So today being Good Friday, I began reflecting a bit ago. It is the end of the holy season of Lent for the Year of Our Lord 2011. Also, it is the end of the first full liturgical year since I was received into the full communion of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
I’ve been listening to an album of Eastern Orthodox Lamentations for Holy Week a great deal this week. It is some of the most hauntingly beautiful, profound stuff I have ever heard. It seems to bring together the best of theology, music and the longings of the human heart for God. In particular, today as I was at the liturgy for Good Friday at my [Roman rite] parish, one part of the chants came back to me as I was kneeling toward the end of the service. In the Roman Church, after the consecration of the Sacrament on Holy Thursday, the Sacrament is placed in an altar of repose for adoration. Subsequently, there is no celebration of the Mass until the first Mass of Easter at the Easter Vigil. On Good Friday, the rest of what has been consecrated is consumed. Every other day of the year, there is a celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass- every other day of the year, the Eucharistic Presence of the Lord is in the very heart of every Catholic sanctuary in the world. This was stated in an announcement before Mass. However, it struck me as a profound reality sitting there at the end of the liturgy today staring at an empty tabernacle, with the remnants of the Blessed Sacrament having been consumed. As Catholics, we believe that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” because it is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Realizing that the Sacrament had been completely consumed and that there would be no Sacramental Presence of Christ in the Church until Easter really brought home the total and complete pouring out of Himself that Christ accomplished on this Holy Day. Without that Presence there in the Church, it really is almost as if we are in some way in the tomb with Christ. Holy Mother Church waits. The Mass is the heart of the life of the Church, and for this period it stops… in a sense, it’s a great sabbath. And that’s where the Eastern Orthodox lamentation I mentioned above comes in.
“In the flesh Thou wast willingly enclosed in
the tomb, Who art boundless and infinite in
Thy divinity. Thou didst close the chambers
of death, O Christ. Thou hast emptied all the
palaces of Hell. Thou hast honored this
Sabbath with Thy blessing, glory, and honor.”
It seems appropriate at the end of my first year as a Catholic that the Lord would impress upon me how great a mystery I have entered into being part of the Holy Catholic Church- the vastness of her history, the depth of the wisdom and riches she has received from God, the intimacy of being part of the whole Communion of Saints. There is always some new depth to explore- it as if one were to try and drink the ocean. And yet, there is also the very mundane side of life as a Catholic- there is this whole glorious reality clothed in everyday life, sometimes so that it is hard to recognize its true nature. In one respect, this is very much akin to the mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation- the fullness of the Godhead come in the ordinary flesh of a man – though He is “like us in every way, yet without sin,” whereas sin is something against which the members of the Church must struggle.