Saturday, April 18, 2009

Commemoration of the Burial of Jesus

A week ago Friday now, after celebrating the Good Friday liturgy with which most of those who celebrate liturgically are familiar (proclamation of the Passion narrative from John's Gospel, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion from the Sacrament consecrated Maundy Thursday night), I celebrated the Commemoration of the Burial of Jesus, adapted from the Byzantine churches.

Whenever I'm able to do that, it serves as the highlight of my Paschal Triduum observance, for some reason. I suspect it might have to do with the 'official' acknowledgment of grief which it implies.

The liturgy which immediately preceded it was very wordy, what with the reading of the Passion, and the very stylized (and long) petitions which follow. This year, given my lack of musicians, and the highly non-musical gifts of my congregation(s), we only had music when I was leading it. This is a bit difficult, since I've not mastered the liturgical equivalent of bilocation.

To be fair, the Burial ought to have at least a Presider and a cantor, but since I have the music memorized for it, and there aren't many spoken words involved, it's possible to preside and sing without it being too disconcerting for anyone involved.

The Shroud, a piece of very ordinary muslin painted with a figure of the dead Christ, was given to me 17 years ago by a friend of mine who goes to a lot of AA and other 12-step meetings, Glenn L. He painted it for me so that I could preside at this liturgy the night before we baptized our friend Brian B. The calendar anniversary of his baptism is actually tonight, as it turns out. I've used Glenn's Shroud every time I've prayed this liturgy in the intervening years, and always think of Glenn and Brian when I do so.

Many thanks to my colleague (well, 'former colleague' now, since the University 'de-funded' my position...) Angela for sending along the rose water and orange blossom water about six weeks ago now! I made an aspergillum out of a handful of dried palm fronds, and as I reverenced the Shroud and the congregation with each of those essences, the fragrance was very lovely and compelling -- especially given all the non-lovely but very compelling odors we're assaulted with on a daily basis here.

Mom and Dad, and my "identical-twin-separated-at-birth" Susan R (we both got sober in September 1979) sent along exquisite artificial flowers to use on Maundy Thursday and at the Burial. I am very grateful for their thoughtfulness and generosity. (More on the flowers in a moment.)

I'd normally just wear a black cassock with a red stole, but since I didn't have my cassock here Down Range, I wore the red vestments from the Good Friday service. To my surprise, they have some pretty good frankincense here, so I put that to good use -- and it didn't impair my ability to sing the psalms or the Trisagion Hymn at the end.

From start to finish, the ritual only lasted 25 minutes. In its real, Eastern, incarnation it goes on for hours. But for people not accustomed to that kind of liturgical practice, and after a rather lengthy service immediately preceding this one, brevity can be a virtue.

The service (just an opening prayer, two psalms, each followed by a psalm prayer, and a short Gospel reading) ends with a procession in which the Shroud is carried to its "tomb" -- in this case, a classroom in the chapel building. ("Be flexible. Adapt. Overcome.") At least one other person knew the tune and the words in Greek that I sang after each set of three repetitions of the very simple melody to "Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us."

That was a pleasant surprise.

I didn't find out who that was, though.

Once we were in the "tomb" and the Shroud had been laid to rest, with flowers at its head and feet, we reverenced it for a last time with incense, rose water, and orange blossom water. People would kneel and touch it with their hands, or kiss it, or just bow to it before leaving.

As they left, I gave each of them one of the silk flowers my parents and Susan had sent me.

It was great to see that some of those present, no knowing that I was outside the room handing out flowers, had already taken one from next to the Shroud before they departed.

Not unlike any other funeral they've attended, I suspect.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ
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1 comment:

Steve C said...

Did you get Ms Ohio's phone # for me??? LOL

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