On the Triduum

18 04 2019

Sometimes I feel more cursed than blessed having had a thoroughly Catholic youth. As I have stated previously, the strongest memory I have of Good Friday is our grandmother reminding us to fast or God would strike us dead (something like that), and showing up to church one Good Friday and seeing an ambulance in front. “He probably didn’t fast,” I thought to myself then.

As a teenager, I became obsessed with liturgy (especially since the liturgy at the local Catholic Church was exceptionally bad). This led me into all sorts of shenanigans well into adulthood that I don’t need to recap here. I’ve painted myself into a corner at this point wherein I can’t really live with any Triduum services in the contemporary Western tradition because of the modern impulse to meddle in things that are “good enough”. Having labored for years in churches that followed the 1962 missal, I still remember the Reformed Holy Week of the years before the Second Vatican Council. For me, the times are all off and the Paschal Vigil is just weird. Apparently, the “approved” traditionalists are going back to the old unreformed Holy Week, but part of me thinks that is overcompensation for swallowing the rest of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, or at least tolerating it. And from what I see, they don’t celebrate the services at the traditional times (i.e. the Paschal Vigil is still celebrated at night and not early in the morning on Holy Saturday).

Experience with the Orthodox liturgy is not much better. Here I include the “Eastern Catholics” under Orthodox liturgy because, let’s face it, “Eastern Catholic liturgy” is just the liturgy of the separated Orthodox adapted to the Catholic sensibility of convenience (i.e. shorter and more “user-friendly”). While the “reverence” is there, familiarity isn’t, and neither is the cultural relevance. Unless you’re Greek, Russian, etc. the services are kind of weird. The Passions aren’t sung in the context of the Eucharist, the Burial Service on Good Friday night, Paschal Matins followed by a hasty and exhausted Divine Liturgy… yeah, it’s pretty but so is a Buddhist temple. My longstanding sense of Orthodoxy (and it’s Catholic-Lite imitator) is that you don’t get to be the true Faith just because your main competitor messed up. A lot of Orthodox purity is the result of its being so insular and alien to the rest of the Western experience. I feel this all the more during the height of Holy Week.

These are probably the complaints of a liturgical snob akin to the pampered people complaining of “First World problems”. At this point I just wait the Triduum out, go to a few church services as my schedule permits, and await the indisputable joy of Easter morning. Then at least I can forget all of this for another year, and enjoy a good meal with family and friends. Otherwise, I’d just go bonkers.

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2 responses

18 04 2019
F.S. Chatton

I think you are harsh on the Orthodox. I, too, come from a Catholic family and went through the motions of traditionalism, from which I am slowly extricating myself while retaining certain practices – saying the pre-1911 Breviary, for example, while having nothing to do with the local parishes or diocese at all. Perhaps, I am unchurched. One of my best experiences of Orthodox Holy Week was in Scotland, where there aren’t that many jurisdictions and what few Orthodox there are tend to stick together.

18 04 2019
Tom B.

This about sums up a lot of my own sense of things. Most of these reconstruction efforts remind me of a sign I once saw for an antique shop off an interstate exit: “Antiques Made Daily.”

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