A Journey Through Lent at St. Vincent

The journey through Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with the joyous celebration of Easter. Every year we choose a theme to help guide us through this  journey into a sacred space where we can embrace the compassion of a God who understands our brokenness yet so loves us as to become one with us.  This year, while our three-part theme echoes our mission statement of Word, Sacrament, Service,  we will reflect on in it through the lens of our Lenten journey.

On this first day of Lent, during our evening service palm is burned into the ashes for distribution, and the readings recount Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. The congregation sits in darkness to enter the shadows of a world that has rejected the light of God as each individual contemplates act of faithlessness. After Mass, we mark ourselves with ashes to indicate our resolve to return to the Light.

The Stations of the Cross are a traditional Catholic practice and consist of devotions recalling 14 events of Good Friday beginning with Jesus’ being condemned to death and ending with his being laid in the tomb. The congregation moves around the church before the stations; at each, there is a set of Gospel readings, prayers, and hymns.

During Advent and Lent, the churches of St. Ignatius  and St. Vincent join in a common reconciliation service. Priests from all the parishes are available to hear private confessions in several languages. It is an ancient church tradition to use the sacred time of Lent to compare our actions to our intentions and use the grace of the sacrament to again aspire to our better selves.

Holy Week

We remember the glorious entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday by processing outside around the Church at the 9:30 Sunday Mass (processions at other Masses are inside), ending with the triumphant church bell-ringing, palm-waving entrance into the Church singing “The King of Glory Comes.” Palm Sunday contains the first reading of the Passion which is acted out at St. Vincent with congregational participation. The Passion is also read at 7:15 PM and 11:45 AM Masses.

Tenebrae, meaning shadows, is a centuries-old custom of publicly singing part of the Divine Office during Holy Week. At our service, a triangular stand holds fifteen candles that are extinguished one by one after each lesson. The last candle is hidden beneath the altar, ending the service in total darkness. We use the strepitus (Latin for “great noise”) as part of the service to symbolize the earthquake that followed Christ’s death and as the signal to depart in silence. St. V’s Tenebrae service is at 7:30 PM.

The Triduum

The Triduum, Latin for “three days,”  keeps with ancient Jewish and Christian traditions, starting in the evening.  It begins on Holy Thursday night and ends with the celebration of Easter on Sunday morning.  These three days include the Lord’s Last Supper, the day Jesus died, the day he lay in the tomb, and the day he rose from the dead.

In a way, the Triduum can be looked at as one continuous liturgy.  These three days are the most holy days of the entire Church year for Christians.

To better understand and experience the Jewish roots of the Lord’s Last Supper, we celebrate a Jewish Seder at 6 PM [by ticket only] before Mass.  As Christians, we are a Eucharistic people, and at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 8 PM, we touch the Eucharist in its fullness.

We hear the Exodus readings about the celebration of Passover; then Paul tell the Corinthians, and us, the words that Jesus used at the Last Supper.  We experience John’s Gospel when Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles as the Pastor and Parish Council President wash the feet of congregants.  At the end of the liturgy the altar is stripped and the Eucharist is carried in procession to a side area, leaving the tabernacle open and empty in preparation for the next day. The church remains open for private prayer at the Eucharistic side altar for an hour after the liturgy’s end.

Good Friday is the only day of the year in which no Mass is celebrated in any Catholic church anywhere in the world. St. V’s is open all day for private prayer with the Liturgy of the Hours chanted at the appointed hours. In the evening at 8 PM, we observe the ancient Good Friday ritual, including John’s Gospel Passion, the intercessions, a communal veneration of the cross, and we end with a communion service using the consecrated Eucharistic bread from the night before. Following the liturgy, there will be time for private or small group veneration of the cross. The Cross is the universal symbol of our faith and on Good Friday we experience its reality and the saving grace it represents.

In addition at the Family Good Friday Service children will walk in the way of the Lord as they follow the stations of the cross. This devotional experience is designed specifically for young families. This child-focused service includes storytelling, music, art, prayer and contemplative walking – all combined to foster an age-appropriate recognition of the Stations of the Cross.

On Good Friday, while most of the congregations will leave after the liturgy, some will continue to keep the vigil all through the night. For early Christians the Easter Vigil was a sacred overnight watch by the Lord’s tomb, waiting for the joy of his resurrection. The practice was lost over the centuries but restored in the middle of the twentieth century. While parishes usually conduct the vigil’s abbreviated form, for more than 20 years St. Vincent’s has kept the entire vigil, beginning on Holy Saturday night. This year we will do it on Friday.

People are free to attend all or as much as they can. Some keep the entire vigil (there are refreshment breaks in the undercroft and nap breaks in the rectory, church, or choir loft). Others come for the beginning and return in the morning.  In this practice, we follow our roots for John Chrysostom noted in his fourth century Easter sermon:

If any have labored from the first hour,
Let them receive today their just reward.
If any have come after the third hour,
Let them now be thankful that the feast is at hand,
If any have waited until after the sixth hour,
Let them not be anxious, no loss shall be their own.
If any have tarried until the ninth hour,
Let them draw near also, shedding all their doubts.
If any have come only after the eleventh hour,
Let them not be fearful because of their delay.
For the Master is bountiful
and receives the last even as the first.

We begin at 8 PM with the the Lighting of the Easter Fire and the Exultet and celebrate a full Vigil Mass.

EASTER – April 1 – One Mass at 10 AM

Read more about Easter at St. Vincent