Good Zeal

Becoming prayer

This is my favorite day of the year. You might think it would be Easter, or Christmas, or my birthday, or any day that the sun, rising over the pasture, just happens to catch my spirit ablaze. But no, today, Holy Thursday, is my favorite day, because this is the day when, every year, I feel as if I become liturgy.

I serve the community as sacristan, and these days of the Sacred Triduum mean long hours, attention to many details, and tending to little else except prayer, meals and liturgy. My office agenda has been cleared. This blog will be silent. My room is clean. I am ready to focus on nothing but moving with the motion of these days, helping carry the liturgy along, and in turn, being carried by the liturgy.

But it is not just the details and focus that carry me along. During the Triduum, the very doing of the work, the engagement with the hours and the details of these sacred liturgies, is like entering a cave, a castle, a crucible, another land. It is as if I cross a moat into the very heart of the Church’s prayer and pull up the drawbridge behind me, not to emerge until Easter Sunday. These sacred days are like the cleft in the wall into which I place my entire being in prayer, and hopefully become the prayer that I pray.

I think (hope) most of us engage in our work as a form of prayer, as an offering to God. But as sacristan, these few days call me to focus particular attention on my work. There is an ancient liturgical maxim, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, or “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” In other words, what we pray is what we believe. We do not just shape the liturgy, the liturgy shapes us as we enter into the fullness of liturgical prayer, expressing and living our belief.

I happen to have the blessing of engaging with the practicalities of liturgy. This interpenetration of both being and doing, each drawing me deeper into the other, leads me, after a while, to feel as if my life becomes liturgy, and the myriad tasks, a litany. Prayer becomes belief, which becomes gesture and act, which in turn, becomes prayer.

And today, on Holy Thursday, my favorite day of the year, I stand at the cleft in the wall and place within it the thousand gestures that will fill the coming days, each gesture a prayer, each task a bead on the rosary, a litany of love, hopefully becoming the prayer that I pray.

Postscript: Sister Emilie and Sister Sara Aiden work with me in the sacristy, and together we polish, iron, clean, organize, prepare… Last year’s oils have been buried. The holy water fonts are empty and clean. A fresh corporal has been ironed for the tabernacle. The humeral veil is draped and ready. The wooden clapper, kept in our archives, is poised and prepared to replace the bells which will not ring during the Triduum. And so much more… The three of us work shoulder to shoulder to help carry our community through these sacred days.

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