Holy Week Potpourri

A jumble of things that have been going on this week:

– On Monday, Pope Francis sent a Passover telegram to the Chief Rabbi of Rome:

A few days on from our meeting, and with renewed gratitude for your having desired to honour the celebration of the beginning of my ministry with your presence and that of other distinguished members of the Jewish community, I take great pleasure in extending my warmest best wishes to you and Rome’s entire Jewish community on the occasion of the Great Feast of Pesach. May the Almighty, who freed His people from slavery in Egypt to guide them to the Promised Land continue to deliver you from all evil and to accompany you with His blessing. I ask you to pray for me, as I assure you of my prayers for you, confident that we can deepen [our] ties of mutual esteem and friendship. – FRANCIS

I especially liked the framing of his prayer for them, and that he asked for their prayers.

– On Tuesday, Pope Francis announced that he would not be living in the papal apartments. But I already posted about that.

– On Wednesday, Frances Perkins won the Golden Halo.
Ms. Perkins, an Episcopalian, was FDR’s Secretary of Labor and was the architect of Social Security. Here is the collect for her feastday in the Episcopal Church:

Loving God, whose Name is blest for Frances Perkins, who lived out her belief that the special vocation of the laity is to conduct the secular affairs of society that all may be maintained in health and decency: Help us, following her example, to contend tirelessly for justice and for the protection of all in need, that we may be faithful followers of Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I was distracted from Lent Madness this year by all the intensive Catholic news, but I still think it is a great devotion and I’m looking forward to it for next year. I haven’t scored my bracket yet, but I had picked Dorothy Day for the Golden Halo: another laywoman whose life was profoundly shaped by her gospel-rooted concern that all should be maintained in health and decency. So I figure I wasn’t too far off the mark. 🙂

– On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve young people in a youth detention center, including two young women and two Muslims. This sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church, because one of the possible theological interpretations of Jesus’ washing the feet of his apostles at the Last Supper is that this constituted the institution of the priesthood. For the past decade or more, this interpretation has been dominant, and its corollary, when coupled with the teaching of an all-male priesthood, has been that women should not be included in the footwashing rite at the Holy Thursday mass.

The other significant theological interpretation of Jesus’ actions, and one which has significantly more scriptural support, is that it is both a model of servant leadership, and an action of humility and service to which all Christians are called. A number of Catholic parishes, mine among them, have expanded this rite to encourage everyone to participate, and wash each other’s feet. I have found this to be a very moving experience, even though — or perhaps, especially because — footwashing is not something we normally do in our culture.

This year, as the homilist at Holy Thursday reflected on Peter’s initial refusal to accept this service from Jesus (a part of the story I just love, because it shows Peter’s frequently misguided enthusiasm), he asked us, What if instead of being invited to participate in the footwashing, it was a command? What if you had to do it? He inferred, as we all chuckled in agreement, that we would not like that very much! And yet, it is the liturgical enactment of something we are all called to do. I found that a very effective method of challenging us all to live up to this call, both in the liturgy and in our lives.

– On Good Friday, I was very surprised to see that our deacon presided at the liturgy — so surprised, in fact, that it took me almost the entire liturgy to catch on. It wasn’t until he presided over the communion rite that I figured it out. Because the Good Friday service is not a mass, and does not include the celebration of the eucharist even though it does include the distribution of communion, this is indeed within a deacon’s capacity. But it was astonishing to me because he presided in the presence of our two parish priests. It had never, ever occurred to me that a deacon would preside if a priest was available to do so. What a gracious gesture by our priests.

And I can see what they were doing: last year, when we had one more priest than we do now, the Triduum celebration was arranged so that a different priest presided over each liturgy — again a gracious gesture by our pastor. So, with one less priest, I can see it makes sense that they would arrange it so the deacon would preside. Still, what a surprise.

– Also on Good Friday, Pope Francis heard this sermon preached by the “preacher of the papal household,” a Capuchin priest:

“We know what the impediments are that can restrain the messenger: dividing walls, starting with those that separate the various Christian churches from one another, the excess of bureaucracy, the remains of ceremonials, bygone laws and disputes, which, by now, have become only debris,” he told the pope.

– Today is Holy Saturday, that betwixt-and-between day, after the death but before the resurrection. Tradition has it that Christ “descended into hell” on this day, to free all the just and lead them into heaven. Denise Levertov’s beautiful poem The Harrowing of Hell reflects on this.

And tonight, the Triduum celebration culminates in the Easter Vigil, the celebration of the holiest night of the year, when Jesus was raised.

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