Semana Santa en primera persona
Ushetu, Tanzania, April 2, 2016
In honor of our father, John Paul II
On the anniversary of his entrance into heaven
Ever since my time in the seminary I have wondered what it is like for a priest to celebrate Holy Week, what is going on in his mind and his heart. You can try to imagine, but what Fr. Buela told us about the priesthood many times is true: “You can’t imagine what goes on in the heart of a priest.” This shows the greatness of this mystery, above all in the celebration of the Holy Mass.
In addition to our mission center, we chose some of the bigger villages, which we call centers, in which to celebrate the most important ceremonies of the Paschal Triduum. But because of the great distances, the difficulties of traveling at night, the length of the ceremonies and the timeframes in which we are able to celebrate them… we decided that we would have all the Triduum ceremonies here in the mission center, and then one in another village. Fr. Victor and I divided up the labor and set to work.
We began the remote preparations for the greatest week for Christians with two main activities: a meeting to prepare the liturgy and viewings of the movie: The Passion.
The liturgy meeting was for all of the catechists, village leaders, and the choir directors from the villages where they could have ceremonies with a priest. The meeting took place in the village of Ibambala, and we went over all of the ceremonies with great attention. The catechists were very pleased and asked a lot of questions… we think this was a way to help them celebrate these liturgies better, since the catechists have the Liturgies of the Word in all of the villages, and during the Paschal Triduum they have the celebrations of Holy Thursday, the Passion and veneration of the cross on Good Friday, and the vigil on Holy Saturday. But all of this is without a priest, without the Eucharist and the blessings proper to an ordained minister, without the washing of feet, etc. The meeting lasted almost three hours, and we decided that next year we will have an entire day, not only to go over the details of the liturgy but also to have time to learn the liturgical songs, to be able to sing the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, the Easter Exultet, and other things. They really like when everything is sung, and although it takes longer, it’s better. They sing the Gregorian melodies for the Triduum very well. Not everyone can sing them, but some of them do.
For the other part of our remote preparation, Fr. Victor visited some of the villages to show the movie, The Passion, especially where they had never seen it before. He set out in the midst of a heat wave with the vehicle loaded with all the necessary items, including the generator. There was a large turnout in all of the villages, and everyone was very grateful for the opportunity to attend. I was able to confirm the fruits of this event on several occasions in confession when I asked the people if Christ had suffered a little for us… they replied no, not a little, but rather they affirmed with conviction that he suffered a lot. I could relate a few anecdotes about these events, such as when Fr. Victor told me that in the village of Kipungi at first only those who attend Mass were present, but then the whole village showed up… Pagans, Protestants, and if any of them were Muslim, they came too. This raised the temperature notably in the little chapel, which had a sheet metal roof, was packed with people, and had the front windows covered to make the room darker… it was the fitting composition of place for the sacrifice they were considering. Even those who were passing by with their oxen-drawn carts left them poorly parked on the side of the road and lingered to watch a little, if they were able to squeeze themselves in anywhere.
On the threshold of Holy Week we had the parish gathering for youth. This was possible thanks to the help of some lay missionaries. Almost 150 youths came, from many villages. They arrived the Friday before Palm Sunday, had the most important talks and activities on Saturday, and returned home on Sunday after the Procession with the Palms and Mass. It was remarkable to see them arriving from so far away on bicycles… some came from three hours away. They came with a little bag, willing to sleep on the ground with nothing more than a plastic tarp for a mattress. Among the most beautiful activities were the two processions that we held on Friday and Saturday with Our Lady of Lujan, in which the Virgin was illuminated and all of the youths carried torches.
On Saturday, the youths participated in the Holy Mass, had an hour of adoration with guided mediation, and a great number of them took the opportunity to go to confession. Since for now I am the only one who hears confessions, I made use of the morning talks, adoration, and a few of the free times for confessions. The procession with the palms, with so many young people in addition to children and the faithful, was massive. Next year we will probably have to have Mass outside of the church.
It is on Palm Sunday that the priest begins to live Holy Week in the first person, because he himself represents Christ, and he sees all the people raise their palm branches, the children sing, the chorus of Hosannas and Alleluias, and the red vestments… Then in the Passion narrative, he reads the words of Christ alone. In each Mass, he repeats the words “this is my Body.” And with exhaustion bearing down, he sees the awaiting week of joy, Passion, and glory. He sees the souls that have been redeemed, but to whom this redemption must be applied by means of the sacraments… and the priest takes this upon himself – the missionary sees that these souls are the reason he came.
(To be continued in part 2)