Sunday, March 30, 2008

Triduum Reflections III

(Third in a series, see Triduum Reflections I and II)

I have often considered returning to the ancient practice whereby, on Good Friday, Holy Communion was not offered. As we know, the liturgy of Good Friday is not a celebration of the Eucharist but rather a Liturgy of the Word during which consecrated Bread from the Holy Thursday Eucharist is given to the assembly.

Having been privileged for many years now to celebrate the Triduum in parishes where the Veneration of the Cross is done with solemnity, song and a deep reverence, I have long experienced the Veneration as the moment of communion among the faithful and have wondered if the ancient practice (no Holy Communion) might be worth revisiting. (Nor am I the only one to raise such questions and, indeed, I know that in some communities this has been tried.)

But this year's experience has significantly changed my mind. Our parish uses a large, almost life-size wooden cross for the veneration. It is carried in procession into the church by five women who then take turns, in pairs, holding the cross upright and secure for the people to come forward and venerate.

Because of its size and weight, we have never found a good place to retire the Cross once the Veneration is completed and it is time for Communion. Its size argues against laying it on the floor or altar steps lest it appear to be simply dropped or abandoned there. We have settled in the past for leaning it against the back wall to rear of the altar and ambo - but still it looks ill-placed there.

Only on this year's Good Friday afternoon did it occur to me that a good place to repose this large Cross would be on the altar itself. This picture was taken after the Good Friday liturgy:



While the deacon went to bring the Eucharist for Communion, we took the Cross from the place where it had been venerated (at the foot of the steps to the altar) and laid it upon the altar. I gave a brief, simple catechesis on the relationship between the altar of Eucharist and the altar of the Cross, the sacrifice of Eucharist and the sacrifice of the Cross, and how the Eucharist at the Lord's table is our share, our participation in the sacrifice of Calvary. Not only did this provide a catechetical moment for understanding Eucharist as sacrifice and the connection between the mandatum and the Cross as signs of self-giving service, it also made a graceful connection between the first two liturgies of the Triduum.

My experience was that this linked the communio experience of the Veneration with the Communion experience of the Sacrament of the altar.

(For those who are wondering: we placed a corporal in a space not taken by the Cross for placing the reserved Eucharist on the altar once it arrived. This served the purpose well.)

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome in the combox.

-ConcordPastor

5 comments:

Fr. Gene Vavrick said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I like the symbolism of the cross upon the altar. In previous years at my former parish we had a stand built for the large wooden cross. The cross was placed in the stand after the veneration, in front of the altar and those who wished to remain in prayer and additional veneration after communion could do so.
I too believe that this communion service is not needed and seems disconnected. Doesn't it make sense to be fasting from the sacraments,along with the catechumens during the Triduum?
I don't imagine we have an option of omitting this communion on Good Friday...do we?
Anne

ConcordPastor said...

Anne: Does the Sacramentary provide an option for doing this (omitting the distribution of Communion on Good Friday)? No, it does not. On the other hand, the Sacramentary does provide an option to omit the foot washing on Holy Thursday. To omit Communion on Good Friday would be a serious change in the rite.

ConcordPastor said...

I removed the first post above because Fr. Gene Vavrick had included his phone number which I thought he might not want published here. Here's what Gene wrote:

Austin,

Great post. I too am imagining a Good Friday celebration without the giving of Holy Communion. The Veneration of the Cross, if done well, could possibly be THE prime moment for Good Friday.

In my parish, our altar is relatively movable, so we COULD move it, if necessary.

I think we do need to revisit the "major moments" of the Good Friday liturgy.

In our parish, we do have a life-sized simple cross that people carry in, and we have a very nice stand into which it is placed after the veneration.

I'd like to experiment with removing the altar on Good Friday, and putting the Large Cross in its stand in its place. Once Communion is carried in by the servers and the EME, we just stand in front of the cross for the distribution of communion.

In my case, I'm rather lucky to have an altar that is relatively movable. I know that it's supposed to be stable and fixed, but for Holy Week, I think there's a great value in putting it away for Good Friday.

Diana Macalintal said...

I like the choice you made to place the cross on the altar, and I whole-heartedly agree with making the theological connection between the cross and the altar--both places of sacrifice and redemption, both the "throne of grace" from which we receive mercy and help in time of need.

Yet there is a critical distinction that needs to be made between Communion and Eucharist. The sacrifice of the Eucharist is primarily the sacrifice of praise offered in the Eucharistic Prayer by which we receive the Body and Blood of Christ to share. The Good Friday liturgy does not include the Eucharistic Prayer which is the heart of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

We actually weaken the understanding of Eucharist if we begin to see the Communion we share on Good Friday as similar to what takes place the following night around the altar.

Having experienced some Good Friday liturgies in communities which chose to omit the Communion Rite, I can say that the adaptation (whether or not it was "by the book") served to strengthen not only the Veneration of the Cross but also the sense of Eucharist as sacrifice and culmination of the Triduum. The Eucharistic Prayer (which the newly baptized were now priviledged to pray) and the Communion that followed at the Easter Vigil truly then became a breaking of the fast under the shadow of the cross.

I wrote an article on the difference between Eucharist and Communion.

And here's an article that uses this essential distinction to explain why catechumens are dismissed from the Mass but candidates are not.

Diana
Work of the People
TeamRCIA.com