Reflections on Holy Week

Well I’ve made it! My first real life experience planning and playing in holy week services.  This post is largely non-theological and very much practical.  Though I’ve participated in holy week services almost every year of my adult life, I have never had to be the person in charge.  I had a great time with it, am totally exhausted, and will need at least 11 months before I’ll want to do it again.  Good thing is I hear it’s going to happen again in about 12 months.

At TCC we had a total of seven services throughout the week:

Palm Sunday (2) – We sang “All Glory, Laud and Honor” with kid’s choir, adult choir, organ, trumpet, and palm fronds galore!
Maundy Thursday – A communion service with choir and organ reflecting on the last supper and Jesus instituting a new commandment – love one another.
Good Friday – A tenebrae service of shadows where we read through the passion narrative of Luke interpolated with passion hymns like “O Sacred Head”, “How Marvelous” and “Stricken Smitten and Afflicted”.  I brought in my friend Josh who is a fantastic cellist to play excerpts from the Bach cello suites.  The service ended with the congregation coming to the front of the sanctuary to literally nail their sins (written on prepared slips of paper) to the cross.  I plan on keeping these to use next year, when we will burn them into ash for our Ash Wednesday service.
Holy Saturday – Our newest worship service (dubbed “saturday night life”) which had little to do with a traditional holy saturday or easter vigil service, but was easter themed.
Easter Sunday (2) – He has risen! We brought back the kids choir, adult choir, organ, and waving streamers and crosses singing ‘lift high the cross’ with our resident brass ensemble.

The last supper table.


Well needless to say, I went home on Sunday afternoon after the last Easter service and slept for a few hours.  Never. Slept. So. Well.  I loved planning the services and leading the music, but have learned a few things in hindsight:

1) You can never prepare too much.  As much as I thought I had everything together, something always fell through the cracks.  I was making photocopies for the choir and adding another song to the overhead screens on Easter morning at 7:57 am.

2) I don’t have to do it all.  I had many wonderful helpers who directed and managed the children’s choir, and staff support for bulletins and projections.  That being said, this year I tried to plan and execute all of the services myself.  Next year I hope to have someone help manage the choir (including photocopies and tracking attendance).  Next year I hope to have someone else plan and lead one of the services.  Next year I hope to have someone else create the bulletin and projections.  It’s not that I didn’t have the help, it’s that I didn’t know how to properly delegate.

3) Trumpet players are a hot commodity on Easter.  Though I had thought I had booked a quintet back in January, some last minute changes left me with a quartet – forcing the french horn to play the trumpet part and the tuba to play the trombone part.  Not the end of the world, but it could be avoided.

4) Some people come to church only on Christmas and Easter.

5) At the end of the day, it’s about worshipping GOD.  I need to constantly remind myself that in my preparation I am bringing God glory.  Though on Sunday at 9:30am I don’t always feel like I am having a “worshipful experience”, my preparation and professionalism does bring God glory by allowing other people to enter into worship.  To some extent, I cannot get ‘lost in the moment’ as a worship leader, because I always need to be thinking ahead.  I’m learning to be okay with that.  (That being said, the kid’s choir never ceases to get me choked up…that’s why someone else conducts them.)

That’s all.

What happened at your church?  Any fellow church musicians out there that have holy week reflections to share?

Reflections on Holy Week 2011

I have been meaning to write something about holy week, but to be honest, was so completely swamped that I never had time to sit and blog.  Well, with class cancelled tomorrow, I finally have time to write a bit about my reflections on holy week.

First of all, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where I work, I sang in a Tenebrae office on wednesday, Maundy Thursday service, Good Friday mass, and Easter Mass.  Yes, as I told Eva, holy week is lucrative for church musicians.  Like like tax season for accountants, christmas for retail, and valentines day for florists, holy week for a church musician is what pays the bills and makes ends meet.  I used to feel bad about this, but considering in a few weeks I’ll be job hunting as my responsibilities will be reduced for summer months, I can use the extra pay.  Enough money talk, onto spiritual reflections.

During holy week in the catholic church, statues of the saints and the cross are veiled in a dark opaque purple.  Here’s an explanation:

Veiled cross at passiontide
Veiled cross at passiontide

The spirit of the Passiontide veiling seems to be that the Church would draw off our attention from everything but Him whose suffering [passion] she is commemorating, bidding us ‘consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners.’  It is also symbolical of the hiding of our Lord’s glory during His earthly life, and especially during His ignominious and bitter Passion. (From “The Ritual Reason Why”, by Charles Walker)

At the office of tenebrae, the service ended in darkness.  This dramatic moment was enhanced by the organist, using the 32′ stops only, simulated sounds of an earthquake to remind us of the earthquakes that happened in the passion story.  There were two.  One when Jesus gave up his spirit in Matthew 27:50-54 :

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

With the lights out, the pitch-less rumbling shook the walls of the cathedral, and brilliant flourishes on the manuals provided curtain-tearing sound effects.  The overall effect was other-worldy.  As this was the conclusion of the office, we left in silence.

On Maundy Thursday, the cardinal gave a ceremonial foot washing of 12 priests of the archdiocese.  I realized, through the ritual actions of laying prostrate before the altar, and the unified gestures of the sign of the cross and various points of kneeling before the altar, that the catholic liturgy expects the spirit to be present.  When participating in the mass, and these para-mass services, I began to get the sense that these gestures were more than empty ritual, but a powerful unified statement of worship from the Catholic

Rose window at Chartes Cathedral

church.  During the sermon, the cardinal presented a powerful image of stained glass as a metaphor for the church as a whole.  He said (and I think quoting JPII), that stained glass windows, when viewed from the outside, look drab and un-insipring.  When entering the church, and, seeing the windows from the inside looking out, we experience their dazzling radiance and intricacy.  So too is the church (and now I refer to the body of believers), often perceived from the outside as cold and uninviting (or overly inviting), it is not until we enter into the body and participate in community to we realize the intricacy and beauty of the collage of members.  I can extend the metaphor even further (and indeed people have) to say that the members of the body, like fragments of glass, may be blemished and are in no way a complete picture, but when arranged together they form a complete image.

Finally, Good Friday, at a service at Citylife church, I heard a fantastic sermon that basically preached the gospel (I can’t help but notice how the memorable element of the Evangelical service was the sermon, contrasted with the memorable moments of Catholic offices being for the most part liturgical gestures and sacraments).  That being said, it was refreshing in its simplicity, yet still thought provoking.  We mustn’t take the cross romantically, said the preacher.  I was not quite sure what he meant by that, and found it strange juxtaposed with the Good Friday mass I attended, where a majority of the service was centered around “veneration of the cross.”  During this point, the relic of the cross was brought out and displayed to the congregation, and congregants came forward and kissed the cross out of reverence and adoration.  I’m not sure if this is what the preacher meant by “romanticizing the cross,” but it was very powerful to see an actually piece of the cross where my savior hung.  Surely a sobering moment.

But he didn’t stay in the grave!  He has risen!  Lent has been a fulfilling season of reflection (and giving up facebook…which might just stick), but as Christians, we celebrate his resurrection and await his return.  As will always be the case, more thoughts on that to come.  Happy Easter everyone!

Wilfred Owen – Maundy Thursday

British poet and soldier, Wilfred Owen is famous for his war poetry undoubtably evoked by his service in the First World War.  Britten’s War Requiem (1962) may be considered an homage to the poet, as Lt. Wilfred Owen was famously killed in action on November 4th, 1918, just one week before the Armistice that declared the end of the war.  His pre-war poetry is often overlooked, but is particularly poignant in showing his aversion to conventional (in this case orthodox) religion.


Between the brown hands of a server-lad
The silver cross was offered to be kissed.
The men came up, lugubrious, but not sad,
And knelt reluctantly, half-prejudiced.
(And kissing, kissed the emblem of a creed.)
Then mourning women knelt; meek mouths they had,
(And kissed the Body of the Christ indeed.)
Young children came, with eager lips and glad.
(They kissed a silver doll, immensely bright.)
Then I, too, knelt before that acolyte.
Above the crucifix I bent my head:
The Christ was thin, and cold, and very dead:
And yet I bowed, yea, kissed – my lips did cling.
(I kissed the warm live hand that held the thing.)

Wilfred Owen