Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rose Water

While I was attempting to acquire the first of what turned out to be four graduate degrees before my doctorate (more than half my lifetime ago now!), I experienced the Liturgy of the Burial of Jesus on Good Friday night for the first time. This incredibly evocative, ecumenical liturgy from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, adapted some years before by my spiritual director at the time, transformed my experience of the Easter Triduum -- Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.

Western liturgies for Good Friday (and I don't mean California) tend to be incredibly wordy, and focused almost exclusively on the most difficult details of the suffering and death of Jesus. Almost as an afterthought, it seems, we're told that Jesus' body was laid in a tomb.

Eastern liturgies (not talking New York here) ritually re-enact the funeral of Jesus, on the other hand. Instead of being overloaded with words, the Liturgy of the Burial of Jesus, especially as adapted by Fr. Carl, moves along accompanied by very few words. The power of the visual and olfactory cues carries meanings which need little or no verbal accompaniment.

Mourners enter the completely darkened church, except for the light of two candles on the floor of the sanctuary, at the foot of a large, bare wooden cross. Each is given an unlighted taper (small candle) before proceeding to the front of the church. Upon approaching the light, people see a muslin shroud laid upon the floor beneath the cross, one candle at each end. The shroud has a figure of the dead Christ painted on it. There is no music.

The setting encourages, and indeed enforces, the silence of all concerned, who have gathered in a haphazard throng around the shroud.

As the liturgy begins, the celebrant and perhaps an assistant enter the assembly and make their way, in silence, to the center. The celebrant prostrates himself on the floor as a means of reverencing the shroud. After a time, he rises and further reverences the shroud, and the assembly, by sprinkling the shroud and the assembly with rose water, and then again with orange blossom water using an aspergillum made from pine branches or other suitable greenery.

The aerosolized rose water and orange blossom water remind us of the spices brought by Nicodemus and the myrrh-bearing women (c.f. Jn 19:38-42; Lk 23:50-24:1). In the darkened church building, with only the light of the two candles illuminating the scene, the sensory engagement draws the participants into the liturgical action.

The Incense Psalm (Ps 141) is intoned by a vocal solist as the shroud and assembly are reverenced with incense. Afterward, a short psalm-prayer is prayed. During the intoning of one other psalm, the rose water and orange blossom water are again sprinkled over shroud and the assembly. Another short psalm-prayer follows.

After the reading of a Gospel passage (one of those listed above), everyone's taper is lighted. Four people lift the shroud and carry it in procession around the interior of the church building and perhaps outside to a tomb or downstairs to a crypt where it is laid to rest. As the shroud is carried, the presider intones a simple Trisagion hymn (Holy God. Holy Mighty One. Holy Immortal One. Have mercy on us.) which is repeated over and over until he breaks forth with the same words, in Greek, to a slightly different tune. The assembly then begins the English version again, followed by the Greek, until the shroud has been laid to rest.

Once the crowd has gathered at the tomb, the presider and assistant reverence the shroud by kneeling down and kissing it. The assembled are invited to acknowledge the shroud in whatever fashion they feel comfortable. If a cantor is present, the psalms from the liturgy may be repeated, as may the Trisagion, but otherwise no words are spoken.

As those present leave after reverencing the shroud, each is given a fresh spring flower. If possible, I like to have tulips and daffodils to hand out.

What's so amazing to me about this liturgy, which takes only a half hour to complete before the shroud's 'burial', is that people seem not to want to leave after it's over.

I suspect what happens for them may be what always happens for me: the previous year's griefs are all contextualized by bringing them to the burial of the Lord. It's not uncommon to see tears streaming down faces as I hand out flowers at the end.

The tears are holy.

This year, I plan to celebrate the Liturgy of the Burial of Jesus here Down Range, though the conditions will be anything but ideal. I do have my shroud with me, painted with a figure of the dead Christ by a friend of mine who was living with HIV disease at the time, so the corpus has Kaposi's sarcoma lesions on it. Over the years it has accumulated dripped wax and smudges from the earth on which it's been laid, as well as countless tears which have fallen on it as mourners have bent over it to reverence it with their own holy grief.

I'm rather certain this year I'll be unable to hand out fresh flowers, which is a sadness, but probably unavoidable, given the constraints of being in a war zone. We can get by without them.

But what I could really use is some rose water and/or orange blossom water. I was unable to secure any before I mobilized and deployed, so if anyone out there in blogland might be able to snag me some, I'd be indebted to you! (If you can help me with this, please let me know in the 'comments' section below. Many thanks.)

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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Anonymous said...

How much Rosewater do you need? How best to send?
Do we send it snail mail, When do you need it. If a few of us can send some we can fill your request? Fr. Tim there seems to be a fragrant aroma of rosewater in the air! Do the math on that,Sir.
Dorothy B.

Anonymous said...

I have a package ready to send, so can include some rose water and orange blossom water. Also some paper for origami flowers.


cptdrfrtim said...

Thanks, Angela!

Please put the rose water and orange blossom water into zip-lock baggies so there's no chance they'll goof up the baked goods, should something untoward happen. (First things first, you know!)

You're a blessing.

Tim, SJ

Anonymous said...

God Bless you Sir.


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