2016 was the first year that the parishes of St. Rita in Lowell, St. Marguerite d'Youville in Tyngsboro, and St. Mary Magdalen in Dracut would celebrate Holy Week as a collaborative. Jean Soucy, a parishioner at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Tyngsboro, suggested to Father Richard Clancy, pastor, "We should use the cross. Where's the cross?" Perplexed, Father Clancy responded: "What cross?"
The cross that Mr. Soucy referred to is an impressive piece of art, commissioned for St. Jeanne d'Arc Parish in Lowell. It is about 10 feet tall, and holds a life-sized figure of Christ; the cross is a Crucifix. After it had been displayed at St. Jeanne d'Arc parish for about 30 years, it was sent back to the artist for restoration. Shortly after the restoration was completed and the cross returned to the parish, the artist died. The current sacristan at St. Mary Magdalen Parish, 88 year old Emil Lessard, knows the cross well. He was an altar boy at St. Jeanne Parish when the cross first arrived, and many years later, he and his wife, Pauline, had their picture taken next to the cross on their wedding day.
When St. Jeanne d'Arc parish was closed in 2004, the Crucifix was moved to St. Rita Parish, the receiving parish, but, given its size, there wasn't a proper place to hang it. Former pastor, Father Marc Bishop explored building a case for it and placing it outside, but was advised that, even enclosed, it would not hold up to the elements.
Back to Holy Week 2016: the search began. The crucifix was found in the basement of St. Rita's, and although it had been wrapped up, there was some damage from being stored away, and it couldn't be used for Holy Week this year. It was sent out, once again, to be restored. It came back in time for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Many parishes have revived the tradition of having a Corpus Christi procession. Last year, within weeks of becoming a collaborative, Lowell, Dracut and Tyngsboro held their first Corpus Christi procession in years. This year, the procession was part of a 2 p.m. service that included the unveiling and blessing of the restored crucifix.
Father Clancy reports, "It was beautiful. We started with exposition, then the procession, the Chaplet of Mercy, (and) benediction." Following benediction, the crucifix was unveiled. Father Clancy blessed it, led the congregation in praying the Litany to the Holy Cross, and invited those present to come venerate the cross. He notes that, "Many of the parishioners at St. Mary Magdalen come from Lowell and St. Jeanne d'Arc parish. There is still a lot of pain ... about the closing. (I) hope that this cross being restored can bring a measure of healing to them."
As for Emil Lessard, the young altar boy at St. Jeanne d'Arc Parish many years ago, the rededication took place on his 66th wedding anniversary. He and his wife Pauline once again had their picture taken by the cross.
One of the hymns that was sung during what Father Clancy describes as a "powerful day," contains the refrain: "How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful, is the body of Christ." The Church is the body of Christ. On Corpus Christi Sunday, the Church that gathered in prayer before the crucifix, was beautiful indeed.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.