Just as Rachael’s favorite religious observance was Palm Sunday, my favorite was always Holy Thursday. I remember singing upstairs in the choir loft with Sister Justina and our grammar school choir, looking down at the foot washing and the stripping of the altar, chanting Pange Lingua, and being moved year after year with the passionate solemnity of the service. Then, of course, came Good Friday, which I always rather dreaded. Our children’s choir had its own little mortification of the flesh for the whole three hours, straining to be quiet and attentive, amusing ourselves from our bird’s eye view of the head tops, and our special vantage point for assessing the encroaching baldness of the manly portion of the congregation. I’m not sure why this was so fascinating, but it was. Now days, I’m in the grown up choir – two choirs, actually – both of which have roles on Holy Thursday, and the ten women who are in both choirs have to switch roles throughout the service. This makes for the stress of constant vigilance to assure that one is in the right place at the right time. And the number of services during the week (I sing at eleven different ones), means that none of the music has been over rehearsed, and this means that there is no autopilot singing. The care and attention required can really be exhausting. Sooooo, while I still love Holy Thursday, it has taken on a new aspect, an evening of beautiful tension. The rigorous focus on the details of the music and rubrics leave one little time for religious ecstasy.
Tomorrow – well, actually today – will be Good Friday. This, along with the Holy Thursday Compline service - is now my favorite service at St. James. The music doesn’t change much from year to year, so the terrors of that are minimal, and one can sink into the beauty and passion of the liturgy. The church is darkened and silent, the religious sorrow hangs heavy. Everything seems to be deep red or black, intensifying the somber atmosphere of love and loss.
Every Holy Thursday for years past, Tom, Rebecca, and I walked to Chinatown after the Morning Praise and, after exploring the neighborhood a bit, had lunch at Hing Loon. This year, Tom was not with us in body, but Rebecca and I felt him there in spirit. We didn’t order him any food, but we did have a place for him at our table. You can click here, here and here to see some Holy Thursdays of the past years. The flag picture was taken by Rebecca.
39 minutes ago