Sunday, April 3, 2011
"Mother Mary comes to me..."
Today marks the fifth anniversary of my beloved paternal grandmother's death. Her name was Mary. While I have a plethora of memories of Grandma Mary (her phenomenal spaghetti and her freshly made flour tortillas jump to mind), perhaps the ones that stick out for me the most concern the liturgy.
Grandma Mary made many sacrifices to ensure that my dad had a strong Catholic upbringing, enrolling him in the local parochial school and ensuring that he received his sacraments. This had a profound effect on my dad, as he has remained steadfast in the Faith, still serving his childhood parish. Grandma Mary's influence also helped my dad (and my late mother) hand down the Faith to their only offspring, me.
It was not until I was 10 years old that I began to understand the extent of my grandmother's devotion. My parents decided that we would spend Easter with her and my step-grandfather. My school (a Salesian one) let out for Triduum. Prior to dismissal, Sister Lupe encouraged us to go to Mass on Holy Thursday, to Good Friday services and then Holy Saturday. My mother and I had always gone to church on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, but, hardly ever on Holy Thursday. Given the fact that my father was in retail and worked long hours (along with the fact that my mother never learned how to drive), we were pretty much at the mercy of the local transit schedule (which did not run past 7PM at that time).
When we got to Austin, I started making mental plans about going to the Mall or downtown. Before I could say anything, Grandma told us that we would be going to Mass on Holy Thursday. Well, I thought, Sister said we had to go. My father dropped off Grandma Mary, my mom and me at her parish. Grandma asked if I had ever gone. I told her no. She gave my mom "the look", but, said nothing.
Before Mass, my Grandma proceeded to explain to me why Holy Thursday was very important. She augmented Sister Guadalupe's lesson, telling me that on Holy Thursday, Jesus instituted two sacraments: the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood. She explained that 12 men would be having their feet washed and then we would be going to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament after Mass in the Mother's Chapel (what I later learned would be the Altar of Repose).
I observed everything that happened at the Mass. It was certainly different than the usual Sunday liturgy. I loved the incense at the beginning and throughout Mass. I also strained a little to watch the foot-washing ritual. Both Grandma Mary and my mom were singing the Pange Lingua during the procession. When it ended, I started to say something, but, mom shushed me, showing me the little pamphlet that said that we had to leave in silence. We then went to the Mother's Chapel to pray and then afterwards, walked outside to await my dad.
Grandma asked me what I thought. I told her that I was happy I came. I also asked her if we were coming back at 3PM the next day. She told me that we would. However, we would also be going at noon for the Stations of the Cross. The next day, while at the Stations, I felt something inside of me start to understand why Sister Guadalupe was harping on us to be in church during these great three days. She told us that we go to Church to return, in some small measure, the love that Jesus gave us as He was suffering and dying for our sakes. Grandma Mary's gentle insistance that we be there all three days was her way of helping my parents pass down the faith to me.
Reading all of this, one might think, well, so what, benedictgal? What is so extraordinary about going to Triduum with your grandmother? My grandmother was in an ilicit marriage all throughout my childhood. She and my step-grandfather had not had their marriage blessed by the Church (this came four years later). Yet, even despite this situation, she never stopped going to Mass and she never stopped keeping the Sacred Triduum. While she could not fully participate in any of the liturgies, she wanted to be close to Jesus, especially during these holiest of days. She also prayed for my step-grandfather's conversion and their eventual convalidation. She never gave up. Through the liturgies, she clung to Jesus and did her best to stay close by Him, much like St. Peter did while he was warming himself up by the charcoal fire at the high priest's house that Holy Thursday night.
Some eight years later, I went to live with Grandma Mary and my step-grandfather. I spent part of Triduum with them and then the rest with my parents. My step-grandfather would drop us off for Mass and then pick us up after we made our visit to the Mother's chapel. Then, he would take me to the bus station early the next day so that I could get home in time for Good Friday services.
Grandma Mary taught me how to love the liturgy. She taught me that in keeping the Sacred Triduum, I try, in my small way, to return some measure of love to God, in gratitude for what He endured for me.
A week before Holy Week, on April 3, 2006, my dad called me at the office to tell me that Grandma Mary had died. Perhaps it was fitting that she should have died just before Triduum. My parochial vicar tells us that the Mass is our dress rehearsal for the heavenly liturgy. Grandma Mary had such a devotion to our Lord and to His Church that, perhaps, God saw fit to take her right before the Church's holiest time of the year. I pray for the repose of the soul of Grandma Mary and my mom, hoping that they are, in fact, already participating in the heavenly liturgy for which they prepared themselves.
My mom used to call my grandma "Mother Mary". This was before Paul McCartney wrote his famous song "Let it Be". In memory of Grandma Mary, on this, the fifth anniversary of her death, here is that famous song.