Friday, April 02, 2010

Midway Through Triduum

“In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle (Apoc. 21:2; Col. 3:1; Heb. 8:2); we sing a hymn to the Lord's glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory (Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4).” (Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum concilium, 8)

There is little that is actually written about my experience as a Master of Ceremonies for a Traditional Latin Mass. The assignment does not lend itself to boasting. Even as a layman has such close proximity to the liturgical action, that is a portal to the one sacrifice at Calvary, he is a mere operative, denied the privilege even of a major cleric in choir, that of touching the sacred Body of Christ with his anointed hands. He is a servant who gives direction to those who are served. He must know the movements of those who accompany him in service, even as his attention is completely devoted to the service of the priest. He must be ever present, and ever inconspicuous, always available to those who need him, never calling attention to himself. It is never about him; it is about those whom he leads, those whom he serves.

During the Sacred Triduum, liturgical services at St John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, are celebrated using the "ordinary form," the reformed missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI (often referred to by its misnomer "the Novus Ordo"). The altar is re-oriented so that the priest faces "liturgical East" that the assembly face it with him. The Latin language is used throughout the liturgy when addressing the Almighty, resorting the vernacular only for the Liturgy of the Word, or when the priest addresses the people directly. Those of us who identify as "traditionalists" may disparage what seems like an attempt, to make the official liturgical reform appear more grand than it really is. Yet our liturgical tradition is not confined to a mere set of books, but extends to the whole of our history, our heritage. There is the music, the chant, the choreography -- much of which transcends a single book, and all of which the Fathers of the Council insisted we maintain.

And there are moments when it is difficult to tell, even at close proximity, which of those sets of books is being used.

For the Triduum, I have taken a place as a mere attendant "in choro" ("in choir"), watching the older boys take the lead in assisting the priest. What I have expected to be a humbling experience, is in fact a most rewarding one. I am reminded of the honor that comes with merely being within the presbyterium -- the place of presiding.

Last night, when the Eucharist was taken from the altar to the place of repose in the school assembly hall, it was led by a grand procession of altar servers, major and minor clerics, and servers bearing torches. As we stepped into the night, singing the haunting chant of Pange lingua gloriosi, our path was lined with dozen of young ladies holding candles, genuflecting for the King as he was led by, flanked by censerbearers paying their own scented tribute in tandem.

The entourage was followed by the hundreds of the faithful who came, no less a component of the spectacle than those who were vested. As we gathered before the Altar of Repose, we saw a mere glimpse of that foretaste.

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From "the third hour" until "the sixth hour." From sext to none. From noon until three in the afternoon. Scripture tells us that our Lord was dying on the cross at this time, culminating in the words “Consummatum Est” (“It is finished”). When we were kids, we would either go to church for Stations of the Cross or some related devotion, or if we were at home, Mom would turn the radio off, and we would be admonished to be quieter than usual. It marks the consummation of the ultimate act of sacrificial Love, that of the Bridegroom with His bride.

It was on a good Friday, and all in the morning,
They crucified our Savior, and our heavenly King.
And was not this a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus, we’ll call him by name.


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