FR. COLMAN GRABERT: There's a hymn that says, "Silence reigns on this Earth today because the king is dead." It's a remarkable day of holding your breath, waiting for something to happen and the vigil is quite simply marvelous.
BR. KOLBE WOLNIAKOWSKI: You're listening to "Echoes From the Bell Tower," stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks who live, work and pray in southern Indiana. I'm Br. Kolbe.
BR. JOEL BLAIZE: And I'm Br. Joel. Today as we lead up to Easter, we're talking about the most important days of the Church year, the Triduum.
FR. THOMAS GRICOSKI: The whole Easter celebration is so important that the Church gives us six whole weeks of Lent to prepare for it.
BR. KOLBE: This is Fr. Thomas. He served as master of ceremonies during last year's Holy Week services. During the Triduum, we are commemorating Jesus' last days on earth leading up to his death and resurrection. The Triduum is Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday into Easter Sunday.
FR. THOMAS: The Church gives us seven whole weeks to absorb and celebrate what happened in the seven-week-long season of Easter. So we take six weeks to get ready for it, and then seven weeks just to live through the joy that comes from it. It's the most important thing that the Church does during the whole year.
ARCHABBOT KURT STASIAK: The overall thing we're doing is walking in Jesus' footsteps. We're spending the last week of his life with him. We're doing that liturgically and ceremonially, and of course at the end of that week, if you will, the tables are turned a little bit and we celebrate his offering us the promise of eternal life.
BR. JOEL: As Archabbot Kurt just explained, you get a sense of going on a pilgrimage by attending the Holy Week services, and the journey really begins on Palm Sunday.
FR. THOMAS: And for this liturgy, the whole church assembles outside and everyone is given some palm branches to carry. There is the reading of the gospel of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. He's finished his year, or years, of ministry in Judea, and he is coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. And people are expecting him to come as the Messiah and to restore the Davidic kingdom.
BR. JOEL: So people welcome Jesus as King and they lay down their cloaks and palm branches as kind of a royal road for him to walk on into the city.
BR. KOLBE: During the Palm Sunday service at Saint Meinrad, we start outside and then process into the church with palm branches. After the procession, the Passion is sung by a schola of our best singers. If you haven't heard it, it's amazing.
FR. THOMAS: One of the things that makes our services at Saint Meinrad different from a parish is that everyone in the community is doing lots of liturgy all the time, we're kind of liturgy pros, and so the liturgies that the Church gives us for Holy Week, for the Sacred Triduum, those three days, are the most elaborate and the most complicated liturgies that there are, and it takes a lot of planning, and forethought, and choreography. So at the monastery we've been preparing for this, in a way, all year long, and year after year.
ARCHABBOT KURT: Easter and the Holy Week is for us the time when, you know, we're almost determined to use our church in every way that we can, and to convey the meaning of those liturgies in as dramatic, that is acting out the way, as possible. So when people come here, I think our liturgical spirit, especially during the Triduum, is a bit contagious.
BR. JOEL: In the monastery, we have the luxury of putting the liturgy at the center of our lives. We spend a lot of time preparing for the Triduum. Br. John Mark makes the paschal candle every year. Our musicians, readers and singers rehearse for weeks.
BR. JOEL: Br. Kim decorates the church with Easter flowers. It's a community effort and we invest a lot of ourselves into making these liturgies beautiful.
BR. KOLBE: We have a lot of guests who join us every year for the Holy Week services. Among those are Julie Wilberding and Mary Lawrence Melvin. They travel from Pennsylvania every other year to spend Holy Week at Saint Meinrad. Julie is an oblate and also the niece of Br. Zachary Wilberding. Here's Mary Lawrence…
MARY LAWRENCE MELVIN: I happen to enjoy 72 hours of spiritual enrichment. It's quiet, it's focused, it's the repetitive chants. Being around this community with the monks and being able to be fed in that environment is different than being in traditional parish life, where some years you can get really enriching liturgies and other years you don't, whereas, this is very consistent and feeds well.
JULIE WILBERDING: I think for me, because I'm an oblate, there is a sense of coming home to my spiritual community, because I feel like I have two spiritual communities, the community here at Saint Meinrad and then my parish community. There's always a desire to spend probably the highlight of the liturgical year here with "my brothers" and to see my uncle. I think that I find the liturgical experience and then the Liturgy of the Hours both together just make it a more enriching experience.
BR. JOEL: The Liturgy of the Hours are all tailored to the mystery of the day. Here's Fr. Colman.
FR. COLMAN: Probably the most impressive thing are the lamentations of Jeremiah, which is said each day. These are the laments over the fallen state of Jerusalem, of humanity and so on. Lamentations are sung in varying degrees of a combination of song and recited by a reader, and they're very moving.
BR. KOLBE: There are a lot of elements to the Triduum services that we don't experience any other time of the year.
BR. JOHN MARK FALKENHAIN: Good liturgy and good church services in our Catholic tradition really involve the senses.
BR. JOEL: This is Br. John Mark. He serves the community as choirmaster.
BR. JOHN MARK: It's obvious that it involves our hearing, our listening to the Word of God, and our sight; but there are lots of symbols to see and lots of beautiful things to see - the Paschal candle, the church, the lighting of the church, the music, the sounds, but also the smells, the incense. At the Easter Vigil, the church is filled with the smell of spring. So there's just all of this sensory experience that also taps into the liturgy and makes it what it is.
BR. KOLBE: One thing guests will notice during the Triduum is the lack of sounds. On Thursday in the monastery, we begin the grand silence. Here's Fr. Thomas.
FR. THOMAS: The atmosphere in the house during the Triduum is one of a kind of quiet intensity, and people are more quiet than usual, maybe walking a little more slowly, little more thoughtfully. And the mood in the house is more somber and serious. There's not really any recreation, or talking about the weather, and I think that people are focused on their own interior prayer during these times.
BR. JOHN MARK: I can't remember who said it, but something about that silence is the best complement to the spoken word or whatever. And there's so much happening and being spoken and being sung at these liturgies, to then have quiet time in between them allows it all to resound or to speak to you again.
BR. JOEL: Between Holy Thursday after the Gloria until the Gloria at Easter after it is announced that Christ has risen, the bells and the organ are turned off.
BR. KOLBE: The bells and organ are celebratory, so the silence emphasizes this moment of waiting to enter into Christ's passion. It's a kind of sorrowful mourning, preparing our surroundings and environment. A sound you will hear if you're in the monastery is the clacker. There is a photo of the clacker in the blog post for this episode.
BR. JOHN MARK: It's basically a noisemaker - I'm sure it's homemade - but this box that has a crank and teeth and these little wood things that when you crank it, it goes … (sound of clacker) … you know it makes a really loud rattling noise, and that's the sound that it's time for prayer, that it's time for a meal, that it's time for ... It's used as the bells.
BR. JOEL: A lot of people may view the Triduum services as three distinct services, but they're not. They are actually an extended single liturgy that begins with Holy Thursday. Julie Wilberding explains.
JULIE: If you noticed that when you leave Holy Thursday services, there is no final blessing. When you pick up again on Good Friday, it's like you're entering in the middle of an existing liturgy. You come into it in quiet and, again, when it ends, people depart, the clergy depart, and there's no final blessing, and then you conclude this three-day-long liturgy at the vigil. If you just go to Holy Thursday, you've been to a third of this liturgy, and you really have to do all three days to make it complete.
BR. KOLBE: Holy Thursday re-enacts the Last Supper. This is the day that Lent officially ends and the Triduum begins.
FR. THOMAS: And at the beginning of the Holy Thursday liturgy, you ring all of the bells of the church while the people sing Gloria. For every Sunday of Lent we did not sing the Gloria, which we normally do at Sundays at ordinary time, and Easter and Christmas. But during the Sundays of Lent, we weren't singing "Glory to God in the Highest," but at Holy Thursday we do, and we ring all of the bells to celebrate this fact that the Eucharist has been given to us on this night.
BR. JOEL: The Holy Thursday Mass begins at a strange time. We usually celebrate Mass in the morning here at Saint Meinrad, but this Mass takes place around the same time Christ would have celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples.
FR. THOMAS: At the Last Supper liturgy, at the Holy Thursday liturgy, we remember Christ taking bread and taking wines, and saying, "Take his all of you and eat of it, or drink from it, for this is my body, this is my blood, which will be given up for you." And we really are grateful for this gift of the Eucharist.
But interestingly, at the Holy Thursday liturgy, the Church does something that John's Gospel tells us Jesus did at the Last Supper. And that is he put on an apron and washed his disciples' feet. So you would see the abbot putting on an apron, and kneeling down, and washing the feet of 12 people who have been selected for this.
BR. KOLBE: We find anyone who has joined the community in the last year, any novices or visiting Benedictines from other monasteries. We also find people on retreat or Saint Meinrad co-workers to have their feet washed. Fr. Peduru had his feet washed last year for the third time.
FR. PEDURU FONSEKA: It is a very intimate experience and also very uncomfortable moment, as well. But once I heard a friend of mine put it this way: When you pray, we look up to heaven for God. Most of the time, you see a cross hanging from the ceiling down, and we look up to the cross. But in this action, in this moment, as Christ was washing the disciples' feet, you had to look down. Imagine a moment that we ourselves look down with shame, with being tired. We see Christ even at our feet, like basically washing away our dirt, our worries. So it's a beautiful image of our sins and everything being washed away by Christ himself. I thought it was very symbolic and a beautiful moment, even though it's uncomfortable, and it meant to be uncomfortable, I think.
ARCHABBOT KURT: Washing the feet is a very humbling thing. It's also clearly humbling to the people whose feet you're washing. It is not humiliating to me, it's humbling, but I can tell in their expressions. You know, they're sitting there, as I remember when I was a novice and I got my foot washed by the Abbot, it was like, my gosh, I think I got a better idea of why Peter protested so much in the Gospel. You know, you're not going to wash my foot. You know, I'm not worthy. But it is clearly a moving ceremony. More than once, I noticed tears in people's eyes.
FR. THOMAS: And Abbot Justin started this practice of kissing the top of the foot after he washes their feet, and Abbot Kurt has continued that, which is a really humbling and surprising thing, I think, for people when they see the abbot gently kissing the top of their foot. It's a real sign of affection, and service, and humility on the part of abbot imitating the humility of Christ to bend down to wash his disciples' feet.
BR. JOEL: After the washing of feet, we go into the celebration of the Eucharist itself and then after that we have a long procession to the seminary chapel.
FR. THOMAS: We have an altar of repose set up in the seminary chapel, where the Blessed Sacrament is solemnly carried in procession and then incensed, and we sing a hymn, and then people can stay in silence until around midnight in adoration of the Lord. And in Rome, for instance, there's a custom of going to visit church, after church, after church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved after the Holy Thursday liturgy.
BR. KOLBE: After the Holy Thursday liturgy, all the monks and guests enjoy a banquet together where we usually serve lamb. And it's just an enjoyable feast, especially at the end of Lent, just to have a nice big meal. But that also gets you ready for Good Friday, when there is a day of fasting. There is an overall celebratory feel to Holy Thursday. Here's Br. John Mark.
BR. JOHN MARK: I'm smiling because I'm trying to decide if I really want to describe it this way. But there's a feeling about Holy Thursday that's like a dinner party. That's a good analogy in the sense that it is about the Last Supper and the disciples gather together. There's the washing of the feet. There's the Eucharist.
BR. JOEL: And then at the banquet, the superiors in the monastery, the abbot, the prior and the subprior, are the ones who wait tables.
BR. JOHN MARK: So in the way that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, our superiors are serving us at a table. There's just something really kind of warm about it, and that contrasts so much to Good Friday, which it's all a cappella, there's much more silence, it looks more spare, it feels more spare, the sounds are different, the music is different.
BR. KOLBE: Good Friday commemorates the day the Lord gave his life on the cross, and the tone of the liturgy is very solemn.
FR. THOMAS: This liturgy also begins in a very strange and somber way. In complete silence, the ministers process in and then lay on the ground in front of the altar for a period of silence.
ARCHABBOT KURT: That's a very emotional moment for many people. It's one of those times where it's amazing to have sometimes 300, 400 people in church, and you can't hear a sound. You kind of wonder: where has everybody gone? But it's this great almost reverence for the one whose death we were celebrating.
FR. THOMAS: And then the priest stands up while everyone else remains kneeling and has the opening prayer of this liturgy, and then we go into the reading of the Liturgy of the Word, and the singing of the Passion narrative.
BR. JOEL: The next part of the liturgy is the solemn intercessions. We have intercessions at Mass, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer every day, but the Church takes this particular time, right after it has commemorated the death of the Lord, to pray very solemnly for the needs of the Church and the whole world.
FR. THOMAS: There is a sense that now is the most acceptable time to pray most earnestly for the truest and deepest needs of everyone on earth, because Christ has just offered himself up to the point of death on the cross for our sake, as an act of love and obedience to the Father. And so we can join our prayers to Christ's offering of self, and have the hope that God is indeed listening, and looking with mercy on his Church.
BR. KOLBE: After the solemn intercessions, we move into the adoration of the cross. In the monastery, we have a seven-foot-tall cross we use for this liturgy and three monks carry it into the church, starting at the great doors.
FR. THOMAS: And the cantor sings, "Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world. Come let us adore," and then everyone genuflects, and then stands again, and then the cross is carried to the center of the church and again we repeat that, and then the cross is carried up to the part of the church between the choir and the guest section.
BR. JOEL: Then everyone approaches the cross to give it a sign of adoration, usually kissing the cross where Jesus' hands or feet would have been. And people take off their shoes as a sign of devotion and respect for the cross.
FR. THOMAS: This is a somber and really moving experience to go up and to kiss the cross in some way, because you are embracing, in a way, something that ordinarily should be terrifying, but that Christ, by his act of love, has made a sign of our salvation and a sign of hope that death is not the end. And I think every year that people go through the holy liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, every year they unveil a different meaning to them, and so maybe as children they can remember kissing the cross and it meant one thing, and then as people get older and they come to kiss the cross on Good Friday again, it starts to mean something else. And it's never quite certain what God is going to be doing to you, or saying to you, during these liturgies.
BR. KOLBE: After the adoration of the cross, the liturgy returns to the reception of Holy Communion. The deacon brings in the reserved Blessed Sacrament from the seminary chapel and the abbot and deacon distribute communion. After that, there is a closing prayer and everyone departs in silence.
FR. THOMAS: The next day, Holy Saturday, is a day of deep rest.
BR. JOEL: The Easter Vigil begins after sunset on Holy Saturday and it lasts about three hours.
FR. THOMAS: The Easter Vigil is the largest and most important liturgy of the Church's year, and it is usually the longest one, it has the most readings, and the most activity, and the most dramatic elements of all the liturgies.
BR. KOLBE: The Easter Vigil begins with the Easter fire outside the church. All of the guests, the ministers and the abbot gather in the darkness. The abbot blesses the Paschal Candle that Br. John Mark made and then the candle is lit from the fire and it's processed into the Archabbey Church. Last year, the fire was lit in the courtyard because it was raining. Here's Br. John Mark.
BR. JOHN MARK: And then once the candle is brought in, there's a very long chanted prayer called the Exultet, which is a beautiful meditation on Christ the light, on the importance of Christ and the salvation of the world, that He is the light and that it is symbolized by this candle. And shortly before we sing the Exultet, the light from the candle is then passed out to all the people in the congregation who are holding little candles. So the entire church then is slowly filled with the one light. So it's the light being spread into the world that originates from Christ that illuminates our lives.
BR. JOEL: Then the vigil goes into a series of seven readings that tell of salvation history. Fr. Thomas explains…
FR. THOMAS: We have the story of the creation, we have the story of the fall of Adam and Eve, we have the story of the exodus coming out of Egypt, crossing through the Red Sea, and then you have several different prophetic admonitions to the people of Israel to turn back to the Lord.
And then, we get a reading from the New Testament, and the cantor will come over and announce that the Lord has risen. And finally after six whole weeks of not being able to say Alleluia, the abbot intones in a solemn and really extremely joyful, but solemn, tone the Easter Alleluia for the first time, which we will just sing again, and again, and again, too many times for the next seven weeks of Easter.
BR. KOLBE: We then move into the renewal of baptismal promises. In a parish, this is where people who are entering the Catholic Church are baptized.
FR. THOMAS: So everyone walks down to the holy water font at the entrance of the church, and one of the monks will bless the holy water, and then everyone will take holy water as they renew their baptismal promises.
BR. JOEL: After that, we move into the remainder of the liturgy, where you have the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And from now on, it's basically a Sunday Mass.
FR. THOMAS: At the end of Mass, the deacon will intone a double Alleluia. So after 40 days of not singing Alleluia, we sing it as many times as we can.
BR. JOHN MARK: The Easter Vigil is intense and beautiful and indescribably spiritual. But there's something about that there's this play of darkness and light, these very basic forces in our lives of the triumph of goodness. There's this telling of stories and the unfolding of a long history. So the entire thing, the vigil itself, feels like a pilgrimage that one is taking through these readings, through this history, through this revelation that is our salvation.
FR. THOMAS: And I think that the Holy Week liturgies, the sacred Triduum, it has an effect on you that is long lasting. You don't know exactly what's going on, but you know that you've gone through something substantial, and important, and weighty.
BR. JOHN MARK: If our faith is the most important thing in our lives and our relationship with God is the most important thing in our lives, we spend relatively little time and resources on it. We go to Mass every Sunday. Now monks, we go to church a lot more. But when it comes to the Easter Vigil, we're pouring a lot of ourselves, and our time, and our energies, and our practices into the preparation and carrying out of these liturgies. And it's probably the one time when we get anywhere close to investing as much of ourselves as we should, given that this is the most important dimension of our existence, of who we are.
BR. JOEL: Thank you for listening to our episode today on the Triduum. You're welcome to join us for these liturgies. The Mass of the Lord's Supper begins this evening at 5 p.m. Central Time in the Archabbey Church.
BR. KOLBE: Our editor and producer is Krista Hall. This episode came together with the help of Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Tammy Schuetter, Jim Paquette, Christian Mocek, Br. Joel Blaize and me, Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski. Br. Joel wrote and produced the intro and outro music you heard in this episode. The other music was recorded during last year's Triduum liturgies.
BR. JOEL: A special thanks goes to Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, Fr. Colman Grabert, Fr. Thomas Gricoski, Br. John Mark Falkenhain, Fr. Peduru Fonseka, and our guests, Mary Lawrence Melvin and Julie Wilberding. We hope to see you both again soon.
BR. KOLBE: Tune back in next week for a short episode on the Triduum memories. We have the full Easter schedule along with pictures from last year's liturgies in the blog post of this episode at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes. We hope to see you there!
BR. JOHN MARK: When you crank it, it goes…