The Triduum, the holy days from the evening of Maundy Thursday until Easter morning. There is a rhythm, a structure, a predictability, a reassurance. The words and the actions come easily to mind, the music is unchanging. There is no possible marketing angle, the observances remain untainted by commercialisation.
Perhaps it is the form that most matters, the outward ceremonies. Perhaps those who gather come not with great religious conviction, but with a sense that there is something in what takes place that connects them with something, Perhaps the connection is only with childhood memories, or with thoughts of some transcendence, or with memories of departed loved ones, but it is a connection that matters.
Sometimes there is a danger in intruding between people and reassurance, even unwittingly, it can can cause hurt, alienation, breaches that cannot be healed. There is a need for self-effacement, even when every sense rebels against such an attitude.
The abbot in Brian Moore’s novella Catholics has long ago lost his faith, but he has led a small island monastery who have held on to their old traditions, including the Latin Mass. The old beliefs and the old ways have become vital for the vulnerable religious community he leads. To re-engage with a faith he does not believe will mean entering a void, cancelling out his own personality, but through his love for the brothers he effaces himself:
“No one can order belief,” the Abbot said. “It is a gift from God.” But even as he said this, said the only truth left to him, he saw in these faces that he was failing, that he was losing them, that he must do something he had never done, give something he had never given in these, his years as their Abbot. What had kept him in fear since Lourdes, must now be faced. What he feared most to do must be done. And if, in doing it, I enter null and never return, amen. My time has come . . .
. . .slowly, with the painful stiffness of age, he went down heavily on one knee, then on both. Knelt in the center of the aisle, facing the altar, the soles of his heavy farm boots showing from the hem of his robe. He trembled. He shut his eyes.
“Let us pray.”
He bent his head. “Our Father, Who art in Heaven,” he said. His trembling increased. He entered null. He would never come back. In null.
He heard them kneel. “Our Father, Who art in Heaven.” Relieved, their voices echoed his.
“Hallowed be Thy name,” the Abbot said.
“Hallowed be Thy name.”
Self-effacement. “Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his friends,” said Jesus of Nazareth on that distant Thursday night in Jerusalem. Broken bread and a cup shared. A man effaced.