One of the many things I love about being Catholic is the interconnections between all the elements of our faith including the liturgical life of the Church, the devotional life, and the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures come alive in these practices. Far more than just reading printed words on a page or doing a Bible study (as important as those are), we live out the faith in the way we decorate our churches, sing, and pray.
One beautiful example of that is the practice of Passiontide. That’s the last two weeks before Easter Sunday, including Holy Week. At the beginning of this season, by ancient tradition, all of the crucifixes and statuary in the church are covered in simple violet draping (with the exception of any images of the Stations of the Cross).
Why? It represents the time just before Our Lord underwent the terrible suffering of the Passion, when He now longer walked openly among the people, but chose to hide Himself. See St. John’s gospel, chapter 8, especially v. 59.but all of vv. 31-59.
Here, the drama of the Lord tangling with His enemies intensifies. It begins with an invitation from Our Lord to the religious leaders of His day to become His disciples and follow His word, so that they will know the truth and the truth will make them free.
Because of their pride, they think they have nothing to learn from Jesus and flatly refuse His invitation. Worse, they become confrontational and antagonistic to Him, especially when He doesn’t back down and He promises that, if they keep His word, they will not see death. They won’t open their ears and hearts to find out what He is truly revealing to them – eternal life in the presence of God – because they think they have already mastered everything from their previous studies of Scriptures.
They become so angry with Him for insisting that they don’t really understand (the Scriptures are revealing Him, the Son of God) that they pick up stones and get ready to hurl them at Him to bring about His premature death. But the Lord knows it is not yet His time, that He will have to wait until He has handed over by His betrayer Judas and then crucified, so He slips away and hides Himself.
All of this and more is symbolized in the very stark “hiddenness” of the look of the Church when the crucifix and statues seem to be gone. It is definitely unsettling. On a typical day, I try to pray before Our Lord in the tabernacle at least three times a day, and of course my gaze automatically is drawn to the crucifix in the center of the sanctuary above the tabernacle. When I see that hidden, it is unnerving. But that’s the idea. It is supposed to startle us into meditating on what the Apostles must have gone through when Jesus disappeared, and, far worse, when they knew that He would suffer a humiliating death so fled in terror (all save John the Beloved). It reminds me to pray about whether, like the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day, pride is getting in the way of my listening to Him revealing His love. Or whether there is any spiritual cowardice in my life that would cause me to flee from Jesus as the Apostles did.
There is another powerful liturgical nuance that reminds us of the deep sadness of the Lord having to surrender Himself and go out into the night, after Judas betrays Him. (See the starkly chilling verse John 13:30). That deep sadness and sorrow is represented in the liturgies of the “Triduum” (three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday). After the Gloria prayer is sung accompanied by bells, the Last Supper is commemorated, including this poignant scene of Jesus going out alone into the night to face His death. So from that moment on, until the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, the beautiful and joyful sound of bells is suppressed and replaced with a wooden clapper or rattle called a crotalus. It’s a very harsh, even ugly sound, and that’s the point. It’s an audio representation of the ugliness of the sin that betrayed Our Lord. (For a little more detail, see churchpop.com/2016/03/23/rarest-liturgical-objects-crotalus).
I encourage all parishioners to attend the Triduum services in addition to Easter Sunday. If we can’t fit people in the church due to Covid distancing, we will have a live video feed in the parish center (Fr. Lewis hall).
Finally, returning to the theme of “hiddenness,” by the time this bulletin column appears, at least 20 men from our parish will have consecrated themselves to the Lord through St. Joseph. He is one of the greatest examples of the “hiddenness” of holiness. While many of the saints were high-profile, far more of them lived lives in obscurity, with a deep love of the Lord and rich interior spiritual life that was mostly unknown. While the Church upholds that St. Joseph was a nearly perfect exemplar of the holiness of a husband and father, little is recorded of his life, he lived in an obscure village and many of his neighbors – and family members – probably never suspected the depth of his holiness. That’s a reminder for us all: that as we seek to grow in holiness during this Passiontide, that we should never seek recognition for it. We should do that out of love for the Lord alone.