BR. KOLBE WOLNIAKOWSKI: I'm Br. Kolbe.
BR. JOEL BLAIZE: And I'm Br. Joel. 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. If you just finished listening to our "Echoes from the Bell Tower" episode on the Triduum, you know how important Holy Week liturgies are in the life of the monks.
ARCHABBOT KURT STASIAK: It's pretty difficult, I think, for a monk not to have Holy Week and Easter right up there at the top of his list of favorite times.
BR. KOLBE: This is Archabbot Kurt.
ARCHABBOT KURT: Again, there's just so much meaning and so much of the core of our faith is right there, but we really do put in kind of like every resource and every fiber of our being into the liturgies of Holy Week. Again, they are so special and we continue to do them each year that we sort of build up almost a personal repertoire of memories and practices.
BR. JOEL: Monks have a lot of different memories around the Triduum liturgies and we're going to share a couple of those here in today's episode.
FR. COLMAN GRABERT: Fifty-nine years of celebrating the Vigil of the Lord's Service here, and I was in the minor seminary here, and after a while it becomes so familiar it gets into your bones. It's wonderful.
BR. KOLBE: After celebrating so many Easter Vigils at Saint Meinrad, Fr. Colman has a lot of unique memories going back to when Fr. Bonaventure was abbot in the 1950s.
FR. COLMAN: Because liturgies are high solemn events in which everybody is focused on something that is beyond the human and when the human shows up in all of its messiness, it's funny, funnier than it would ever be. Abbot Bonaventure was an aggressive liturgist. All gestures were huge and the liturgy - the blessing of the waters - was a very elaborate thing in which the Paschal Candle was raised and lowered three times into the waters of the font and oil was poured.
Then, there was a gesture of what was called dividing the waters. The presider would reach down into the font and move the waters in four directions; north, east, west and south. Abbot Bonaventure was very enthusiastic about this gesture, so he did all the other things and then it was time to divide the water, so he splashed north, east, west and south over his shoulder and hit two deacons right smack dab in the face. They were standing there looking very solemn with water running down their faces.
BR. JOEL: The only time we baptized an infant was when Gabriel Verkamp was abbot.
FR. COLMAN: The baby happened to be a niece of mine, so my brother and sister-in-law and the family were gathered. And Abbot Gabriel had glaucoma and very difficult for him to see. We went through liturgy beautifully and got the baby baptized and it was time to present the candle as the representative of the baby's new life in the light of Christ. Abbot Gabriel held the candle out at arm's length and waved it around and he said in his German accent, "So, who is the father?" as if it was some unknown that we were trying to find out at that point.
BR. KOLBE: Then there's that year Fr. Gavin got second-degree burns.
FR. COLMAN: Brother Lawrence built a fire of enormous proportions out on the plaza of the church. Fr. Gavin was the master of ceremonies and it was time to use a wax taper to get a start from the fire to light the Paschal Candle. And the fire was so huge and there was a wind blowing that every time he would get close to it with this wax taper, it would just melt, so he was constrained to try to get closer to the fire in order to light the candle and he made runs at it and he was holding cloth over his face. He ended up with second-degree burns on his face and hands from trying to get the fire lit. After that, we went to rather more modest proportions of the fire.
BR. JOEL: A lot of memories include a live lamb. We used to get a very young lamb from one of the local farmers for the Easter Vigil. Here are Br. John Mark, Fr. Thomas and Fr. Colman with memories of the lamb.
BR. JOHN MARK FALKENHAIN: We would always get it on Friday or something and we'd keep it in the courtyard, and all night long you'd hear a bleat - baa, baa. It sounded like a little child crying.
FR. THOMAS GRICOSKI: Sometime during the Easter Vigil, right after the baptismal liturgy, after the renewal of baptismal promises, the youngest members of the community, the newest members, the novices, would bring the lamb in, carry it in a basket, and holding a little flag of victory that you see Christ carrying in some depictions of the resurrection. And this was a kind of joyful and lighthearted moment that, in a way, broke some of the ultra-seriousness of the whole night.
FR. COLMAN: The children all came to the aisles in order to be able to see the lamb coming up. It was a great moment for the kids. The thing that everybody wanted was for the lamb to bleat. And on the years when we had a particularly reticent lamb, everything was done in order to try to get the lamb to bleat. They threw water on it. Sprinkled him vigorously with the holy water. The years when we had a very vocal lamb were the best years, particularly if it would bleat exactly on cue when the abbot sang. Every time the abbot would open his mouth in song, the lamb would bleat. That was the glorious moment.
BR. JOHN MARK: One time it jumped out of the basket, even though we had tied up its feet to keep it still. It wrangled its way out and then jumped out of the basket, and we had to during the Easter Vigil, catch the lamb. And the poor thing was frightened and it relieved itself on the floor, and it was a real mess during the Easter liturgy. So we decided perhaps it's best to not do the lamb anymore. But that was a real age-old tradition. I was sad to see it go.
BR. KOLBE: Archabbot Kurt's memories revolve around some of the most moving moments of the liturgies, seeing tears in people's eyes while washing their feet and also how people react to the cross on Good Friday.
ARCHABBOT KURT: As part of the Good Friday service, we have a cross that must be eight feet tall by eight feet wide, seven feet wide. But during the rite, there's a chance when everyone in church comes up, two by two, to venerate the cross, either with a touch or a kiss or a small embrace. And it's just, without feeling like you're a spy or an intruder, it's just very touching to watch how different people react to that cross and make their sign of reverence.
We're talking about people who hobble up on a pair of crutches; we're talking about 3-year-old kids who are carried by their parents, talking about every age in between. Everybody just, it's just interesting to see different people's different ways of expressing their love and their affection and their appreciation.
BR. JOEL: There's also the year a cat joined us for the Easter Vigil. Fr. Gavin died in 2017, but he was often called "the voice of Saint Meinrad" because he had such a wonderful speaking voice. For the last 10 years of his life, he was always assigned to one of the readings during the vigil. Here is Archabbot Kurt with the rest of the tale.
ARCHABBOT KURT: The last time he did it was in 2016, and he had the reading the creation of the world. He got the biggest kick out of this, as well as the rest of us. Just as he was talking about the creeping things that God created from the Earth, a black cat wandered into church and walked right in front of him and kind of give him the most curious, quizzical look you could imagine.
Gavin smiled, and if you were listening, you could tell that his, the whole timbre of his voice changed because he was kind of dealing, struggling, with a little bit of a laugh there, but it was just a, it's kind of one of those perfect timings, perfect coincidences. One of those neat things when the secular really does kind of come into the sacred.
BR. JOEL: We hope you enjoyed our episode today of Triduum memories. If you missed our full episode last week about the Triduum, you should go back and give it a listen. It's Episode 26 in iTunes or you can find it at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes.
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 music you heard in this episode.
BR. JOEL: Thank you again to Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, Fr. Colman Grabert, Fr. Thomas Gricoski, Br. John Mark Falkenhain, Fr. Peduru Fonseka, Mary Lawrence Melvin and Julie Wilberding.
BR. KOLBE: If you're enjoying our podcast, share it with a friend. You can also tell us what you think by leaving a review in iTunes. We will be back in a couple months with more stories of wit and wisdom.
BR. JOEL: There's this Protestant college, they bring a group up here every year, a few times a year, and they were here on Good Friday. And they remembered the time I went to venerate the cross and smacked my head on it.