As a Catholic child, I knew Good Friday meant keeping silence from 12:00 noon to 3:00 P.M. My mom said that Jesus needed the quiet time. I knew we kids got ‘quiet time’ when we were naughty and I wondered what Jesus had done to get three hours of silence! I also remember hunting for colored eggs and jelly beans on Easter Sunday morning at our house.
When I entered the convent I was introduced as a Candidate to the formal days of Holy week. On Holy Thursday afternoon, the more-experienced Sisters decorated a side altar in silken white altar cloths and large bouquets of white gladiolas. The Mass of the Blessed Sacrament was in the evening. Our supper at 5:00 was unusual because it had some of the food Jesus celebrated at the Last Supper. At each Sister’s place was a white saucer with hot horseradish, some celery with leaves still on, a peeled white hard-boiled egg and a small portion of apple and walnut pieces mixed with sweet honey. The food introduced newcomers to community to the ancient tradition of the Jewish Seder meal Jesus had celebrated with his apostles. This ritual drew us into the mystery of experiencing for ourselves what happened to Jesus in the three days that followed. It brought the Gospel readings of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ to life in us!
Later at night the Mass and the account in St. John’s Gospel of Jesus’ arrest, the apostles’ fear and the suffering that began for Jesus was a sobering experience for us. The Mass ended quietly with a procession to the beautiful white side altar with the priest carrying the consecrated hosts. We were encouraged to spend the night with Jesus in our hearts.
Good Friday did not have Mass at the usual time because it was celebrated during the three silent afternoon hours. Often the weather became overcast with clouds and sometimes it rained from noon to three o’clock! We met in the Chapel for worship that resembled the first centuries of the early church. Another Passion was read and a long series of prayers recalled the Jewish communities, other Christian denominations, even ‘unchurched’ faithful people were prayed for. Holy Communion was distributed without music. A very large crucifix was carried to the front of the middle aisle and we went up in lines to kiss the feet of Jesus. The rest of Good Friday we kept silence in the spirit of the day.
Holy Saturday recalled Jesus in the tomb and although silent, the day was filled with “to do” tasks. We cleaned rooms in the Motherhouse, washed and ironed our habits (clothing), colored the dozens of hard-boiled eggs for the large community of Sisters and helped with kitchen tasks for the feast day. In the afternoon we were encouraged to rest because the Saturday Vigil Mass was a lengthy affair! It also brought us to the threshold of Easter!
While some of us sang in the choir loft above the congregation, most were seated below. In those days we did not have visitors coming to celebrate with us Sisters. We were immersed as “apostles” in these final hours of the Paschal mystery. Just as women got to the tomb on Sunday morning, we wanted to be there as a total community for the resurrection! The total chapel was decked with lilies, freshly laundered white altar cloths, glistening tall candles, the Paschal Candle and it felt transformed! The fragrance of flowers mixed with the scent of incense and a metal container had kindling wood for the new fire that would signal the “Light of the world…a light no darkness could overcome!” We were sure of it from our days of following Christ in his suffering. After two full hours of ritual and Mass, we happily went to bed.
The following morning brought us to Chapel for the morning Easter Mass with the many “Alleluia” hymns again sung after a long Lent. We freely filled small bottles with newly blessed holy water, and a 4 foot statue of the Risen Lord had been placed close to the front steps leading to the altar. For all the years of my initial formation at the Motherhouse, I thought that statue of Jesus with a walking stick having a plaster banner at its top, looked a lot like my dad! While my dad was closer to 5 and a half feet tall, the statue’s broad barrel chest, its face and short sturdy posture resembled the dad I knew!
I believe the days during Holy week gave each of us the apostolic spirit we have as Salvatorian Sisters today. It gave depth to the words “to follow Jesus” we hope to say for the rest of our religious life. The vows we have said end with these beautiful words: “Complete what you have begun in me, O Lord!” It is what God is doing in each of us the rest of the year!
By Sr. Karlyn Cauley, SDS