is to allow the symbols of this night — the light, darkness, Paschal candle, the waters of baptism, the bread of life — to capture our imagination as we wait together in joyful hope for the good news of God’s victory over death. In the process we discover for ourselves the glory of the cross.


Friday’s liturgy ended in silence. Tonight’s service begins in darkness. We often forget Holy Saturday, the Day of the Lord’s Entombment, a day clothed in darkness and despair. Imagine the sadness and despair of the disciples on that day. Their dream had been shattered and they watched their friend, the one in whom they had put their hope, die a horrible death. So before we begin the Easter Vigil, let us allow ourselves to sit in the darkness and gather into our hearts all those places in our hearts that long for the Light of Christ.


As the Easter candle is carried in solemn into the darkened church, the cantor proclaims the words, “Christ, Our Light!” and the assembled community responds, “Thanks be to God!” As everyone’s candles are lit, we hear the first proclamation of Easter in the Exsultet, a song of joy and exultation. The versions here, rather than being sung by a solo singer, is structured in three musical components: the congregation’s refrain, the male and female cantors’ verses, and the choir’s bridge between the two. The music is joyful but solemn compared to the exuberant joy of the “Glory to God” and “Gospel Alleluia.” As we imagine the church filled with candlelight and faces waiting in quiet hope, we sing the triumph of God’s mighty love.


The Easter Vigil liturgy, as it was originally imagined, is a night watch harkening back to the night the Israelites stayed awake in vigil waiting for the Lord to deliver them from their slavery in Egypt. Like they did, we tell the stories of our salvation beginning with the story of Creation and culminating for us in the story of Easter morning. For this virtual celebration of the Easter Vigil, the readings have been condensed into three: one from the prophet Ezekiel, one from Isaiah, and, finally, the Easter story from the Gospel of John. We begin with the reading from the Prophet Ezekiel.


Between each of the Vigil scripture readings we sing a psalm. The psalms are the prayers of humanity coming before God, reaching out to God, with praise, repentance, thanksgiving or lament. This psalm response combines several of the psalms used during the Easter Vigil liturgy, an expression of the wonder of this night. Let the joy of this piece seep into the crevices of your soul.


This reading from the Prophet Isaiah, rather than being proclaimed in word, is presented as a song. Sometimes we hear scripture in a different way when it is sung to us. Let the lyrics and images wash over you like the water that washes and refreshes you. Bring to this moment all those places in your soul that may at this moment feel dry and barren. Remember what it feels like as water splashes on your face and wakens you to a new day.


Within the structure of the Vigil Liturgy of the Word, the “Glory to God” is traditionally inserted immediately at the conclusion of the readings from the Jewish Old Testament. As both a preparation and announcement of the New Testament scriptures, we now sing with a level of joy we’ve not yet expressed on this holy night. Imagine yourself being able to dance the joy of this age-old hymn that proclaims God glory.


The church has always considered the proclamation of the gospel scripture to be one of the high points of any liturgy. To set this scripture apart from the rest, we sing the Gospel Acclamation, the “Alleluia,” to announce the reading. Today is even more special because we are about to proclaim the Easter story itself, the announcement of God’s victory over sin and death. Much like a trumpet fanfare, the acclamation rouses us to pay attention and to pay attention what what’s about to happen. Even if you’re along, I suggest that you stand for the acclamation and reading. This is the heart of our faith.


The church has always considered the proclamation of the gospel scripture to be one of the high points of any liturgy. To set this scripture apart from the rest, we sing the Gospel Acclamation, the “Alleluia,” to announce the reading. Today is even more special because we are about to proclaim the Easter story itself, the announcement of God’s victory over sin and death. Much like a trumpet fanfare, the acclamation rouses us to pay attention and to pay attention what what’s about to happen. Even if you’re along, I suggest that you stand for the acclamation and reading. This is the heart of our faith.


This Easter homily was given by Fr. John Baran, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Fairfield, Connecticut in 2017. Since then, John has made his own journey home into the arms of God.


Dating back to the early tradition of the church, Easter was the day when new members were welcomed into the community by baptism. The symbols of baptism permeate the Vigil liturgy. This is the time when the catechumens would make their profession of faith. It was also the time when the entire community is invited to renew their baptismal promises and make their profession of faith along the newly baptized. We are invited now to make those promises again and profess the faith we share.


This is the point during the liturgy that we dress the altar table and bring up our simple gifts of bread and wine. As you know, this moment is often, especially on feast days, accompanied by a hymn that we sing as the rituals are being completed. “Join in the Dance” is very much an Easter hymn. It’s verses proclaim the victory of Christ over darkness and death. As you sing/listen, allow yourself to be carried away by the joy of the music. This moment prepares us to enter into the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving which follows.


This solemn prayer marks the high point of the entire liturgy. The documents of the church call this prayer “the center and summit of the entire celebration.” It’s called the Eucharistic Prayer from the Greek word “eucharistia,” which means to give thanks and praise. Everything in this night’s liturgy up till now has been leading us up to this moment where we proclaim our thanks and praise to a God who has blessed us with such abundance even in the midst of our darkness and brokenness. And so, together we lift our hearts in thanksgiving.


The “Lamb of God” is a title for Jesus of Nazareth that appears in the Gospel of John. The lion-like lamb that rises to deliver victory after being slain appears several times in the Book of Revelation. And, of course, it’s a direct reference to the Passover lamb whose blood the Israelites put on their doorposts to protect them from death. During much of history, the Lamb of God (“Agnus Dei”) was sung with tropes verses each one expressing a different aspect of Christ. During a usual Mass, this song is sung as the baskets and cups are being prepared for distribution at communion. For us now, we can lay upon the sacrificial Lamb of God all the things that keep us from experiencing the fullness of God’s life and grace.


As on any other day, the Communion Procession is about unity, a time for those present to move as one body to share in the Eucharistic banquet. And yet, this night is different in that we come here to celebrate an empty tomb. Death could not hold the Son of God in its cold prison because our God’s love is stronger than death. Just as death could not hold Jesus of Nazareth, so too death will never hold us, will never be the end for us. And even though we still live in the shadow of death, the victory has already been won. As we approach the Supper of the Lord tonight, we do so with reassured confidence and hope. We can glory in the cross because it’s no long a sign of defeat, but a sign of Christ’s victory. 


And now it is time for us to go forth, sent by Jesus Christ to be disciples of hope in the world. Surely this is a time in the story of humanity when hope is needed in a very real and particular way. We pray together that these days celebrating the Triduum might have nourished our own hope and will allow us to be beacons of hope to our brothers and sisters. And next year, may we again gather as community in our churches and chapels and embrace each other with the peace of Christ.

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