This is Holy Week for Christians, and I can feel the old guilt kicking in. As a Catholic growing up in the 1960’s, Holy Week involved many hours of church. I wasn’t always sure what it all meant; but I always knew it was Holy Week.
Now, as a grown liberal Catholic, free to experience my faith in my own way, the path is less clear. I am just liberal enough to tell myself that I don’t have to spend six hours in church this week, yet just Catholic enough to feel guilty about it.
Thankfully, my guilt is eased some by one 20-minute experience that for me, packed enough Holy Week punch to leave a profound spiritual imprint; thanks to music, passion and St. Joan of Arc.
Every year on Palm Sunday, at St. Joan of Arc Catholic church at around 10:20 a.m. something happens that sends electricity through my body that I cannot fully explain. It starts with a powerful 15-minute reading of the Holy Week story by five local actors; the procession into Jerusalem; the last supper, the betrayal and crucifixion, all told in a very powerful way. An age old story I have heard thousands of times that can still seem fresh and a bit startling when read with such passion in a darkened room of hundreds of quiet souls.
Then, when the reading comes to an end, and silence falls upon the parish, the stillness is broken by a golden voice. Robert Robinson, the greatest gospel singer I have ever heard, interrupts the silence a slow, quiet opening of “The Wondrous Day of Our Lord.” After a few seconds, the St. Joan’s choir comes in, harmonizing and gradually turning up the tempo and the volume. The singing continues to gather steam for several minutes until Robby’s voice is thundering through the church, echoed by the beautiful choir.
Every year when this happen, I feel my knees go weak and I feel a warm tingle flow through my body and tears form in my eyes. I look around, initially embarrassed until I see that everyone around me is wiping their eyes too. Then, for several minutes of pure jubilation, a joy begins to stir deep within me that I wish I could carry with me forever. But I can’t.The music ultimately comes to an end and, while the rest of the mass is punctuated with a few more highs, I return to earth, and I watch others make the same descent.
An hour or two later, everything is primarily back to “normal”. I am home, the intensity is gone, and Holy Week is fully launched. Has it all left me? Yes and no. While I wish I could parlay that feeling into a week-long festival of Christian goodwill, I have never found a way to keep the flame as alive as much as I would like. Yet, in another way, five days later, a part of the glow can still be felt and, the rest of my Holy Week has, at least, moments of holy recollection.
Sometimes a few short minutes are all we get. Sometimes it’s all we need.