In Your Midst
We Were There
March 2007

Parishioners meditate on the great moments of Holy Week

Dear Friends,

I often remark that that there is nothing more important we do as a parish each week than celebrate the Sunday Eucharist together.  To that I would add that there is no more important week for our parish, or any parish, than Holy Week.  We know this instinctively but perhaps it doesn’t hurt to be reminded.

The popular and moving African-American spiritual, Were You There? has become a standard part of the Holy Week repertory in many churches, including ours.  The solemn liturgies of Holy Week answer that question in a surprising way: it’s not that we were there, it’s that we are there!   That is because our liturgical celebrations are not the Church’s equivalent of instant replay; nor are they a kind of play-acting—an attempt to dramatize what happened to Jesus a long time ago.  No, the Church’s liturgies are the making present—here and now—of the saving acts of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Through the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week, we are there as Jesus makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we are there in the Upper Room on Holy Thursday, we are there on the hill of Calvary on Good Friday, and we are there as Jesus passes from death to life (and we with him) in the great Easter Vigil.  Without a doubt, we are dealing with deep mystery here.  It is the same mystery that makes each of the Church’s sacraments a living channel of grace, bringing us into contact with the risen Christ for whom time and space are no barriers, the Christ who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

In the pages that follow, some of your fellow parishioners speak beautifully and compellingly about those moments of the Holy Week liturgies that have touched them most profoundly.  I know you will find inspiration in them as well as encouragement to give yourself wholeheartedly to the coming great events we will soon be celebrating, the great events at which, most certainly, we are there!

Father Michael G. Ryan


Palm Sunday ProcessionHoly Week—it’s a time when we commemorate the Passion of the Christ.  It’s the time of repentance, sacrifice, forgiveness, and renewal of faith.  When I think about this period, I remember altar serving on Palm Sunday.  I was holding a candle, eagerly waiting for the two stained-glass doors to open, signaling the beginning of Mass.  To my left was a crowd of children waving palms in the air.  It reminded me of Jesus’ astounding entry into Jerusalem. Before I knew it, the doors opened, and we were welcomed in by the quaint sounds of the organ.  I remember walking past the pews where people sang with palms in hand.  Everyone turned to gaze at the Great Cross as it processed onward with candles following along.

After setting our candles down near the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, I headed toward my seat; palms were placed on each chair.  Mass continued as usual.  I remember during the readings I tried to fold my palm into a cross.  If memory serves me right, every altar server was fumbling with their palm, transforming them into zigzag patterns.  My attempts to make a cross weren’t working out well, but I wasn’t going to give up.  I kept trying, folding it this way and that.  But at the end of the Mass, I ended up with a distorted palm with several creases.  Oh well, I thought. There’s always next year!

Kassey Castro


When I think of Holy Week, I recall an incredible experience twenty years ago.  While a student at Seattle University I had the opportunity to be in Granada, Spain during Lent and Easter.  Andalucians, people who live in southern Spain, celebrate Holy Week every night with an elaborate procession that fills the streets.  That sense of community participation is mirrored here at St. James Cathedral.

As a young person, my involvement with Holy Week was being handed a palm as I walked into church on Palm Sunday.  On Good Friday, we sat in the pews during part of the school day as our pastor and altar servers said the Stations of the Cross.  But when I was a college student, thousands of miles from home, I first began to understand the significance of Holy Week.

In Granada, the processions begin in the hilly outskirts of town.  White robed and hooded figures, called penitents, walk at the front, followed by drummers and candle holders.  With hundreds of others I watched and waited.   At last the heavy float appeared with a beautiful, life-sized sculpture of the Holy Mother Mary.  The crowds surged around the statue and continued as part of the procession, finally halting at a tiny church filled with lit candles.

Holy Week at St. James Cathedral lets me be part of a community who want to re-live the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  Here at St. James we don’t just sit back and watch the procession, we walk with Christ.

Sara MacDuff


On Wednesday evening in Holy Week, the ancient office of Tenebrae ushers us into the Triduum.  Candles in the Cathedral are gradually extinguished, leaving us at last in darkness. Here Ward Johnson offers a prayer inspired by his experience of Tenebrae.
O God, Who is beyond my understanding:
Let me know tragedy; let me know sorrow and grief.  Let me know despair and even the loss of hope.
Do not shield me from these things, even as I cry out in anger and pain; I live in this world and must learn to find you here, even in the midst of chaos and disruption.
I must learn to love in the presence of hatred.
I must learn to see your face even in the darkest night;
I must learn to be charitable and generous even among those who are greedy and wicked.
I must have faith even in the face of ridicule.
Even more: do not shield me from my own culpability, from my complicity with evil; do not let me become smug and complacent, taking your infinite capacity to forgive to be a license for sloth.
For it is in turning away from you that I experience the deepest suffering of all.
Wash me, O Lord; cleanse my heart and strengthen my spirit so that once again I will know the joy of your presence, see the light of your truth and love.

Ward Johnson


Divine Office during Holy WeekOne of the great beauties of Holy Week at St. James Cathedral is the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours.  And I love to join in.

Early at dawn, or in the dark of night, each year, throughout the Easter Triduum, a crowd of Christians gathers to sing Morning Praise or Evening Prayer—those being baptized, parishioners, priests, ministers, choristers, you and me.  And they sing—joining their song to Jesus’ song, a song which is not merely metaphoric but really a joyous offering of love. They sing the evenings and the mornings from the Lord’s Supper through His Passion on the Cross to His glorious Resurrection.  Evening comes, and Morning comes—and they sing a New Day, the Eternal Day.

This sung prayer—offered all over the world by the Church in many ways—is called the Liturgy of the Hours. Evening Prayer (or Vespers) and Morning Prayer (or Lauds) offer the song of psalms, then the Word of Scripture, then prayers.
Joining in the song of the Liturgy of the Hours during the Triduum is a way of joining Jesus’ song of love, joining the prayer of the worldwide Church, and dedicating the time of each passing day and revealing its meaning and depth.

Vespers on Easter Sunday especially moves me—as the newly baptized gather at the Font, newborn into the New Day.  All the meaning of our lives radiates forth from this Easter hour, and thus we can go forth to sing—to live lives of love.
The Second Vatican Council inspires me to join this Liturgy of the Hours each year—as well as each Sunday radiating forth from Easter: “Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven.  He joins the entire community of humankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.”

Perry Lorenzo


I confess I sometimes read the obituaries, scanning the columns for a person my age, my gender, someone like me who was here but now isn’t. I feel less guilty about this habit in Lent, the season that begins with standing in line alongside my fellow mortals, receiving ashes on my forehead, confirming what I suspected all along – I’m going to die!  It feels acceptable, comforting, to acknowledge in community the fear that hums in my heart year round.

A little of this goes a long way, so I am grateful for God’s tenderness that often finds me in Holy Week. At Tenebrae the Holy Spirit has lifted my longing and carried it on the soloist’s high notes into the dark cathedral with hope. During Morning Prayer I have chanted and knelt and risen and wondered why I am repeating this ancient ritual four times in one short service instead of enjoying another cup of tea at home, then noticed a simple closeness with God that has settled in my soul.

I wish I could summon these experiences on demand, but I can’t cajole God’s gifts into existence during Holy Week, at Easter Vigil or on Easter Day – all moments I think especially ripe for God’s intervention with a once-and-for-all assurance of eternal life. Dom John Chapman, an English priest and spiritual director who lived around the turn of the last century wrote, Don’t ask or worry about any kind of prayer or recollection or union, but wish for exactly what God provides for you at any given moment. In Dom Chapman’s words I hear God’s invitation to trust, to know that God is present in my wishing, present in every kind of moment.

Marlene Muller


Holy Thursday by Mike PenneyI have been one of the “twelve disciples” on Holy Thursday.  It feels odd to sit on a little stool in a packed Cathedral while the choir is singing, “I give you a new commandment.”  Even though only my feet were bare, I felt vulnerable.  At that time, I was working in the Chancery, and our ‘CEO’ was going to wash my feet—Archbishop Murphy!  I understood why Peter had been so dismayed!

Then I was surrounded by white robes, towels, jugs of water, many helping hands.   Archbishop Murphy knelt before me.  I felt embarrassed and thought how hard that marble floor is on aging knees.  Choir voices soared:  “…Love one another as I have loved you.”  My eyes welled full.  Archbishop Murphy looked up at me, surprised to recognize a member of his staff.
He said, “Oh!  Hi!”

He was acknowledging a familiar face!  I realized he had been focused on the arduous getting down and up again so many times, on getting the feet washed without spilling water, probably eager to get this chore over with for another year.  Recognizing me suddenly made it personal for him.

Overwhelmed, I whispered a grateful but totally inappropriate, “Hi!”

Archbishop Murphy understood humility.  Time and again, he surprised us by being so down to earth!  Later, amidst the grandeur of his funeral, I remembered that special Holy Thursday when he just said, “Hi!”

Anne Fitzgerald


Last Supper Relief St. James CathedralHoly Week at St. James has many unforgettable moments, but one of the most precious and sacred of these for me is the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on the night of Holy Thursday.  On this night, parishioners sit or kneel in quiet prayer and reflection near the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, underneath the triptych of the Crucifixion.  Except for these pews, the Cathedral has largely emptied from the earlier Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

The Cathedral is quiet and dark, save for the candles illuminating the glorious tabernacle and the carving of the Last Supper.  The glow of candlelight on the carving, the burnished reflection of the tabernacle, and the silent prayers of the assembled create an atmosphere of deep contemplation and togetherness with God.  At first, my mind is busy with the tasks and time limits of the day, and feelings of guilt over an imperfect Lent.  But slowly, as I gaze at the marble visage of Jesus at the Lord’s Supper, as my eyes bore into the tabernacle and as my head drops in prayer, I find the quiet within me to put God first.  This experience of grace is why the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on the night of Holy Thursday is one of the most blessed moments for me of Holy Week.

Herb Wilgis


The Tre Ore service on Good Friday is that time during Holy Week when I look forward to a retreat-like change of my routine, a time to be quiet and receptive, allowing the liturgy and the reflections to help me be more present to the mystery of this week.  In thinking about how this liturgy became special to me I find myself going back to memories of grammar school, of Lent and of the Stations of the Cross.

It was a while ago. World War II had not yet ended when for the first time I did the Stations of the Cross as a grade school student at St. Anne’s School, led by the Sisters of Mercy.

We would file out of school across a long yard, two by two into the dark downstairs church.  The nuns would lead us to the seats set aside for us, front and center.  I remember the priest in dark purple, the altar boys in black cassocks and lace-edged white surplices.

I understood very little.  I was usually distracted and mostly afraid that I would do or say something that might attract the attention of Sister Mary Agnes, the principal.  Over the years of school this didn’t seem to change greatly. But something had begun within me, growing out of the repetition of the familiar prayers, the rhythm of the movement around the church and the singing of Stabat Mater.

When I left St. Anne’s after eight years I still felt I understood little and was something of a disappointment to the nuns.  Yet somehow following the journey of Jesus’ suffering and death always left me a comfort and quiet. There was a felt assurance and an understanding that came not just from the words, but from the all of the liturgy, its art, music, rhythm and images.

Now each year at Good Friday I go to Tre Ore.  I hope to be present, not distracted by my concerns of that day.  I pray that I can be receptive and available to that same assurance, a comfort and a quiet with the still  incomprehensible mystery of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection.

David Murphy


Great Cross St. James CathedralIt was the hymn “Were You There?” that first brought me to Good Friday services at St. James.

I was in the first of my years as alto soloist and chorister of the Cathedral, and I was still struggling to understand the liturgy.  I came to the Good Friday observance to lead the congregation in the hymn.  I stood in the choir loft, watching the line of worshipers bending over a black-draped crucifix, mourning the death of the Savior, and I found myself in tears, suddenly and unexpectedly.

Although I grew up in a nonreligious household, as a small girl I sometimes went to church with Bercie, the much-beloved woman who helped my mother care for me and my four younger siblings.  Bercie was African-American, and from her I absorbed my deep love of the music of the black churches.  I thought I knew, because of that, how to sing “Were You There?”  But on that Good Friday, as I stood looking down on the cross, I wept for what happened to Jesus, for the grief of His Mother, and for the sorrow of all who are wounded or bereaved, and “Were You There?” was forever changed for me.  It became a cry of the soul, an expression of loss more poignant than I had ever understood before.  I didn’t know, on that day, that I had taken the first step toward my conversion to the Catholic faith.  I did know, though, that something profound had happened.

“Were You There?” has become an iconic musical piece for the Veneration of the Cross at St. James, and it was my great privilege to sing it many times.  The Burleigh setting of the spiritual united my earliest musical influences with my later training and experience in a wonderful and gratifying way.  But every time I sang it, and now when I listen to it, I’m grateful beyond words for the revelation of my first Good Friday at St. James Cathedral.

Louise Marley


Good Friday is the most important day of the year to me. While Christmas and Easter celebrate Jesus’ glorious incarnation and resurrection, it is on Good Friday that we really see what kind of God we worship—a God who suffered unimaginable pain and torture for us.

Last year, while singing in the choir and watching the line of people come one by one to venerate the cross, and then finally taking my turn, I was struck in a new way by what the crucifixion means. We so often complain about the stress or suffering of our lives, or ask questions such as “Why does God allow such horrible things to happen in our world?” The cross does not answer all those questions, but it certainly shows that Jesus can empathize with our suffering, for he has faced suffering much worse than our own. Whenever we feel weighed down by our pain, depression or loneliness, we can remember that Jesus was betrayed and abandoned by his friends, ridiculed, laughed at, and then executed. He can understand everything we suffer, because he has been through it as well.

Each Good Friday the choir sings the words Crucifixus etiam pro nobis. What this phrase says is not just that Christ died for us, but that Christ is still dying for us. Christ’s love for us is so great that our suffering is his suffering, our pain is his pain, and our death is his death. When we venerate the cross we are acknowledging our appreciation for what Christ did and continues to do for us.

On Easter we celebrate Christ’s glory, but it is on Good Friday that Christ proves his remarkable love.

Gregory Phillips


Easter Vigil  www.photobymike.comI was baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005. At prior Vigils, I watched people come out of the font with that mixture of serenity and shock on their faces and it lodged a difficult-to-shake feeling of desire inside me. In my heart of hearts, I knew I wanted that.

I had done a lot of discernment regarding my desire to convert, so I felt ready and excited that Saturday. In fact, I didn’t get scared until we were up on the altar singing the Litany of Saints. I started to get woozy and my knees felt weak. The fear didn’t come from doubt or performance anxiety, but from the unknown inside me. How will I react? Will I freeze up or cry? Will it suddenly strike me funny and I’ll laugh uncontrollably? Worst of all, will I feel nothing and therefore a profound disappointment?

When we turned to face the font, there was a moment of confusion. We never discussed who would go first! I turned around to see my fellow Elect looking at me, half of them with that deer in the headlights look, and the other half waving me forward. So I went first.

When the Archbishop poured the baptismal water on my head, it felt thick and oily. All time stopped and it was extremely quiet, like the church was empty. I felt completely at peace. I walked out of that font a profoundly changed person. The Easter Vigil was, and continues to be, a birthday for my new life.

Elise Gruber


Ever since I was sacristan my Easter has not been complete without Easter Vespers.   I think the reason Easter Vespers appeals to me so much is that it is a kind of reprise of the Easter Vigil.  For a sacristan, a priest, or even a lay person, the Easter Vigil is packed with so much import, so much meaning, so much symbolism that it overwhelms the senses.  It is hard to take it all in, let alone grasp the great mysteries it conveys.   Easter Vespers, the next afternoon, is a time to let all the import of Christ’s saving paschal mystery sink in.

This liturgy is a kind of echo of that event that has reverberated in our lives and in our world for centuries.   The grand Easter alleluia that flows from the depths of our being on encountering the risen Christ is repeated over and over as the song of our hearts.   The liturgy begins at the great paschal candle, the light that dispels the darkness of sin and death and continues with all processing to the font, the place of rebirth for every Christian.  There, recalling our baptism we greet those baptized the night before resplendent in their white robes.  We are reminded of the garment we are clothed in for the journey to God.  Then to the altar all process singing the marvelous hymn, “Now to the banquet of the lamb with white robes brilliant as the sun….”

At the altar we adore the bread from heaven, food for our earthly journey and anticipation of the heavenly banquet.  Not only is Vespers a reprise of the Vigil, it is a microcosm of the whole Christian journey to heaven.  Vespers confirms what is written at the threshold of the Cathedral:  This is the house of God, the gate of Heaven.

Reverend James Johnson


Easter at St. James Cathedral‘Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous: The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.’  The hauntingly beautiful Easter Sequence, riding on the soaring voice of one our great St. James soloists: that’s Easter for me!

But then, inevitably, I have to wake up the next day and go to work!  What will our Lord’s resurrection mean to me the day after Easter, really?  Is it the glorious Easter at St. James that’s real, or is it the world of the day after Easter, the world of work, of the Iraq war, of mortgage rates, of traffic jams and doctors’ appointments?  Where is my real life?  What is my real address?

I'll admit, coming to grips with reality has never been my strong point.  Back at work Easter Monday, I find myself thinking of St. James and picturing the faces of dozens of people I remember from yesterday...  Of the young Pacific Islander fellow handsome as a movie star.  Of the African-American woman whose face simply radiates kindness.  Of the young woman server who looks as if she had stepped out of an eleventh-century British cathedral.  Of the older Filipino gentleman whose devotion I know, though not his name.  Of that beautiful, weeping woman talking to the man she thought was the gardener...

And, full of the joy of Easter, I get this sharp pang, this feeling that it is these people I will be living with forever.  Who are my contemporaries?  George Bush?  Hillary Clinton?  Barack Obama?  Britney Spears?  Or, as our beloved Father Ryan so generously and faithfully addresses us, is it my “friends in Christ” who are my real contemporaries?

So maybe this St. James, maybe this is my real life, my real address.  Yes, I think that when the Risen Life comes for me, you can record my address as 804 Ninth Avenue.

Max Lewis 


Back to the March 2007 Issue of In Your Midst