This year I celebrated Holy Week. Being raised a practicing Mormon I actually had to do a little research about how to do this. Imagine, a member of a church bearing Christ’s name having to research how to celebrate Holy Week! Growing up, more energy was put into celebrating the Pagan aspects of Easter than the Christian ones (Easter eggs, candy, bunnies, ham dinner, etc.). If General Conference was not happening, church featured typical sounding talks given by lay members vaguely focused on Christ, an extra song or two, and more pastel colors.
So this year I started with Lent; I gave up meat and dairy, I read the synoptic Gospels, and I really tried to focus more time on prayer, meditation and solitude for the 40 days before the beginning of Holy Week. During Holy Week I attended the Cathedral of the Madeleine in downtown Salt Lake City because it is walking distance from my apartment and it is such a beautiful space. I started my Holy Week celebration by attending the Palm Sunday Mass, which began with a procession around the Cathedral holding our palm fronds up in the air, celebrating Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem and his humility as a leader whose kingdom is not of this world. On Holy Thursday, which commemorates Christ’s initiation of the Eucharist and the washing of the Apostles feet, I attended Mass and watched the Bishop wash the feet of a dozen or so people, giving a moving Homily on serving the poor. On Good Friday I attended an interfaith procession between five down town church (the LDS churches being conspicuously absent) where the Lord’s passion was sung, spoken and contemplated as we walked the city streets behind a large wooden cross. Holy Saturday was celebrated by a beautiful candle light vigil in the darkness of Christ’s death. During the liturgies and especially the vigil, I felt myself imagining and participating in the final week of Christ’s life like I have never before been encouraged to do. The darkness of the Holy Saturday church was an overwhelming symbol of the darkness of death, retold each year at this time as we emerge from winter into spring. It is no accident that we celebrate Holy Week in the spring. Christ rises each year in the buds of trees, dormant for months. It is a miracle we witness each year. Christ is the story Christians tell about this sacred cosmic cycle of death and rebirth and for the first time in a long time I was totally enamored with this Jesus who died and rose again on the third day.
On Easter Sunday I worked my way to the front of the crowded Cathedral, wearing both my crucifix and Salt Lake temple-door-knob-beehive belt buckle. The Cathedral is covered by painting, stained glass, sculpture and murals of saints, the life of Christ, and the Cathedral’s Patron Saint Mary Magdalene. Pillars draw the eye heavenward like so many oak trees in a sacred grove. The altar is covered with candles and beautiful flowers and lilies. As the service began the cathedral choir was joined by the Utah Symphony Orchestra and each liturgical piece was better than the last. The music lifted my soul in ways I have not felt in years. Each crescendo filled the echoing space of this microcosm of the macrocosm. We crossed ourselves, stood, sat, recited, sang, kneeled and listened. We participated. We performed the passion in a way that was so different than listening to two or three talks about Christ. Watching the devout move with hdeads bowed to the front, hearing the Bishop say ‘Body of Christ’, I wanted so much to partake of the Eucharist and contemplate this God made flesh. Christ as Incarnation makes Christ present in all things, and that to me is the essence of Christianity: God become stuff, the universe is his/her body! Christ is the word which was with the Father from the beginning of the Flaring Forth of this sacred universe. I left the Cathedral more in tune with the changing season, the breaking buds, the wafting clouds and sacred sky.
For a church which is increasingly offended by not being included within the Christian fold, why is it that Mormon’s have eschewed celebrating this Holiest of Holy Weeks? I am sincerely asking, because I do not know or understand. Perhaps it is a response by 19th century Mormonism, seeking to form an identity that rejects not only the orthodoxy of Trinitarian Christianity but also its orthopraxy and liturgy. Perhaps, Mormonism is a religion of the American restoration, and much as the Book of Mormon has become the primary sacred text of Mormon devotion, we have left traditional Christian liturgy behind?
It would seem that for a church that accepts participatory liturgy in its temples, we could incorporate something similar into our worship. In the temple we rehearse the story of Adam and Eve as they navigate the sacred ordinances of salvation. Why couldn’t we spend an equal amount of attention of the passion narrative?
Why is the how of salvation so much more important to Mormons than the why?
· According to Salt Lake Tribune Reporter, Peggy Fletcher Stack Mormons are increasingly unsatisfied with LDS ritual and practice and are celebrating Easter among other Christian communities. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/lifestyle/55968017-80/church-says-lent-lds.html.csp
· I also found this Dialogue article interesting. http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V37N03_161.pdf