Meeting At Bethany

The attentive reader will look at the calendar and realize that this coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. In Spain – and possibly in other places as well – today, the Friday shortly before Palm Sunday, has its own spiritual tradition, based partly on Scripture and partly on tradition. Whether or not one accepts the theory, I think you’ll find it an interesting point of reflection.

We know from the Gospels that prior to entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus was staying with his close friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus in Bethany. Indeed, St. John’s Gospel places the raising of Lazarus from the dead before Palm Sunday. In Spain, it is commonly believed that on the Friday before Palm Sunday, Jesus’ Mother Mary was in Bethany as well. Moreover, pious belief is that He told her, on that Friday, what was going to happen to Him the following Friday.

There is a certain logic to this belief. Surely if the Virgin Mary had heard about the death of Lazarus, it would have been reasonable for her, as a Jewish matron, to go comfort Lazarus’ sisters. Her presence in Bethany at the time, and staying there to celebrate Passover rather than returning to Nazareth, would also explain why, within hours of Jesus’ arrest, she is present in Jerusalem to witness His execution. After all, Nazareth is about 90 miles from Jerusalem, whereas Bethany is only about a mile and a half away.

Even if Jesus did not get to see His Mother prior to entering into His Passion, she was of course there to witness His sacrifice on Calvary. Yet I rather fancy that He did see her. Perhaps they talked late into the night that Friday, or perhaps she simply accepted what He told her, much as she accepted the message of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, which we commemorated this week. She may not have been able to understand how God would bring about what she was told would happen, but once again she did not shy away. She believed, and put herself at His service.


Detail, "Virgin of Sorrows" by Murillo

The Annunciation on Capitol Hill

No, this is not a report on a political candidate announcing their intent to run for President. Rather, just a brief post this morning to share what a beautiful evening it was last night at Holy Comforter and St. Cyprian Parish on Capitol Hill. For those who have never visited, do make a point to drop in sometime, as it’s quite an interesting, vibrantly decorated building.

To commemorate THE Annunciation, i.e. when the Angel Gabriel was sent to that little village called Nazareth as described in the beginning of St. Luke’s Gospel, the parish celebrated Mass in the Extraordinary Form, featuring music by late 16th/early 17th century composer Hans Hassler.

Rather than do a play by play review, I thought I would share an audio file of the parish schola singing the “Sanctus”. Even without being at full strength last evening, they did a splendid job of bringing peace and a reflective mood to the celebration. Amazing that less than a year ago, they were singing Dan Schutte claptrap.

With a very good experience at Confession with Monsignor Pope beforehand, and dinner at a nearby tavern with some clergy friends afterward (thanks to the unknown individual who bought us dinner!) it was a wonderful Wednesday, and a good pause before heading into the intensity of Holy Week.


Window at Holy Comforter and St. Cyprian, Capitol Hill

The Hole Truth

I’ve always associated glazed donuts with Lent and Springtime. Not frosted donuts, which are a kids’ thing I continue to enjoy any season of the year. No, I mean just your standard donut, with the hole in the middle and plain icing slathered on top.

Now this may be because I grew up in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, where glazed donuts known as “fasnachts” remain a tradition for Fat Tuesday. Or it may because Mom used to buy boxes of pretzel-shaped glazed Entenmann’s donuts for us when we were kids. Or it may because I remember eating a glazed donut at church for breakfast, before my First Communion, being sick in the bathroom before Mass, and not wanting to tell anyone for fear I wouldn’t be allowed to receive.

This is the final week of Lent before Holy Week begins this coming Palm Sunday. Being home in PA to visit, recuperate from recent illness, and of course eat donuts, has given me a much-needed change of scenery to reflect on how this Lent has gone. On the whole, it’s been successful in some areas; less so in others. Fortunately, there is still a bit of time left to try to get things sorted out.

One of the most important things to do, of course, is to make sure to get to confession before Easter Sunday. Truthfully, I could probably stand to go to confession every day, unfortunately for me. I am very cognisant of my being a work in progress, and often a total zero when it comes to following Christ. Circumstances being what they are, and possessing neither private chaplain nor private chapel (more’s the pity), I must schedule a time to go just like everyone else.

In her precepts the Church actually mandates, in case you had forgotten, that Catholics receive Holy Communion once a year, preferably during the Easter season. She also mandates that Catholics go to confession at least once a year. It’s only logical, then, that since you should be receiving Communion during Easter, you should be confessed of and absolved from your sins before doing so. Otherwise, presenting yourself in your Easter best for Communion on Easter Sunday when you haven’t first gone to confession is a bit like being a glazed donut: all shiny and sweet, with no center.

So go check your parish or diocesan website, and look for the confession schedule. My parish of St. Stephen’s here in DC for example, offers confession every day except Sundays, and is participating in “The Light Is On For You” campaign, offering Wednesday evening confessions during Lent. Your parish may be participating as well, for this season of penitence and reconciliation.

Once Holy Week begins, it’s very easy to get caught up in preparations for Easter Sunday, whether you have little ones expecting a visit from a giant rodent, or you have to travel to Grandma’s out of state for the weekend, or you have ten cousins coming over for Easter dinner. Take the time then, to block off an hour to get to confession, and make that a priority this week, rather than leaving it to the last second. Donuts may be great treats, but nutritionally empty of value: you don’t want to leave a hole where your heart ought to be, when Easter Sunday arrives.