The Altar, Stripped   Leave a comment


My home altar, icons shrouded and tablecloth, candle, and adornments stripped for the Triduum.

In liturgical church tradition, as the Maundy Thursday service nears its end, the Reserved Sacrament (the leftover bread and wine from the Eucharistic meal) is reverently placed in the Altar of Repose—usually a small side chapel—and the main altar is completely stripped of candles, paraments, and any adornments. Even before this moment the crosses and icons have been shrouded with either black or purple cloth for the whole of Holy Week (or sometimes even the whole of Lent). The lights are turned out in the church and the ministers and congregation all leave in silence and darkness. It is an important step in marking the solemnity of the three days we call the Triduum—the Great Three Days of Jesus’ passion, death, and—as the third day draws to an end on Saturday—his Resurrection.

Last year I spent Holy Week moving out of the San Francisco apartment I had been in for many years. Though I had been packing for literally months, I was still behind on what was supposed to be moving day, March 31, and ended up having to ask my landlord for an extra two days, while, with the help of my brother, my then-fiancée, and two good friends, I scrambled to get all my possessions into boxes and onto the rental truck. It was probably the three most challenging and stressful days I had experienced since my father’s death several years before (and it was certainly no picnic for my four generous companions).

And then my brother and I drove two days from San Francisco to Denver—across a desert! as one of my Gregorian Brothers noted—to my new home, the apartment my wife and I had rented together.

Though my formal Lenten observance wasn’t what I would have liked that year, and I didn’t get to any Holy Week services at all, moving was quite a Lenten discipline in itself. Tearing down my old life, reevaluating what was important, what could be discarded. Dying, to be resurrected into new life. What followed in the next few months was marriage to Erica and moving from the Postulancy in BSG to the Novitiate. And creating a small home chapel in my new home—something which I didn’t have room for in my San Francisco apartment, but has become my favorite place in my new apartment: a lovely and holy space in which to meditate and pray—and which is now stripped for the Triduum, awaiting the white Easter cloth and the uncovering of the icons.

And so as I participate in this week’s holy services in my new home parish, and prepare for the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, I have been looking back on that week last year. There is certainly still some ache at the misery of those three days of packing, but the overwhelming feeling is of gratitude for the journey and the new life to which it led.

Happy Easter to all!

Posted 25 March 2016 by Br. Scott Michael Pomerenk, BSG in Uncategorized

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