Today is Easter Monday, the calm after the beautiful, magnificent storm that is the celebration of the Triduum and Easter. Liturgically, these days are the most powerful and brilliant in the Church year, and for me, the most mystical of rites. Yet this year, more than in the rites, readings, and symbols of these holy feasts, the Paschal Mystery came through most clearly in the faces of the assembly.
I sing in the choir, and in our parish, the choir is situated behind the altar. And so, while the altar is in our immediate view, the assembly is the wider perspective. Over the years, I have come to fall in love with the assembly, with the faces of the people in front of me, and be nourished by the witness of their presence — our presence. The assembly is the face of God at liturgy.
This is particularly true during Holy Week. These past few days, for example, there is the passion of Jesus in M.J. and Seth, both in their forties, whose wedding is set for July 1. Seth has been in the RCIA for the past year, and was received into full communion in the Church at the Easter Vigil on Saturday. Just a few weeks before that, Seth found out he has stage 4 brain cancer; to look at him, you cannot imagine this strong, healthy-looking individual could be so ill, that his physical life could end just as, in so many ways, it was only beginning.
The spirit of Phil is up in the choir loft, where he sat for years at the 8 a.m. Mass. Tortured for much of his life, he was cut off from his family and friends when he finally committed suicide back in the fall. I see him on the cross next to Jesus, begging to be with the Christ as he enters the kingdom.
Margaret is in the second row, starting to look a bit tired at 87 years of age. She survived the death of her two husbands, but the grief over her daughter Liz’s battle with cancer and death five years ago wore her down perhaps more quickly than her unusually strong constitution would warrant. Yet she remains the faithful witness at the foot of the cross.
To a greater or lesser degree, these are the passions and deaths we all experience in our lives. All of us who stand in the congregation — who stand within the Body of Christ — bring our experience into his passion and death, no more viscerally than in the Triduum rites.
Which brings us to Easter, and the knowledge that for this time, this day, the chains of death are broken and we too taste new life. The glorious Alleluia, the triumphant exclamation that “Christ is risen!” and our response, “He is risen, indeed!” speak of the promise that could only be given through Christ’s passion and death.
What hope, what life, what expectation this blessed Monday brings!
Feature photo: Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Crucifixion: Stuart Miles.FreeDigitalPhotos.net