Update 3/25/16: Some images from a parishioner at St. Mary of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Parish’s Holy Thursday celebration have been added to the parish’s website.
I am so grateful to be in Utica, New York this week – my hometown – to consult and serve as a type of Master of Ceremonies and one of many music ministers for a vibrant parish here, Saint Mary of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Church. This parish, which is now combined with my birth and early sacraments parish from my youth (the Blessed Sacrament side of the name) is known throughout its diocese and area for its welcoming spirit, meaningful and thoughtful liturgies and beautiful contemporary liturgical music that is both uplifting and assembly-singable. (Some places often forsake the latter for the former, but not “Mount Carmel,” as it is known in its shortened-name form.)
I have been serving in this capacity for Mount Carmel for 14 years now during Holy Week and it never ceases to be a profoundly enriching and moving experience each year. Most of the music ministers are volunteer and the number of hours each of them puts in, not only at services, but in preparatory time during this week is staggering. With upwards of 120 pieces of music sung between Passion Sunday and the last Mass of Easter, Mount Carmel is like a liturgical gym – a workout not for the faint of heart.
I have to rush off soon to 7 p.m. Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which begins the Three Sacred Days of Easter (known as the Easter Triduum). This Mass recalls the night on which Jesus, knowing that he was about to be betrayed by one of his closest followers and handed over to his enemies, took ordinary bread and wine in the midst of what the Gospel writers say was a Passover meal celebrating the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery during the time of Moses (which is duly noted in the first reading of the Mass tonight) and changed the meaning of the meal for his followers. By inviting us to give thanks and share the bread and wine as his true body and blood, Christ invited us into “communion” – that is common-union, or community, with one another in his name.
The Gospel of the evening is the story from John’s Gospel of the Washing of the Feet – a reminder that being in communion with Christ means being in communion with his whole life of service and care for those who are in need.
This year, Mount Carmel, perhaps inspired by Pope Francis’ own example, will expand its foot washing ritual to include at least 15 different members of the parish, ranging from professionals, to parish council members, to recent immigrant arrivals. This washing will incorporate a form of the Prayer of the Faithful which reminds those who are having their feet washed, and the entire assembly who witnesses and responds with a song reminding us that what Christ has done he has done out of love, that we are truly to wash each others feet.
It is a refreshing example of humble service in a year that has been filled with a lot of bellicose rhetoric from many places.
The rite concludes with a solemn procession with the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, to a place of repose reminiscent of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed (and his disciples couldn’t stay awake) to prepare for his coming passion, and Judas came with soldiers and had him arrested. While many churches become somber and silent after Holy Thursday services, Mount Carmel holds the gentleness of the night with a sacred concert of blessings and songs that people from all around the area participate in.
Here are a few photos of the space and a few words about each in preparation for tonight’s services. I hope to share more of the actual events in the coming days:
This tabernacle, here shown on Palm Sunday, is the chapel for Eucharistic reverence after tonight’s procession. The tabernacle is significant as it was previously located on the main altar of Blessed Sacrament Parish and was retained when that church closed. It is now the main tabernacle for the combined parish community and a reminder of how bringing people together in the midst of a difficult situation like a parish closing can be handled with care and grace.
Here is the worship space with chairs in front of the altar for the foot-washing service tonight. There are 5 other stations around the church as well, ensuring all in the assembly will be close to at least one enactment of the rite. Dancers will also move the water for the washing between each station.
Finally, a new addition to the musical gifts of the parish this year. A harpist will play for the liturgy and the concert.