This is my first Triduum without any association with RCIA. For my first, I was a seeker contemplating becoming Catholic, and the RCIA director of the parish I had decided to attend recommended I attend Triduum to get a feel for what Catholicism was all about. It was incredible, beautiful, and I moved forward. For the second one, I was actually in RCIA, and the third one, I was receiving confirmation and communion. For the fourth one, I was sponsor to someone who received confirmation and communion. For the fifth one, I was supposed to be a member of the RCIA team, watching our catechumens and candidates get baptized, confirmed, and communioned tonight, but everything fell apart for me with the RCIA program at my parish, and that, combined with some other insoluble problems, put a pall over my feelings for my parish, despite my love for it and for the priest and my friends there. And all of this disruption made the 30-mile trip each way to get there each week feel a lot less justifiable; so, as of January 1 of this year, I am technically still a member of my parish, but am in fact rather parish-less.
In January, I started to attend a parish (Parish #1) that was only 8 miles away. I had been there several times and I found it nice enough. Also, that parish is where the Secular Franciscans meet and I had gone to a few of their meetings, so I thought all of this boded well for a possible new church home for me. And I like the priest’s approach – very hands-on, action-oriented – we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. I hadn’t yet committed to becoming a member of the parish, because I just hadn’t gotten the little “go-ahead” signal from inside me, the small, guiding voice I use for all my decisions as much possible. But I think that my experience at this parish on Palm Sunday might just pour cold water on the idea of becoming a member of Parish #1. While this priest is great at practical spirituality in action, he seemed utterly out of his element in the more mystical environs of Palm Sunday and the upcoming Holy Week. The palm leaves were just piled on a table outside the church, and there was no procession. What a grave disappointment. And when it came to his homily, it was basically “Christ died for your sins, so if you feel far from God because of your sins, don’t worry, because God forgives you through Christ.” And while that is true, and that is indeed the Good News, it seems to be a rather banal topic for the occasion, which is the run-up to the most mystical event of all of Western Civilization. And since I did tell myself that Palm Sunday to Easter is where you find out what a parish is really made of, that makes me feel like I might not become a member of this one.
For Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I went to another parish (Parish #2), also 8 miles from our house. I had been to this one several times before, and actually considered it as a possible home parish before I realized how much I loved the parish I am currently trying to leave. The Holy Thursday experience at this parish was a great improvement over Parish #2 – almost to a fault! The church itself is much larger and more spacious and much more beautifully decorated. The priest, far from being uncomfortable with mystical topics, gave his homily with eyes closed half the time, and it was completely about the Eucharist and the importance of it. I think because my home parish tends to attract lots of highly-educated liberal folk, our priest’s homilies tend to walk a line between mysticism, practicality, and intellectual knowingness, a place that I find very comfortable and easy to feel inspired by. So this homily about the Eucharist, which gave no food at all to a hungry intellect, was challenging to me. On the other hand, the Eucharist is something that I am always struggling with, something I still don’t totally “get” and I want to get, and it was something that was obviously extremely personally important to this priest, so I thought, this is probably a good angle for me. My feeling that this parish was very strong in the mystical aspect of the holiday was confirmed in the lovely chant and procession to the adoration in the chapel, which was beautiful and moving, and whereat I had a genuine spiritual experience/transformation/epiphany, overturning some lifelong beliefs and understandings, which I am still processing.
For the Good Friday celebration, it was still daytime, so that wonderful darkness and focus I feel from having these services in the darkness was not there. The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord was pretty good, but the genuine grief and intensity that I have felt in the past were not there. The cross was quite small, maybe 3 feet tall max, and the people holding it would wipe it off with a napkin every time someone kissed it. I get why, but it was weird and I don’t think very effective for the intended purpose anyway. At my first Good Friday, the parish had a gigantic, heavy, wood cross that the congregation would move over their heads, down all the pews of the church, and you would feel the weight and burden of it. Then they laid this giant cross down and you could go up there and kneel down and kiss it and touch it and do whatever you wanted without anyone standing in line behind you. It was extremely moving and devotional, and really I have never experienced anything to compare with that since. So, although I got a little teary during Were You There When They Crucified My Lord, frankly, I want to feel a lot more than that on Good Friday. As for the homily, he chose “Why do we call it Good Friday? Because it is good that Jesus suffered this death and suffering for us”, etc., which again made me miss my current parish, where the priest would never fall for that simplistic mistake (this did make me reflect on how different parishes have to appeal to the demographics of their congregations, which is interesting per se, but it’s not really what I want to be thinking of at a time like this.) I had been planning on going to Tenebrae that night, but I felt more tired than spiritually fed after the Good Friday experience, so I skipped it.
And so we arrive to today, Holy Saturday – Easter Vigil, as soon as the sun goes down. I had planned on going to Easter Vigil tonight at Parish #2, because since 2012, that’s what I have done. And again – my first Easter Vigil was unbeatable. The music, the images, the emotionality and the fire and the darkness, the sheer length of it – I have never experienced anything like it before or since. But I feel emotionally tired tonight, for reasons not having to do with any of this, so I’m considering skipping Easter Vigil and instead going to Easter Mass in the morning. I guess the question is: will I get spiritual food if I go tonight, or will I become even more drained? (I may go regardless.)
And underlying that question is: will I ever find another parish that will actually feel like my spiritual home again? Stay tuned.