Day 15: Good Friday, April 18, 2014
I snoozed like a crazy man in the morning. I was tired, likely from previous days' illness, and so slept later than I intended to, even though I knew Stations weren't until 9 AM. I finally rolled out of bed probably a bit after 8 and got dressed. Since today was a fasting day, I took a small amount of peanut butter after swallowing my pills, more as protection for my stomach than anything, and then I was out the door.
I ended up leaving a little bit later than intended, and as such spent the majority of my walk to the Cathedral looking online for a version of the Stations with which I could follow along. Finally, I found essentially the Way of the Cross (that little brown booklet) that St. Mary's and many other churches often used, and was very content with that.
Despite leaving later than intended, I made it to the Cathedral before anything had started. For the first time ever for me, I saw the church not jam packed at the start of something. It was comfortably empty but not bare. There were plenty of people, no doubt, but I shared a pew with one other person, not 7 or 8. It was a nice change, and felt a bit more intimate than the crazy crowds of the previous few days. I prayed part of my Rosary as I waited for the start of Stations, noting the bare altar that I had seen stripped the night before during the post-Holy Thursday vigil. The tabernacle on the right side of the Cathedral was open and empty, the only day of the year when it stands as such in commemoration of the day of Christ's death.
The stripped, bare altar
The empty tabernacle on the only day of the year it is empty...Good Friday.
In a few minutes, a few altar boys and the priest processed in. The priest wore his usual black garments but wore on top of it a white, sparkling vestment. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was thin, kind of lace-y, allowing you to see his usual black garments underneath, but at the same time seemed rather fancy/formal as it reflected light from whatever was making it shine. This is going to make me sound like a huge nerd, but it almost reminded me of the mithril armor that Frodo wears in LOTR, but more transparent. The altar boys wore typical white vestment with purple.
I followed along as the stations progressed with my digital copy, trying to be discreet as I wasn't sure how it would be received. I could tell what the congregation was doing was a bit different. They had no booklets, and the priest led a short reading at each station that was followed by either an Our Father, a Hail Mary, a Glory Be, or some combination of the three. Then after each station they sang a verse of a song that I imagine is the equivalent of the Stabat Mater that I had in my book. As I had a copy of the verses that had been placed on my pew beforehand, I sang along with the verses, or at least tried to. I learned pretty quickly the small nuances of it (ie the last line was sung such that the first two words were sung by the women, then repeated and completed by everyone, with the booming deep voices of the men joining in. Both the men and the women naturally split up so that half of each were singing harmony, so it sounded beautiful.
As we proceeded through the stations, I was able to complete a full 360 turn in the kneeler as the backs of the pews were completely vertical...this meant that you could actually kneel facing backwards as well as forward. After completing the Stations, the priest gave a short homily, and then it was over. Only 1 hour and fifteen minutes! Amazing! I stayed a short while after to take a few pictures of the church, the tabernacle, etc. and then headed home, determined to spend my Good Friday focused on nothing else. On the way home the town was visibly less crowded than usual.
The Cathedral after Stations
Namesake of the Cathedral: St Anthony of Padua
The Confessional...not very private for the faithful, nor comfortable for the priest
A few snapshots of the Cathedral grounds
At home, I read through morning prayer and the office of readings for the day, and then it was time to try to catch up on my reading of Jesus of Nazareth. My hope, unrealistic as it turned out, was to finish reading through the chapter on the Crucifixion by the end of the day. With about 100 pages of nice, theologically rich material, I didn't see that happening but was determined to dedicate my day to things focused on God. Besides, I was fasting and not much else was going on, so it was a great idea that fit the somber nature of the day.
From about 10:30 or so on, I read in the house on the chair in the living room, getting up to get a drink of water here or there and taking one break to sort some laundry. At about 2:30, I got dressed again (ie tucked in my shirt and put on my shoes) and headed to Good Friday service.
I got to the Cathedral at about 2:50, and I was BEHIND. The Church was already almost completely full, and I walked up the center aisle scanning for a seat. I finally found one of the empty plastic lawn chairs on the left side aisle of the church. From it, thanks to the columns, I couldn't see much other than the ambo and the altar hidden behind it. But I was sitting, so I couldn't complain. The church just kept filling and filling in the minutes remaining before we got started, so I was certainly lucky to not be standing out on the stairs again.
The service started, as custom on Good Friday, with the priests prostrating themselves before the stripped altar in the otherwise empty sanctuary. It quickly proceeded to the readings, which I followed along with on my phone, and then to the Passion, which was beautifully done. There were enough priests there to take all of the roles, and they all sang with rich, deep voices. By the end of the Passion, it had been an hour since the start.
This was followed by what I'm guessing to be a 30 minute homily. Somehow it's like a homily is better the longer it is here, and people clap at the end (which I DESPISE, but which I didn't much pay attention to this time around). After the homily came the 10 special Good Friday intercessions, which call for the faithful to kneel for a few seconds prior to each one. Now, I'm not sure where we found the space, but somehow all those people (who seemed on top of me as I sat in my chair feeling guilty) and I all found a way to kneel for the five second periods. It was impressive, difficult, dedicated, and awkward.
After the intercessions came the procession and unveiling of the Cross, to be followed by veneration of the cross by the faithful. This ended up being one of the most angry moments in church in my entire life. After the priest brought the cross to the front, and as after other priests were set up with other crosses to ATTEMPT to expedite the process, but before veneration actually began, IT happened.
In the middle of that beautiful Cathedral, in the middle of one of the most important times in the liturgical year, it happened. First, about 10 or 12 women with heads covered in veils proceeded to the left side of the front of the church and sat down on the floor. A minute later, 5 or six men with these paper makeshift red helmets, paper swords, etc, dressed up as soldiers rushed in carrying another man who I am assuming was to be the body of Jesus, hurled him onto the floor in front of the women, and started to pretend to kick and beat him as the women began to wail...and I mean WAIL. It wasn't actual crying, obviously, but they screamed these HORRID high pitched screams that would keep the soundest of sleepers awake all night. The men then walked off back up and out the side door of the church. Then it was time for the veneration of the cross.
However, the SCREAMING continued. The choir got up, they began to sing beautifully, and the women continued to SCREAM. It was horrendous. On top of it all, there were so many people crowded into the church that it made it nearly impossible to logically or efficiently get people from both side doors, the back door, the pews, the side aisles, etc up to the front of the Cathedral and then back again while more people tried to do the same! Further, this spectacle that had been created by the "beating of Jesus" and the screaming women made things worse as now not only did people want to come in to venerate the Cross, but people outside wanted to rush in to hear what all the screaming was about. It was as if an accident had occurred on the highways in the middle of downtown Houston and everyone was trying to go in five or six different directions while trying to pass by to see what the accident was all about.
Now, I understand that differences in culture exist, and for the past couple weeks I appreciated and enjoyed them. The entire spectacle of the beating and wailing crossed the line for me. To me, it wasn't culture, or if it was, there are still lines that are not crossed with regard to the sacredness of the liturgy. There is flexibility, and then there is abuse and things that outright do not belong in a Mass or Liturgy setting. I could potentially understand the idea that this was supposed to give a deeper understanding of the event's of Good Friday, but it didn't and it was not necessary or proper to me. It created a spectacle, it caused a huge distraction during what is supposed to be a solemn moment venerating the Cross upon which Christ died. Instead of people focusing on that, they were staring, looking, glaring at this ridiculous episode at the front of the church. It did not create focus, it created distraction. It did not bring others closer to God, it seemed like a cry of "look at us look at us." Children looked at what was going on and laughed or smiled. Even the women who continued to scream FOR THE 30-45 MINUTES it took for everyone to make it to the Cross were smiling during the ordeal. IT...DROVE...ME...NUTS. I almost lost it.
What didn't help was that the collection was taken at the front of the Church, with the faithful placing whatever money they chose in the box just before stepping forward for the veneration. I thought this inappropriate to begin. Second, after I got to the front and placed my offering, there was a delay of a few seconds or so, so I stood there waiting my turn. While waiting, one of the ushers ("guards") who stood next to the box watching it got my attention. I turned to him, and he made two motions: one toward the box, and then one toward back of the church. I interpreted this as "Hey, money or go." I looked at him, about to lose my temper, and said firmly "I DID" and turned away from him toward the priest in front of me, who was now holding a cross that was available for veneration. It was one of my most angry yet kind of contained moments of my life. I WAS LIVID.
As I walked back, I noticed a lady who had been close by to my seat had sat in it (it's customary for someone to use your seat while you are gone and then give it back when you return, so no biggie). She started to stand up, but I motioned that she stay sitting and take my seat. I was not about to unseat a woman holding a baby, and I needed some fresh air anyway. Thus, I stepped around her and took a place on the steps outside the left door of the church, not 10 feet away from my old seat.
All in all, it probably took an hour for veneration, from procession to ludicrous spectacle to watching the unending line of the faithful process to the front of the church to the Cross and past the constantly wailing joke on the left hand side of the Church. As the time went by, I cooled off both given a chance to relax and because of the rain that started to fall outside. I was getting a bit wet, but the people all huddled and crunched in, and so I took one step up and was just close enough to the building for it and the small overhang to keep us all dry. For the amount of rain that was falling I was remarkably not wet. It was very kind of the people...always room for one more!
Throughout the remainder of the service, there were maybe two or three times where an usher saw me standing, somehow figured out what seat I had been in, and approached the lady sitting there to try to get me my seat back. I kept telling them that it was okay, and eventually they stopped trying to get her to move, though they finally listened to my insistence that I wanted her to sit there. It was rather amusing, and I needed the relief.
Finally, the procession was over, and things picked up afterward. Holy Communion came quickly after as there was no Eucharistic Prayer or consecration. Boy did I need to have Jesus calm me down and get me refocused, and I was happy when I got to the communion rails. All else seemed inconsequential and unimportant.
And just like that, it was over....in a short 3 hours!
Afterwards, in the courtyard, I met Mark and his wife Michael, two Americans working and living in Mbeya who happened to be Catholic! It was great to meet them, and we walked back toward our houses (living in the same direction) together. I found out that I would see them at the Vigil, and we agreed to all go together. Further, Mark was planning to hike with Jason, Liane and I on Saturday as well. We parted ways and I told them I'd see them soon.
As the clinic was closed, I tried to make it to a Korean coffee shop that I was told had wifi on the way home. However, it was closed despite it's sign that said "Open Monday through Saturday 8 AM - 9PM". I figured it was Good Friday related, sent Ali an email apologizing for not being able to call home, and walked back to the house...we communicated throughout the evening via email about a new offer on the house, a possible reoffer from the first family, etc. It was like house hunting...or selling I guess...via email CHAT. It was rather crazy.
Had to repeat this calming picture after all that tense journaling.