By FATHER PAUL W. BERNY, Commentary | Published April 1, 2010
What the Triduum brings about each year for me is a flood of memories from my childhood and adolescence. I fell in love with the Liturgy as a child and its crown was Triduum. In many ways, these sacred days were foundational for my vocation as a priest. I’d like to share some of those memories.
First, please go back with me to 1960 and a Triduum spent in Buffalo where I was born and raised. Usually by this time there, the snow would be melting and the aroma of damp earth penetrated the air. Today that smell always takes me back there to my memories of Triduum. The Holy Week Liturgy had just recently been restored by Pope Pius XII and we were still getting used to celebrating the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening instead of in the morning. A group of friends and I (and by that time my brother Walter, who was too young to go on his own but could make the visits with his big brother) would gather around 9 a.m. on Good Friday to do the “Seven Churches,” walking to seven different churches or chapels. There we would see the altars of repose and make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. This is not an easy thing to do here in Atlanta, for you can’t do it without a car, but we were fortunate there to be able to walk to all seven places and complete the visitation in about two and a half hours.
We would normally begin at our home parish, St. Lawrence, where we had celebrated Holy Thursday the evening before and had taken part in the procession around the church with the Blessed Sacrament. Ten minutes away was Holy Redeemer Church on Genesee Street and then a 15-minute walk down Genesee to Queen of Peace, the Polish parish. Even though we were members of St. Lawrence, which had a large Italian population, we had been baptized at Queen of Peace, where my mother occasionally went to hear the sermon in Polish and to sing some of her favorite Polish hymns. Queen of Peace was always one of our favorite stops, for there were Felician sisters there who took great care and patience in decorating the altar of repose.
Our next stop was on Doat Street, where there was a community of cloistered Dominican nuns. They had a small chapel and it was always fascinating for us to see the metal grille, shielded with a curtain where the sisters were in prayer. We were told by the sisters in our school that some of the older nuns had been there since before the invention of airplanes, which they only witnessed in their courtyard as planes flew overhead.
Our next stop wasn’t that far away—Villa Maria Academy where the Felician sisters had a girls high school. Their chapel was larger than the Dominican sisters, but very cozy and intimate, nonetheless. About 10 minutes further was St. John Gualbert,
The last church was always a challenge because by this time we were quite a distance from our home. We would have to backtrack and trudge down Bailey Avenue and make a circle in order to finally reach St. Gerard’s, the church that bordered our home parish. I always enjoyed St. Gerard’s because it had a classical feel to it (perhaps because it copies traditional Roman church architecture) with Latin inscriptions over the doors, polished columns, and terrazzo floors. I always remembered St. Gerard’s on Easter Monday morning, coming home from school on the bus, because there would be a line of brides and grooms on the steps waiting to be married (weddings were prohibited in Lent in those days). They were days filled with many good memories.
Another of my most precious memories was my first Holy Thursday as a deacon. I was invited to return to my home parish and celebrate the Triduum as a deacon with the parish and our priests. It was the last earthly Triduum my father would celebrate, for although he saw my ordination as a deacon a week earlier, he would die quite unexpectedly a few months before my ordination as a priest. Daddy was an usher on Holy Thursday, as was his custom, and it was my first time to process next to the pastor, who held the Blessed Sacrament under the humeral veil as we moved around the aisles of the church to the altar of repose. I remember passing my dad as we moved through the rear aisle. He was kneeling as we passed, with the faintest shimmer of tears in his eyes.
Father Berny is pastor of Prince of Peace Church, Flowery Branch. He was ordained in 1972.