Sunday, April 4, 2010

Oh, for a muse of fire....reflections on our Triduum

When they lit the brazier at the back of the darkened Cathedral on Saturday night to begin the Vigil, Shakespeare's opening line to Henry V came to mind. (No doubt in part because of the atavistic, elemental nature of the image--fire, darkness, ancient robes and rhythms). How paltry my own words are to describe our experience this week! To me, it felt like an episodic drama, in which we were ourselves both players and audience in an inexorable narrative. Due to work responsibilities, we were unable to attend Wednesday's Tenebrae, so we began with the solemnities of Maundy Thursday.

This installment of course is full of shadows and foreboding, yet with the warmth of a most intimate service between people. At the Cathedral, the footwashing is mutual; everyone came up to have their feet washed, and in turn, to wash the feet of the person next in line. There was great tenderness and kindness there, and deep reflection.

Knowing I am a bit of a shutterbug, one of our Cathedral friends asked me to be one of the photographers, so I got to play a role that suits me well: the backstage observer, crouched under a rail, able to be of service even while not fully part of the event. The faces were amazing: some people looking fixedly at the person bathing their feet, others with a distant expression, some at peace, some fierce with expectation. My poor camera was challenged by the low light though I managed a few wonderful images. BP found it deeply moving, particularly in the give-and-get of playing both parts (a few days later, seeing her footwasher, she greeted him with a great hug). As the service concluded, the clergy stripped the altar to leave it bare for the next day.

For the Good Friday service, the spare emptiness was accentuated. On the altar, the clergy wore their deep purple cathedral cassocks--no white surplices, no white albs. The voices singing the Passion were spectacular, their beauty contrasting with the grimness of their tale. And when the Dean, who is a big man, carried the cross up the aisle, I think no one breathed. When he dropped it into its holder with a sharp crack, there was a shudder. And then, in ones and twos, a few people came up to kneel in front, some holding their hands tightly clasped, others reaching out to touch it with their fingertips. (Again, I was asked to play photographer; it was kind to give me something useful to do).

Then came the Vigil. We went out to dinner ahead of time with the kids and were seated in our assigned pew well ahead of time. BP's classmates who were to be confirmed, received, or reaffirmed (about 25 of them, plus a few baptisms) had that undercurrent of excitement of graduation. The stage management was masterful, beginning with that brazier of fire, and then the huge vast space of the Cathedral lit by individual candles (though I did have a moment considering the risks of immolation! :-) When the "class" went up to the altar, in the flickering candlelight, I was so proud of BP!

Now, both BP and I were confirmed Roman Catholic in the 8th grade. Our kids were confirmed in the 10th grade. We all remember that our RC confirmation was a bit of an assembly line -- tracing a cross on the forehead, a few rote words, and next, please! BP found this experience quite different and deeply moving. The Bishop took her hands, as he spoke to her, then touched her face. He looked deep in her eyes ("like he was looking into my soul," she reported later) and made this a very personal moment.

The solemnity broke as the lights came up (though there was no easy sermon from the Dean, who as usual challenged any comfortable complacency) and the choir went forward in full voice, as did the impressive organ. After it ended, we all went to the great hall for a joyous reception of champagne and sweet snacks. BP asked the bishop to sign her BCP, and posed for the standard picture-with-Bishop. And so, finally, home--both metaphorically and physically. And here we are.


JCF said...

Tov, Tov, Mazel Tov! I'm ecstatic for BP . . . but I'm very happy for you, too, IT. LOVE your report here (and pics). Have to admit: I think you do greater job of reporting on the aesthetics of the experience, because you don't believe in, y'know, the Hyper-Reality of it.

Grandmère Mimi said...

IT, what a lovely description of the drama of Holy Week. Holy Week is a drama, after all.

Welcome, congratulations, and blessings to you, BP. Thank you, IT, for the account and the pictures. What a wonderful pair of lovers you two are.

Counterlight said...

I've been to more than 20 Easter Vigils in my time, and each one is as magical the first.

Congratulations to BP!

Chris Harris said...

Beautiful - it's been an honor to walk a little of this journey with you guys. You're an inspiration and in some ways, a rejuvenation. Im looking forward to hearing more about how this experience overall has touched you IT. I suspect I will.

Episcopal Bear said...

HUGE ("") Bearhugs ("") BP, and welcome to the Episcopal Church! I hope that one day we'll get to meet face-to-face - the next General Convention, perhaps?

And what lovely pictures and descriptions, IT! You really conveyed the power of the service.

I am Teh Street Prophet Formerly Known as Wolfie, and as such have launched my own blog called Episcopal Bear. Please drop in!

IT said...

Thank you all for your kind remarks! BP may stop by later today and add her thoughts.

Chris, we'll see you in church on Sunday! ;-)

David |Dah • veed| said...

Welcome to the Anglican Communion BP!

Parroquia de la Sagrada Familia
Diócesis del Norte
Iglesia Anglicana de México

BP said...

As ever, thanks to all for your support and encouragement. I do feel as if I've come home--and what a "bubbly" welcome... literally! :-)

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

So happy for both of you!