Holy Week always comes as a surprise to me.
You might think that's kind of odd. In fact, I think it's kind of odd. We do really pay attention to Lent around here: our routine during these weeks is different in small but meaningful ways, and my impression is that most of us do pay attention to "tightening up" in some area of our lives, both corporately and individually. And since we observe the entire season, and the readings at the Offices are attuned to the season, you'd think that it would have the effect of leading a person right into the climax of the season wouldn't you?
I'm never ready. I always wonder how it got here so fast and why I don't feel better prepared. I always think there must be something I could do differently next year, so I'll be really ready for Holy Week.
But, on the other hand, Palm Sunday always does the job. I arrive all unprepared and the opening prayer asking God to "assist us in the contemplation of those mighty acts...." always pops me right in. And then we read the Palm Gospel and get a piece of Palm (and this year a stalk of Pussy Willow, too). And we have a really fine procession from the Guesthouse to the Church, singing a lively "Hosannah, Hosannah, Hosannah. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" and we ring hand bells, and bang drums and clap clappers, and even skip a little, sometimes, and that does it.
Now the service is over, and I'm in Holy Week once again. My Palm and my stalk of Pussy Willow rest behind the Triptych of Christ and two angels that hangs in my cell, and I closed the doors of the Triptych to match the solemnity of the season, so now I see the angels on the back side, guarding what's hidden within. That will keep me reminded. (As though one needed reminding around here!) (But a little visual symbol never hurts.) Yes, it really is Holy Week.
I guess whatever works is what works.
And this week we had another of our big moments. On Wednesday at Vespers, Mark, our Postulant, became a Novice, and is now Brother Mark.
The Clothing ceremony, which makes a man a Novice, is the most dramatic of the services of passage in the community. That's because he's been sitting with us in choir for six months, dressed in civvies, while the rest of us are all in white. Now, at the beginning of Vespers he's asked if he really wants to do this (see last week's post). Then his habit is brought out, all neatly folded, and blessed by the Superior and given to him. While we sing a hymn he goes to the Sacristy and changes into it, and towards the end of the hymn he comes back in with the Novice Master, and he's all resplendent in white, and with his hood pulled up. Very dramatic, this change to the monastic state. And it serves as a reminder to me of the day that I did the same thing, and of the years that have passed since then.
I think of all the men who have put on our habit in the 127 years since our community was founded - and of the ones whose lives were changed and who spent the rest of their lives in Holy Cross - and of the ones whose lives were changed, but who left. We often hear from men, now long forgotten in the community, who still remember vividly the time they spent with us, and the effect it had on them, and this is now sometimes 40, 60, even 70 years ago. And it all began with putting on a white habit.
It's common to say that something is "only a symbol", but symbols are powerful, and often never forgotten. This symbol of how a life changes when you give it to God is one of our deepest ones, and after nearly 50 years in our habit, a little something "comes over me" still every time I put it on.
May that be true for Br Mark as well, and may he live long and prosper with us.
Br. Bernard's pictorial notes:
- You'll find a set of pictures of Br. Mark's clothing on Br. Julian's Flickr gallery "Cloister Walk".
- You'll also find a set of pictures of Br. Julian's First Annual Profession of the Benedictine Vow.