It may seem difficult to believe, but we are just about halfway through Lent. This is a fact which will be very apparent at Mass this coming Sunday, when the celebrant dons rose-colored vestments to mark this milestone in the liturgical year. And the following weekend, those of you in the Washington DC area will have the opportunity to attend “Passiontide”, what promises to be an unique, and hopefully annual Lenten event here in the capital.
At 7pm Saturday evening, March 21st at the beautiful old St. Dominic’s Church (great mobile site design BTW) near L’Enfant Plaza in downtown Washington, the Dominican Friars will be holding their first “Passiontide” service. I spoke with Brother Athanasius Murphy, O.P. – he is being ordained a transitional deacon this weekend so please keep him in your prayers – who is organizing this Passiontide event. He also organized the superb Advent Stations which I wrote about previously.
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What is “Passiontide”? Is it something that the friars at Dominican House just invented, or does it have older roots?
Passiontide is the name the Church gives to the two weeks that precede Holy Week in Lent. It’s considered a “mini-Lent” within Lent. Passiontide is also typically the time when churches would cover their statues with dark purple veils, in preparation for the conclusion of Lent.
For the first time this year, the friars at St. Dominic’s parish in DC are coordinating an event called “Passiontide.” It’s a one night-event of song, scriptural reading, and preaching relevant to the saving work of Christ, particularly in His Cross. It will take place the Saturday night that precedes the 5th Sunday of Lent, so will be a way to open the Passiontide period for those in the DC area.
How does Passiontide relate to the “Advent Stations” you organized this past December?
Since our first Advent Stations in December was so well-received, we asked ourselves, “Do we really need to wait until next December to do something like this, or could we find a venue that would be fruitful in Lent?” I think Advent Stations and Passiontide draw on many similarities, primarily because they are meant to prepare the faithful for the peak times of the liturgical year: Advent leading into Christmas, and Lent into Holy Week and Easter.
The setting of both Advent Stations and Passiontide will be similar, in that we will have no artificial light, in a Gothic-style church lit by many, many candles. We put out about 650-700 small candles for Advent Stations, but we’ll have over 1,200 candles for Passiontide. We’ll use colored candles to signify different things for Passiontide. Red candles will line the main aisle of the church to signify the Passion of Christ, and dark purple candles on the steps of the altar will signify the royalty of Christ the King, crowned with thorns during His Passion.
What did you learn from the “Advent Stations” experience in preparing for this “Passiontide” service?
I learned that people enjoy taking part in the celebrations that belong to each liturgical season. People who came to Advent Stations really appreciated how the night flowed from the Scriptural readings that prefigured Christ, to the chanted preamble of the Gospel of John where the Word becomes flesh. Everyone also enjoyed the mix of singing “O Come Emmanuel” verses in harmony with the Latin “O Antiphons” sung by our schola. For Passiontide, we’re going to alternate the “Stabat Mater” English verses in four part harmony, with some more elaborate polyphonic chant sung by the schola.
I also learned that people like some movement during a night like this. For Advent Stations, we all processed forward to venerate a relic of the True Crib in which the Infant Jesus lay. For Passiontide, after chanting some penitential psalms, we will invite everyone to bring up flowers and prayer cards, and place these near a piece of the True Cross surrounded by white and dark purple candles at the front of the sanctuary steps. It will be a way to lay down at the cross any particular intention you might have, whether it’s something you’re offering for Lent, or something you are struggling with, or someone you’re praying for.
What can those attending “Passiontide” expect to witness and experience that evening?
Everything we do during the night of Passiontide will be to help those attending to have a deeper share in the saving work of Christ during the first Holy Week, during His suffering and His Passion on the Cross. We will chant three penitential psalms during the night, and each will have a theme of strength, humility, or mercy that will be taken up in the preaching of the night. The time in the church will be concluded with chanted Dominican night prayer, which is especially beautiful during Lent, with its own proper chants in English and in Latin.
What do you hope to achieve, and what do you hope people will take away with them from “Passiontide”?
I hope people come to St. Dominic’s to get to know something about the God who loved them enough to create them, and who showed His love again in sending His Son to share our life and suffer for us, even to the point of dying for us. I hope the night acts as an occasion of grace for the people attending, and that they receive graces from God that allow them to speak to God in a new language of love, that springs from the tree of love which is the Cross. I want this night to be a means by which people see more clearly the roadway to heaven that is found in Christ’s love for us on His Cross.
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Catholic or not, I hope you’ll consider sharing this with any family or friends whom you think might be interested. And also, of course, that you’ll consider attending yourself. I think you’ll find this a terrific opportunity to pause and reflect, in magnificent surroundings accompanied by beautiful music, as we draw closer to Holy Week and the commemoration of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.