In his apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" ("Evangelii Gaudium") Pope Francis writes: "With Christ joy is constantly born anew." Nowhere is this more evident than in the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum and Easter. These services are the liturgical highlight of the Church calendar. Parishes put great effort into planning liturgies that will help parishioners enter into a deeper experience of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Church is a faithful custodian of these sacred rites. This year, 28 parishes in our archdiocese faced the challenge of celebrating the liturgies in a new context. These parishes are gathered into 12 collaboratives in Phase I of the pastoral plan Disciples in Mission. The challenge came paired with the opportunity to work within the Church's rich tradition to provide liturgy ever ancient, ever new.
Here is a brief look at Holy Week in three Collaboratives:
Visits to the Beverly Catholic website surpassed Christmas time -- a good sign. For the Triduum, the Beverly Collaborative celebrated one Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, one Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, and one Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. The services were held in different parishes in the collaborative. Other Collaboratives followed this same pattern.
Leaving church on Holy Thursday people were handed a brochure listing Mass times, service and outreach opportunities, faith formation programs for all ages, and other information about the Beverly Collaborative.
At the Easter Vigil, St. Mary, Star of the Sea was aglow from pews to choir loft with hundreds of candles lit from the Paschal candle. The joy of Easter was heightened when five people were baptized at the vigil and the combined parish choirs ended the liturgy with the Halleluiah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah."
Parishioners and parish staff acknowledge that having the three parishes worship together was "deeply moving." Facebook posts following liturgies reflected the feeling of an "Easter grace ... high" and a Tweet of gratitude pronounced: "Our God is a good, good God indeed, and we are so blessed."
Deacon Jonathan Jones observes that "All of the services went very well and were very moving... Whether we are going through good times or difficult ones, the dawn of Easter provides one with joy and with hope!"
On the South Shore, Father Joe Rossi, Pastor of the Weymouth Collaborative of Immaculate Conception Parish and St. Jerome Parish posed this question to parishioners at the beginning of Lent: "What is your plan for the season of Lent this year? Are you ready to embrace it 'collaboratively'?" Practicing what he preached, Father Rossi gathered a group from both parishes to assist in planning the Holy Week and Triduum services. Choir directors from the two parishes worked together to prepare the beautiful music, such an important element of the Triduum liturgies. The combined choirs and liturgical ministers from both parishes served at each liturgy. St. Jerome Parish School is a vibrant part of the collaborative. Children from the school attended the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on the Tuesday of Holy Week and then, at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper, they brought forward the oils that the parishes will use this year. At each of the Holy Week liturgies parishioners were invited to contemplate more deeply the Paschal Mystery in their own lives: What is the cross that you carry today?
When readings are proclaimed clearly and reverently, music is inspiring and uplifting, and preaching is thoughtful, it is no surprise that Mass on Easter Sunday would see a church with standing room only.
Some weeks ago we previewed the Belmont Collaborative's plan to begin the Triduum with Holy Thursday Mass at St. Joseph Church, then walk in procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose at St. Luke Church. Did this ambitious plan work? Yes! The evening was rain-free and, as one participant noted, "the procession was silent and reverent and beautiful." As in the Weymouth Collaborative, Belmont also planned to have liturgical ministers from both parishes participate in each service. It was touching to see ministers from the "host" church show the ministers from the other church what the local customs were: where to stand or when to move. Greeters from St. Luke's comfortably and warmly welcomed people to the Easter Vigil at St. Joseph's. Thank you notes have been pouring in to the parish office, with comments that the Triduum was special, beautiful, holy, and moving, even more so than usual. One parishioner emailed: "Thank you for an amazing Triduum. I always love Holy Week in the church but this year was unique and special. I loved the joint choirs and the renewed energy in their combined strength -- the sense of being filled with hope of having the church filled and vibrant and the hymns were truly 'sung to the heavens'-- a true reminder it all belongs to God in blending the churches so comfortably."
These two parishes, open to the working of the Holy Spirit, facilitated a beautiful worship experience for the Belmont Catholic faithful.
Three collaboratives, seven parishes, one consistent observation: collaboration is hard work and it is worth it. There may be bumps in the road as people learn to work together in new ways, but this is to be expected. For this first Triduum operating within Disciples in Mission, it seems that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. "Our God is a good, good God indeed, and we are so blessed."
Susan Abbott is Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.