Radical days

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio washes feet of shelter residents during 2008 Mass at church in Buenos Aires
Much of what we do in our Triduum liturgies is familiar. We perform some of the same rituals, sing many of the same hymns, look upon an environment in church that is fairly similar from year to year. Some of us even sit in pretty much the same spot.

There is something to be said for such tradition, but familiarity and sameness in our liturgy can also be problematic. This may seem an odd statement since the Catholic Mass is, to the eyes of some I suppose, essentially the same from week to week and year to year and place to place. The Mass, as a ritual inhabited by living beings — Us! — must always be changing, and Triduum of all the liturgies in our tradition might be the most essential candidate for change.

Change can be a radical concept. We are creatures — most of us at least, or so it can often seem — of habit. What we experience in The Great Three Days, however, is one radical encounter after another and our ritual, hopefully, guides us to realize the radical nature of it all.

Think for a moment about what Jesus does that last night. He takes bread and wine and he takes a pitcher and basin. It’s all become so familiar to us that we’ve lost touch with how radical it all was. We take it for granted. The ritual by which we remember that night must guide us to realize again how radical it was, and maybe how radical we must be in response.

Jump ahead a few hours. We know the story; again, maybe we know it too well. We imagine the heat and crush of the crowd. We hear the hateful cries for and the agonizing groans of crucifixion. In all the dramatic detail of the radical’s brutal death, we might take for granted the radical love of God contained in the cross. Could the ritual of that day enliven such a radical love in us?

And then comes the discovery of some faithful women in the final hours of night. We tell the story of their radical discovery of emptiness, only after hearing radical stories of God creating the universe, of God testing and delivering. By the time we get to the empty tomb, our heads should be spinning from trying to comprehend the radicalness of it all.

It’s because we can’t afford to be lulled into the complacency of such stories, such faithful determination on the part of God and God’s people, that the Church’s ritual for this night contains so many radical elements: a blazing fire, nervous new believers pledging themselves to God, flowing water, fragrant chrism dripping from foreheads, and an eager assembly finally getting to sing the word hidden away for 40-plus days and now released from the emptiness of the tomb.

That’s all far too radical for any of us to really comprehend, for ritual to inspire, for any amount of change to manifest. What’s essential, most obviously, is our presence; our willingness to listen, to observe; our hope that the words, rituals, silence and song of these days and nights might strike us differently, more dramatically, more radically, and that rejoicing in the emptiness of the tomb we might be changed.  TL



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