As most of you know, the Triduum is the three final days of Holy Week: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Easter Vigil. These, along with Easter Sunday, are the most important feasts of the Church year. Until this year it would have been inconceivable for me to celebrate these feasts without the faithful present, but this year was a Triduum that stood apart—apart from the faithful, apart from the public nature of every liturgy.
Of course, one can never really be apart from the faithful, for there is only one Body of Christ.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a member of it (1 Cor 12:27).
Hence, as I gathered with the small household here for the celebrations of the Triduum, I was mystically united with my parishioners and with Catholics of every rite all over the world.
Permit me a few reflections and impressions of this Triduum that will forever stand apart. Each day taught new lessons and bore gifts in strange packages.
We were three priests on Holy Thursday and were joined by three seminarians who have been staying here. The seminarians have been an excellent support and take the liturgy very seriously. We took the required “social distancing” precautions, standing apart from one another at the large high altar. Each priest had his own chalice and paten.
There was no washing of the feet, but its absence somehow made its mandate more powerful in my mind; we priests are still called to serve the faithful humbly and generously even if we have to reach out in creative ways. We clergy are not on holiday—far from it. Our faithful need to hear from us now more than ever. Each day I call a certain number of my parishioners to remind them of my love for them and to see how they are doing. Each week I publish several videos, and I also conduct bible studies and prayer sessions using Zoom. Yes, we must still wash one another’s feet, still care for one another.
The mandate to “Do this in memory of Me,” to celebrate the Eucharist, also took on special importance. With the cancelation of public masses, it is even more crucial for me to assure God’s good people that I celebrate Mass for them every day—for their health and spiritual well-being, for the salvation of their souls, and for their intentions.
The neighborhood Stations of the Cross, which we do every year, also took on special significance. Ten of us set out, and along the way some cars slowed down and watched, some people thanked us, and some even joined in for a station. We had a small scare when a D.C. official government vehicle pulled over, and a woman emerged with a camera. As far as we knew we were complying with the current restrictions, but we were afraid of what might be in store for us. Instead of rebuking us, however, she smiled, thanked us, and asked if she could take our picture! This year it seemed that all our neighbors, Christian or not, shared a common cross, a common grief. There was a sense that we were all in this together, and that it was good to see people praying.
The evening service of Good Friday had a lonely feeling. I’m sure it was much like the first crucifixion on a lonely hill far away with just a few gathered about Jesus. The Church got very small for a moment on that first Good Friday, but in that moment the greatest work ever accomplished took place: the salvation of the human race freely offered to all.
We could not kiss the cross but only bow, and somehow this reminded me of the fact that they had to anoint Jesus’ body and quickly wrap Him in the shroud because sundown before the Sabbath was approaching.
For the Easter Vigil we were privileged to be joined by the six Sisters in our convent. They are the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara. Because there were no baptisms, receptions, or confirmations, we were able to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the readings. I have never celebrated a vigil with all seven of the Old Testament readings proclaimed; parish churches usually shorten the number to four. There we sat in almost total darkness, the only light coming from the Paschal candle and a small reading light in the ambo. We pondered the Word of God at length, singing responses and praying. It was very moving to consider the saving love of God, who has never forsaken us. At the Gloria, the church bells were rung, the lights came on, and all the candles were lit. The Church was awash in resurrection glory, for the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). We celebrated a beautiful Mass, mainly in Latin, and sung with great joy. After Mass we sang Easter carols for half an hour. Given the current circumstances, I was surprised at the joy I experienced that night.
This Triduum stood apart for sad reasons but also for good ones. The Lord can make a way out of no way and console and instruct us even in adversity. It was a Triduum of light and darkness, but the light prevailed.
I want to express my gratitude to the three seminarians of the Archdiocese who are staying here for the duration of this storm. They are a tremendous support and have a great love of the Lord and the Sacred Liturgy. They do everything meticulously. Thanks also to our wonderful sisters; they are family to me and have encouraged me in difficult moments. May God be praised, too, for all the faithful who were mystically joined to us during these celebrations.