Thanks to the generosity of our Chaplains, we were able to have Holy Week, Triduum, and Easter at “home” for the first time since our move to TN. In fact, its the first time since 1950 all Handmaids could celebrate these high holy days together in one place. Since our move to the Diocese of Knoxville in 2013, Holy Week services were attended at the local parishes. While that was as rare an experience as it was a privilege for most of the Sisters to enter into the celebrations of nearby Churches, it did mean foregoing some of our honored monastic customs.
For example, the Community has always marked Holy Thursday with the somber and silent Agape Meal. This fitting tribute to remember the Last Supper had in our history taken place after the evening Mass and a Community Chapter focused on the meaning of the day. In light of the need to attend the Mass elsewhere, for the last five years we’ve celebrated the Agape on Wednesday of Holy Week. Now, with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper held in our own monastery, our most solemn meal, the Agape Meal after Holy Thursday Mass, could actually happen on Holy Thursday itself. After Mass, Handmaids gathered in the Chapter room to hear a short reflection by Mother Marietta. “Have HOPE, live JOY – live our life in Christ, our lives in Christ together with one another such that others will be amazed to see, like the early Christians, “how they LOVE one another! Even hidden away on a hilltop, this love and joy has the power to win grace for so many in need; especially struggling priests.”
The Agape, other than spoken prayers and hymns such as the Ubi Caritas, was eaten in silence and by candlelight. Recalling the Last Supper and Our Lord’s gift of himself in the Eucharist, it is the only time when Handmaids take a small amount of wine which is served by the Mother Prioress and Sub-Prioress. Afterwards each Handmaid received a personal blessing by the Mother Prioress and the community further entered into the mysteries of the Triduum, ready for Good Friday.
Good Friday began with another silent meal. Taken together in community and standing as a means of additional penance on this day of fasting and abstinence, we ate Hot Cross Buns (blessed at Mass on Holy Thursday) and coffee as a partial meal.
The day is usually largely spent in prayer and silence with some final preparations for the Easter Vigil and Holy Hours are taken at the Altar of Repose without Our Lord exposed. As the hour approached for the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion and Veneration of the Cross, all the Sisters gathered for the Stations of the Cross. This was especially a blessing this year as the newly cleaned and refurbished Stations of the Cross (from our former Priory in Illinois) had only recently been hung in Chapel. After Stations, our first Good Friday liturgy took place in our Mass Chapel.
The stillness of Holy Saturday, echoing the sleep of Christ in the depths, is a day we keep with Mary. Holy Hours are deliberately taken in our empty Oratories and Chapel highlighting the tangible, physical, and to us, almost painful, absence of Our Lord. He is present only as Viaticum reserved in an off-limits Oratory in case of emergency but it is a day we deny ourselves even the short visits coming and going to greet the Master of the House as we move between buildings or tasks. A day to further etch into our souls our need for his Presence and the absolute gift and luxury it is to live with the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ at all other times. As our purposeful waiting alone without him proceeds through the day, the anticipation of the Vigil grows as we yearn so strongly again for him to be with us. When all items are in place, we observe the sunset and await the full darkness of night. Isn’t it always true that the Light shines brightest in the dark?
Keeping literally to the rubrics about a “blazing fire” for the Vigil of Light, we had a wonderful inferno going in our old New Mexico kettle and, though the winds were strong, we were blessed with steadiness from one direction so that both Father and Handmaids could stay upwind without trouble. Lighting the Paschal candle was not without difficulty but Father never gave up and soon voices could be heard on our hilltop, “Christ be our Light! Thanks be to God!” Father also sang the full Exultet beautifully and before we knew it the two hour vigil was over. Lilies and flower scents abounded, Easter Water was distributed, candles were alight, hugs and smiles all around and…most importantly…Our Lord was home with us again. There were no treks to the parish parking lot or long drives back to the monastery. We were already home, and so was Jesus.
“He lives, he lives who once was dead. He lives my everlasting head.”