Scott Richert writes in “From the Chapel”: Over the last few weeks, I have mentioned…
From the Chapel — April 9: True riches
“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
Here in the most frustrating (which is not to say the least fruitful) Holy Week of my life, I have been thinking back to Holy Weeks past.
As a child, I loved Holy Week in my little village in West Michigan, and not just because we Catholic children got out of school to attend the Good Friday liturgy. Back in those days, certain hymns — for instance, “The Church’s One Foundation,” “At That First Eucharist,” and “O Sacred Head Surrounded” — made a special appearance on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The lyrics drew me in and deepened the experience of the mysteries we were celebrating.
For 20 years, before coming to Huntington, we celebrated Holy Week in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite, with chant and no organ, and I came to love the richness of those liturgies, which were simplified in 1956. But the Holy Weeks that most stand out in my memory are the two that Amy and I spent at Epiphany of Our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church in Annandale, Virginia.
I’ve discussed in previous posts the Liturgy of the Presanctified and its relevance to our situation today, in which our Holy Week communions will be limited to acts of spiritual communion. One of the other traditions in the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, that sets Holy Week apart is the celebration of the Great or Royal Hours on Good Friday.
Most people who are familiar with the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours may have prayed the major hours of morning prayer, evening prayer or night prayer. But during the day there are other, minor hours — first hour, third hour, sixth hour, ninth hour. And on Good Friday, in the Eastern Church, those minor hours are all a part of one long, penitential prayer service that tradition ascribes to St. Cyril of Alexandria.
No description I could write would do justice to the beauty of these prayers, which add a depth and richness to the Good Friday liturgy by drawing us further into the mystery. Judas, in particular, becomes much more fleshed out, and we can see in him and his betrayal of Christ a foretaste of our own falls. You can find a version of the Royal hours online, and praying them, or a portion of them, on Good Friday would be a wonderful way (in addition to livestreaming a Good Friday liturgy) to sanctify the day.
As we prepare today for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, though, I can give you a taste of the Royal Hours with the troparion, or hymn, for Holy Thursday, which is also used in morning prayer on Good Friday:
“While the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet at the supper, the unholy Judas was blinded by his love for silver. He delivered you to unjust judges, O most high Judge. All you lovers of riches, meditate on this: Love for money drove a man to take his own life. We must flee from greedy souls who would so betray the Master. O Lord, so benevolent to all, glory be to You.”
Here in Holy Week 2020, as many endure not only the loss of the sacraments and liturgies we love so much but also fear for their jobs and their ability to provide for their families, we have an opportunity to reexamine our own relationship to the things of this world. What have we put at the center of our lives? What do we love more than Christ?
The loss that we feel can be turned into gain, if we now recognize how much Christ means to us and how his gift of salvation makes all the riches of this world seem like nothing more than straw.
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.