When I was a youngster, attending a Catholic Convent School, Good Friday afternoon was a time of great solemnity and remembrance. The chapel bell would ring out for several minutes, calling us to join the Benediction service, and the corridors would be full of hurrying but unusually silent pupils, teachers and nuns, making their way to the old building, and into the honeyed air of the chapel corridor.
I don’t know if Catholics still observe the Benediction ritual as I knew it. I think probably not – Pope Paul VI brought the language of the people into the Mass in the 1960’s, and a few years later Pope John Paul II all but banned Latin, but the Benediction that I knew was always Latinate; the priest was robed, the air was thick with incense and the tone was sombre and worshipful, heavy with emotion, especially on Good Friday. There was a quiet observance to the whole day of course, but at 3 in the afternoon, the hour of Christ’s death, a blanket of hush covered the whole school. Even the most distracted and careless bouncy young soul could not forget the day’s significance.
I loved the Benediction ritual. Even away from Easter, it was a Wednesday highlight, every week, all through my school years. I feel nostalgic for the emotions I knew then, even though I’ve turned away from the doctrine of transubstantiation. Because I don’t believe in the consecration of bread, the basis of the ritual is meaningless for me but I am far from dismissive and I will always respect the belief of Catholics – and their devotion.
What was Benediction to me? An oasis of worship, pure adoration, the falling away of the world and the entering into ‘otherness’. It was a sort of sanctuary. In this short service, the consecrated bread (the Body of Christ to Catholics) is taken from the tabernacle and placed in a Monstrance, a usually ornate artefact with a glass window, in which the bread can be revealed to the worshippers and… well, worshipped. After prayer and maybe music, the priest unlocks the tabernacle, removes the bread (or host) and places it in the monstrance. Everything in that ceremony is beautiful, from the incense to the music, to the monstrance , to the flickering sanctuary light. It’s theatre, heartfelt and meaningful. When the priest turns to face the worshippers, and the monstrance is held up, the sanctuary bell tinkles, incense rises, and for those who believe that this is in fact the miraculously realised body and blood of Jesus, the moment is sublime.
On Good Friday the moment is heart breaking, raw and deep and bleeding.
Today there was no monstrance for me, no incense or hushed slippered feet padding down hallowed halls, no murmured ‘Laudate Dominum’, no silent adoration held in the air like a bated breath…. no theatre and no imagery, no icons or candles…..no priest, no gold, no ancient ritual….. there was just me. But I felt the presence of a million others, all of us remembering a cruel death upon a cross, in a foreign land, two thousand years ago. And the teenage girl who was lost in adoration all those years ago, was there still, faded a bit, not quite so intense or fervid, but still there. Still lost in wonder.
How fabulous that at every moment of the day, starting in Australia, and moving with the globe and with the Sun, it is 3pm somewhere, always. And so for all of our day and all through our night, somewhere in the World someone like you or me will be remembering that Christ died for us. I am sure that however we remember his agony and sacrifice, he accepts our prayers and our thoughts as tokens of our love.
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”When he had said this, he breathed his last.
One thought on “Remembering”
This is just a special piece of writing. Captures the mystery and beauty of it all, in words. X