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The Deacon's Bench

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A lot of people have written, asking: “How was your Triduum? How about the Exultet? Are you still alive?”

Well, yeah. I’m here. Let me try to sort it all out. Here’s what I remember.

Thursday

Morning. Spent some time polishing a homily for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. My pastor was scheduled to preach, but I’ve learned from years past: be prepared. (It’s not unusual for him to ask me in the sacristy at the last minute, “Deacon, are you prepared to preach?”) I ran a few errands, picked up some dry cleaning, tried not to think too hard about the next three days.

2 pm. My pastor’s annual Holy Thursday luncheon at a nearby restaurant. The guest list was small: my pastor, the other two priests in the parish, Deacon Bill (our DRE and a good friend and classmate), his wife, and me and my wife. During lunch, my pastor tried to persuade one of the other priests to do the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, but the other priest wasn’t taking the bait. I offered to preach for my pastor, if that would make things easier for him. “Will it be any good?,” he asks, with an arched eyebrow. “I’ll try to rise to my usual level of mediocrity,” I said. The meal broke up around 4, and my wife and I headed home.

One important thing I’ve learned from Triduums past: pace yourself. I decided it was time for a nap.

6:30 pm. I arrived at church for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. My pastor shuffled into the sacristy around 7. “Deacon, are you prepared to preach?,” he asked, in that familiar way. Sure, I said. “It’s not long, is it?,” he asked.

7:30 pm. The first chords of “Out of Darkness” began. There were a gazillion altar servers – maybe 20? 30? – including torchbearers and incense. The mass was stunning and beautiful. The mandatum (washing of the feet) was poignantly executed as the choir thundered the soaring hymn “Jesus Took a Towel.” Mass concluded a little after 9 pm, with one of my favorite parts of the Triddum, the procession in the dimly-lit church, moving from the main altar to the altar of repose (situated in the middle of the church, over the baptismal font, where a tabernacle had been placed amid flowers and candles.) “Tantum ergo, sacramentum…” The church remained open until midnight, for all those who wished to visit and pray. I went home to crash.

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Friday

Noon. My wife and I arrived at church to lead the Stations of the Cross – Mary’s Way of the Cross, the same version we had done throughout Lent. It’s the first time we tried to do this version on Good Friday. Imagine my surprise when I walked out into the sanctuary to begin the devotion at 1 pm. and saw that the church was PACKED. Standing room only. (This, in a church that seats nearly 900.)

3 pm. Our first liturgy for Good Friday. Participating: all three priests and the deacon. The reading of the Passion, a homily, veneration of the cross, communion. A sizable crowd – the church was about three-quarters full. Many people who had come for Stations stayed for this. Service concluded at about 4:15.

4:30 pm. Dinner with the priests in the rectory. I asked the pastor, “You planning to preach for the Vigil tomorrow?” He told me he’d like to, but he wasn’t sure. I nodded and made a mental note: “Work on homily for Easter Vigil.”

7:30 pm. A remarkable and unusual service: the dramatic oratorio, “The Seven Last Words,” performed by our choir, with my wife introducing each section. This was followed by a homily, veneration of the cross and communion. Again, all the priests and the deacon took part. The priests lingered for a couple hours after, hearing confessions. An idea had come to me during the service.  I went home, tore up my homily, and started over. 

Saturday

9:15 am. I arrived at the church for breakfast and coffee with the RCIA candidates.

10:30 am. After a late start, we rehearsed the Vigil with the RCIA team. Everything broke up around 12:30, and I went home to tweak my (new) homily and drink hot tea and practice the Exultet.

Mid-afternoon. Somewhere in here, I took a nap.

6:30 pm. I arrived at church. About this time, people began trickling into the church and, lo and behold, who should I see, but Elizabeth “The Anchoress” Scalia. She’d schlepped in from Long Island with her husband. Warm hugs all around. I was delighted to see them. I also saw my wife, settling in to her usual pew. She beamed at me and waved and whispered: “Good luck!” I whispered back: “Pray for the deacon!”

7:00 pm. My pastor arrived in the sacristy and wanted to know if my homily was any good. “As mediocre as usual,” I told him.

7:30 pm. The Vigil began, in utter darkness, with that brilliant burst of flame. In the shadows, I could tell that the church was almost full. I carried the candle from a side entrance, slowly inching my way down a side aisle, rounding the corner, then making my way up the main aisle of the church. “Christ, our Liiiiiiiight…” You could hear a pin drop. (And, I realized: if that four-foot pillar of melting wax got any heavier, you could hear a candle drop, too…) The Exultet went better than I expected. Praise God. I made it through the homily, too, and nobody threw anything at me, and then I survived the blessing of the holy water, with that ginormous candle. When it came time for communion, Deacon Bill prepared the chalice, and put in extra wine, so that the newly initiated could receive under both species. It turned out to be more than we needed. A lot more. When they finished, the chalice was still half-full. I took a deep breath and consumed what was left of the Precious Blood. Incredibly, I managed to remain standing for the rest of the mass.

10:00 pm. My final musical moment: “The mass has ended, go in peace, Alleluia, Allllllaaaaaaaaayyylooooya!” And the choir launched into the “Hallelujah” chorus – complete with trumpets – and the Triddum, at last, was done. After, my wife and I stopped by the school auditorium for refreshments, and to congratulate the shiny new Catholics baptized that night. We got home a little after 11. I conked out the moment my head hit the pillow.

I returned to church Sunday morning, to preach at the 10, and assist with the sprinkling and communion at the 11:30 and 1:15 masses – all of which were PACKED. People were flowing out of the vestibule and into the street. (Could you imagine if these people showed up every Sunday?!)

So…after three days of this, I haven’t yet started speaking in tongues or levitating. But my eyes are bleary from incense. My feet are rebelling against leather shoes. My wife is glad she won’t have to hear the Exultet for another year. I’m pleased to be eating chocolate again, and I’m thinking that a week on an island somewhere might be good right now — but the only islands I can envision in the near future are named Long and Staten.

But I do have tomorrow off. 
Don’t bother calling.  I’m taking the phone off the hook.

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