Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Unending Penance

Today is Holy Thursday

This day, the first day of the Triduum, is the most powerful day of the liturgical year for me. There is something very powerful about watching the ritual washing of the feet, and the smell of the incense. The loving and reverent way the Eucharist is wrapped in the cope and then proceeds to the altar of repose. The way Mass abruptly ends without dismissal, and the way the tabernacle is left open, showing physical evidence of Christ's departure from us. 

It was a Holy Thursday eight years ago I knew my place was in the Catholic Church, and I never regretted my return. 

In the quiet moments of adoration this evening, I was reminded of my unending penance. Years ago, during Reconcilation (Confession), my penance was simple: I was do thank God every day for something. The confessor placed no limits on how many times I needed to do this. All these years later, I continue to do my penance every day, and will probably continue to do it until the day I draw my last breath. 

My unending penance. I don't even recall what specifically my sins were that I confessed that day, only that it was the first confession I had made in nearly 20 years. And how much that penance has changed my life. 

I contemplated, looking around at the interior of the sanctuary, how connected we are, as Catholics, to the past. The continuity is startling to me at times. I am reminded by something said by the then-Monseigneur Fulton Sheen in a video of the Tridentine Mass: nothing in the Church is thrown away. Everything is build upon, preserved. 

It struck me very much during the singing of the Pange Lingua during the procession: here we are, centuries upon centuries later, singing the same words, the same tune, that our Catholic forbearers sang (it was penned by St. Thomas Aquinas from the 13th century). Many of the words we speak (the Kyrie, for example) date from the day of the early Church. Even our creed in some form or another dates from at least the 4th century. Gazing around the church, you can see the symbols and the elements that have remained with us for 2000 years... Even with the advent of Vatican II during the 1960's, the Catholicity of the Church is still very much intact. 

We are taught that the Church is eternal and unending, at least until the return of Christ. There is a continuity with who we are and where we came from that I find is often lacking in our modern society. 

What does this have to do with my unending penance? Nothing, I suppose, on a very practical level.  It's the just the idea, I suppose, of that eternalness that they both have. Both the continuity of the Church and my unending penance brings me much peace and reminds me of Christ's own faithfulness to us. 

PANGE lingua gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
quem in mundi pretium
fructus ventris generosi
Rex effudit Gentium.


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