Christ is Risen, alleluia! Truly, He is Risen, alleluia! Such is the refrain ringing through the chapels, dining rooms, highways and byways of Madonna House the past two days. It is Easter, and we are celebrating.
Celebration for us means... well, pretty much what it means for anyone anywhere. A little bit of time off from work. Nice food. Decorations. And beautiful, beautiful liturgies done up with maximum solemnity and care.
Getting here was, of course, a lot of work on many levels. Holy Week in Madonna House is a time of great beauty, profound traditions, and an awful lot of elbow grease and sweat on the brow. Palm Sunday we began with our usual procession from the dining room of St. Mary's to the chapel, with banners and candles and cross. All crowding into the foyer in front of the chapel until we sing those magic words, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing..." and the doors fling open and we all stream into the church, symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem, led by Christ in the person of the priest.
The three weekdays of Holy Week all had their own busyness and special quality. Monday was our communal penance service, always a very precious time for us, when the whole community together enters into the mercy of God in a very basic and elemental way. Tuesday, many of us went to the Chrism Mass in Pembroke to celebrate the mystery of the sacramental priesthood and the blessing of the oils with our local bishop, Michael Mulhall, and the larger diocesan church. Every year, for me, this event has deeper meaning and import.
Wednesday evening we all gathered together to dye the Easter eggs which feature as part of our post-Vigil festivities. Our handicraft people have managed to develop ways of egg dying that ensure really beautiful eggs no matter the talent or lack thereof of the dyers. I have absolutely no skill in this matter, so stick to a form of tie-dying that yields very nice results. Others use a drop-pull method involving melted crayons on spoons mounted over candles and... well, it sounds a bit weird when I put it that way but the results are remarkably good.
Of course there is ferocious activity in the kitchen, the handicraft, the library, the laundry all through these days, to prepare for the Sacred Triduum.
Which began on Thursday with our 'Supper of the Lamb', a simply gorgeous ritual meal (not a Seder supper, but influenced by that Jewish sacred ritual), where the farmers process in a whole lamb, roasted, to make very visible and tangible Christ the Lamb who was slain. Readings and prayers taken from the Office and the Gospel of John bring home the sacred importance of the day, and a simple (but delicious) meal of lamb, bread, and wine, links together the Eucharistic mysteries with the agape love of the community.
I was the celebrant of the Mass that evening, and had the privilege of washing the feet of six of my MH sisters as well as six of my brothers, that particular rubric having changed this year.
Good Friday brought us hot cross buns for a simple breakfast, the traditional 'clacker' replacing the bells that normally signal the beginning and end of meals, said bells being a symbol of joy that is muted on that day. The afternoon service was one familiar, I am sure, to all readers of my blog. I myself was out in a parish on the Quebec side of the diocese for it--other priests were out helping in parishes as well for various liturgies.
Friday evening we had the Burial of Christ service, the Jerusalem Matins of the Eastern Church--a rich and beautiful service in which the lamentations of grief and loss yield slowly to the dawning hope of the resurrection, but still in a mode of solemnity and sober reflection.
Saturday morning at Lauds this mingling of sadness and hope continued as we sang the Byzantine hymn, "The Lord awoke as one asleep, and arose, saving us," a favourite moment for many of us in our movement towards Pascha.
The Vigil had the special gift this year of one of our guests making her profession of faith and being confirmed in the Catholic Church. We opt to go big for the Vigil--all the readings are read, and we take our time with every last rite. So it lasts about two and a half hours, and we settled into our post-Vigil collation around midnight, cracking together the eggs we had dyed a few days previously while proclaiming 'Christ is Risen! Truly He is risen' to one another. And then... the feasting began, and it hasn't stopped yet.
Yesterday and today (and tomorrow, too!) are days off, with nothing on the schedule but evening Mass followed by supper. People can sleep, go for walks, play games, hang out... eat when they want and do as they please within reason. In MH, where our ordinary life is very good and wonderful, but also very regimented, this is the great modality of festivity for many of us, to be a little less scheduled like that. And eating lots and lots of good food, especially the koolitch bread and paska spread that are our special Easter foods.
So that's most of it--all of the above of course required enormous work from everyone, so we are all a bit tired, but very joyful in it. The weather added a wrinkle, as we were hit by that same massive snow and ice storm that most of North America got, on Holy Thursday. The days since have been favourable to the sugar bush, and so many have gone up there on the days off to help collect the huge runs of sap that are flowing daily right now.
And that's that. Please be assured that as we go about all these most festive and joyful days of the year, our prayers and love are offered up for the world, and particularly for those suffering at this time. May Christ's Resurrection be in the end victorious in every human heart and win the world to the Gospel of mercy and love.