Worshipping with the Communion of Saints

As we try to make our way through this worldwide pandemic, we’re learning new ways of being together while trying to stay physically apart. This situation affects all aspects of our lives, including the way we worship. As we approach the days of Easter Triduum, perhaps we can imagine being together for those holy days as the Communion of Saints. Through music and images we can still make our Paschal journey together while still being apart. Let us hold each other close during this time.

SAINTS AND BELOVED OF GOD

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.

OPENING HYMN: GLORY IN THE CROSS

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.

SCRIPTURE READING AND PSALM

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.

HOMILY

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. 

WASHING OF THE FEET: AS I HAVE DONE FOR YOU

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.

PRAYER AT THE TABLE: GOD OF OUR LIFE

Though we are not gathered together 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.

COMMUNION HYMN: WHERE LOVE IS FOUND

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.

THANKSGIVING: DAYENU LITANY

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. 

CLOSING HYMN: GO NOW IN PEACE

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.

FIRST READING: THE SUFFERING SERVANT

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.

PSALM RESPONSE: BE MY REFUGE

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.

PASSION READING: WE SING THE SAVIOR’S GLORY

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.

HOMILY

VENERATION OF THE CROSS: BEHOLD THE WOOD

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.

COMMUNION HYMN: GLORY IN THE CROSS

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.

CLOSING HYMN: THE MYSTERY OF GOD

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.

Feast of Pentecost

I’m sure many of us wish we would wake up one morning soon and realize that these past few months have been a terrible dream. But we’re slowly learning to live in a new reality where we can’t even welcome our friends with a strong embrace or even a handshake. We’re not unlike those first disciples who had to get used to a new reality, a reality that didn’t include the physical presence of Jesus, their Lord and Teacher. Like them, we are afraid and some days would rather lock ourselves away rather than face this new way of being.

Those early Christians didn’t know how to be Church. When Jesus of Nazareth left the future in the hands of his followers, he didn’t present them with a handbook of how to do it. But he promised them his own Spirit to dwell with them and in them to be their hope, their comfort, and their guide. All they had to do was listen to the quiet, gentle voice in their heart of hearts that spoke of love and truth and mercy.

The most powerful message we preach to the world is in the way we treat each other, especially at times like this when we are afraid and tired and confused. “By this shall they know that you are my disciples: by the way you love one another.” This is where Pentecost begins. This is how we become the Church.

OPENING HYMN: HOLY BREATH OF GOD

SCRIPTURE READING: ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

PSALM RESPONSE: ON THIS MOST HOLY DAY

PENTECOST GOSPEL: JOHN 20

HOMILY

PREPARATION OF ALTAR AND GIFTS

PRAYER AT THE TABLE: MASS OF CHRIST THE SAVIOR

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.

LAMB OF GOD LITANY

COMMUNION HYMN: OUR HOPE IS IN THE LORD

CLOSING HYMN: THE WONDROUS NEWS

And now it is time for us to go forth, sent by the Spirit of Jesus 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 nine days of praying the novena might have nourished our own hope and encouraged us to be beacons of hope to our sisters and brothers. And next year, may we again gather as community in our churches and chapels and embrace each other with the Peace of Christ.