Trying to Find more in Holy Week and Easter in the US

Apparently this post by actress Rita Wilson about how her family celebrates Pascha has been around for a while. A few days ago was the first time I saw it and it left me with longing.

I deeply love Catholicism in all its many forms, Latin Rite, Eastern Rite, you name it. In a country that is a melting pot though, it can be difficult to have a celebration much like the mostly ethnic Orthodox churches. The worshipers found in these churches share often more than a religion: they share a language, culture, nationality and heritage. In Wilson’s case, it’s Greek. For others it’s Russian, Arabic, you name it. A few years ago there was only a Greek Orthodox church in the town I went to college in. A small upstart Ukranian Orthodox church quickly abandoned the ethnic/nationalist identity in favor of “Eastern” Orthodox (which is listed on their website as Russian, Greek, Romanian, Serbian and other nationally associated Orthodox communities). I believe this was a big reason that it succeeded.

In this country, at one time, Catholicism was much like that. I often tell my Faith Formation students about how in places in the northeast the Irish worshipped at St Patrick’s or St Brigid’s; Italians at St Joseph’s and St Leo’s (my grandmother’s Italian family attended a St Leo’s in Buffalo); and the Polish at Infant of Prague (my Polish grandfather’s family attended Infant of Prague in Buffalo). In fact my grandparents’ marriage, despite being between two believing, faithful Catholics, was controversial because it was considered “interracial.” To their credit, my great-grandparents both loved their new in-lawed children (my grandmother’s father used to tell his Italian friends and family that, “Sue’s going with a Polish boy, but he’s one of the smart ones.”) and celebrated the wedding at St Leo’s. But what they were doing was, for that time, somewhat rebellious.

I’m happy going to the parish of my choice, not my ethnicity. I love the diversity I see in the pews. I enjoy that my parish has an International Festival for our patron (St Mark, patron saint of Venice) on or near his feast day. But I miss some of the “old world” tradition. I miss that I live in a place where it’s hard to find a blessing of the Easter baskets that my Eastern European relatives celebrated. (For more on the basket brought to this blessing  see this post by Priest’s Wife at Fear Not Little Flock.) And the butter lamb molds that my great-grandmother and mother made (my mom still makes them).

The longing I feel when I read articles like Wilson’s is a longing for tradition that makes Holy Week and Easter even deeper. And it makes sense. It doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be from our ethnic/national origins, although I do think the nature of the US lends itself to our losing many of those.

One thing I think that I think inadvertantly contributes is that none of the Holy Week masses are Holy Days of Obligation. I think it would bring a greater gravity like it does for our Orthodox brethren. Listening to Wilson talk about the liturgies each night gives a really clear picture of just how much these liturgies mean to the faithful. And in our busy American lives we are so quick to say, well, we aren’t getting our feet washed, so we can miss this one. We don’t know any of the Catechumens so we’ll just go to Mass on Sunday morning (I’ve been guilty of that one but hearing two different friends say it out loud really drove it home).

I don’t have any hard and fast rules for those of us who really struggle to make Holy Week especially extra-special without getting caught up in the craziness of the secular celebrations (read: egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, Spring Break) and even the touch of malaise I’ve witnessed amongst some of the faithful. In fact, I don’t have any suggestions. I’m going to do my darndest to get the Easter basket done and blessed and make it to all the Holy Week masses. I love the red egg idea and sweet bread so I’m going to try it. I’m going to have Joseph come along since he’s making his First Communion this year. Maybe we’ll even have lamb for Easter dinner…well, let me not get too far ahead of myself.

I want my kids to know that first and foremost, we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior and that everything else is secondary and doesn’t really matter. And that tradition is what makes us truly stand out in this world for all the right reasons.

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