Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Editor’s note: We hear a lot these days—and rightly so—about how families and individual members of the lay faithful might go about participating in some spiritual way in the Holy Week liturgies when they are unable to attend them in person. But what about our pastors? How will they celebrate without their faithful? What will they experience? In this first of a series of entries on Holy Week’s most holy days, Kansas City, Kansas pastor, Father Nick Blaha, shows us the inside of his church—and his priestly soul—during Holy Week without a congregation.
The light through the church windows is dull and chilled; a cold snap has brought freezing rain, and the church feels stonier than usual, like the great basilicas of the old world. The furnace is quiet, strangled by purse strings. It shall not be revived any time soon.
A parcel of Brazilian Franciscans enters and spreads through the church like hermits discomforted by the proximity the sacred synaxis demands. The occasional creak of the old wooden pews is the only break in the funereal stillness before Mass begins.
It is a funereal stillness, indeed. Death is not so far away as he once was. His icy fingers are ungloved, and they have laid themselves on our shoulders.
This will be my first Holy Week in the parishes I serve as pastor, having been reassigned recently to a multilingual cluster of inner city churches in the urban core of Kansas City, Kansas. It will certainly be the most unusual set of high holy days I have ever been a part of in my 40 years of existence. My relief at not having to negotiate a bilingual Holy Week in three different churches is surpassed only by my disappointment at not having the chance to do so.
There have been days in the recent past—I say it to my shame—when the milling, madding crowds of people in this church were a frustration to me. All too often I regarded them as a distracted and distracting audience rather than a priestly people assembled for the sacrificial meal. I strike my breast in disbelief at how altered the scene is, and how altered I am. The teenagers have been cleared out of their hiding spots in the stairwell. No toddlers wander, all innocently, through the sanctuary. Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor / Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor, my heart cries, all out of season.
Yet this stillness is not unwelcome, either. In his Meditations Before Mass, Romano Guardini contrasts the negative silence that we feel the urge to fill with the rich, brimming tranquility that is the condition for all hearing, for all prayer. “Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life, the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being all there, receptive, alert, ready. There is nothing inert or oppressive about it.” Could it be that the untimely muteness of the Church, spurring the faithful and priests alike to strain in eagerness for the resounding of God’s Word, is a work of the Holy Spirit to clear the spring from which the Word rises?
If these were silent, the very stones would cry out.
In the hushed emptiness of the church after all have departed, the stony coldness magnifies the Lord.