The term “lay day” has nautical origins and refers to those days when a ship/boat/vessel is neither racing, working, loading, etc. The boat simply lays on its anchor, attached to its mooring, or simply secure to its dock and the crew gets a day off from their usual routine, an opportunity to sleep late, work on personal projects like laundry, write letters, etc. In highly competitive sailboat racing, these days are pre-built into the schedule. For bishops Holy Saturday is a “lay day” – a day without Mass and mostly without appointments or expectations. Pastors and priests in parishes are hard at work preparing and rehearsing for the Easter Vigil (no rest for them) and sacristans, trainers of altar servers, etc. also seldom get the day off. But I do have it off until 830pm tonight and the glorious Easter Vigil.
Here are some thoughts about Holy Week this far. I have witnessed a steady diminution of people coming to Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies over the last fifteen years. From standing room only in 1996 to at best two-thirds full this year. A part is due to the shifting demographics of the Cathedral parish over this period of time with many older Catholics for whom Easter meant the entire Triduum either moving or dying. A part is also generational with young parents not having has the experience of accompanying their parents to the Holy Thursday and Good Friday services. Yesterday from the altar I thought that if something is not done to reverse this trend, my successor will be celebrating in front of an empty house in ten years, or almost empty. Triduum, Holy Thursday, Good Friday are just names for days for many younger practicing Catholics and are largely devoid of any real religious need to be present.
Those who do come worship with great reverence and dignity. On Holy Thursday the procession to the altar of reservation was long, prayerful, and richly spiritual for the several hundred who remained to pray. We wash a good number of feet at our Cathedral representative of all age groups and that helps swell attendance slightly. Since we reverence one huge cross at our Cathedral which I hold for an excruciating approximately fifteen minutes or so, I can see two categories of those approaching to kiss the wood of the cross – grandparents and their grandchildren. Maybe the latter is a good sign. I would estimate we had about 500 for Holy Thursday Mass and 650-700 for Good Friday but this is in a Church which comfortably can seat 1,200. There is some “heavy weather sailing” catechesis which needs to be done and soon on the services of Holy Week.
The Easter Vigil begins with sunset at 830pm tonight at our Cathedral and will end about three hours later. Working from an aging memory I think there are about five to be baptized and another twelve to be received into full communion. If history runs it course, there will be about 400 people in the Church for this most beautiful and joyous of all liturgies, save ordination. Time flies for me at the Vigil and it is over before I even begin to fidgit about how long it is lasting. It is simply wonderful.
Holy Week is a lot of work for our priests, deacons and parish staffs but they joyfully embrace it to hear that welcome news, “He is not here, he has risen!” which comes tonight. The Churches will be jammed tomorrow and at the end of the day, we will settle back and count our many blessings: that we are Catholic, that we journeyed through all of Holy Week with Christ, and that He is Risen. More tomorrow.