My table companions: Alan (l), Father David (c) and Paul (r) in the guest house dining room
Triduum at the Abbey
Beginning as a trickle and crescendoing in a torrent, the bells of Mount Angel, silent since the Gloria of Holy Thursday, burst into life at the Easter Vigil as the cantor intoned Gloria in excelsis Deo. Simultaneously, light erupted throughout the abbey church, in darkness save for the flame of the paschal candle. Liturgy is not a theatrical production, but the judicious employment of sound and light in worship reminds us that we are spirit and flesh. Taste and touch, sight, sound and smell—there was plenty of incense—take us beyond the head and into the heart.
So, how did it come about that I was at Mount Angel Abbey (located between Portland and Salem, Oregon) for Holy Week 2021? My friend, Father David Janes of Portland, suggested a retreat at the abbey. “But will they even be open?” Yes, the guest house was open. We followed the customary COVID-19 protocols.
A retreat in the Benedictine environment is simple, ora et labora (pray and work). The ora was provided by the canonical hours (which are not 60 minutes): morning, mid-day, evening, and night prayer chanted by the monks, with visitors following or accompanying as best we could. I omitted the “Office of Vigils,” the bells calling us to prayer at 5:20 a.m. Thanks, but no thanks. The labora was provided through Father David, whose declining health made wheelchair transport necessary. Not a problem. It got us front row seats at the triduum liturgies. Adding up prayer time, mealtime, the night’s sleep, and the day’s sleep still left time for personal prayer and reflection—or just zoning out. The latter probably held sway. Mt. Angel provides WiFi, but urges moderate usage. Except for Saturday before the Vigil that began at 9 p.m., I was mostly off the grid. Do you recall what was going on that evening?
At mealtimes we paired up with two men. Paul, from the Seattle area, has spent Holy Week at the abbey for several years. Alan, a younger man, proved somewhat elusive. I asked him to put his contact information into my phone. He left his name. But David, who is never hesitant about “diving into souls,” scored Alan’s number, and reminds me to “give Alan a call.”
In our table conversation, Paul mentioned that he grew up in Chicago and was still in touch with people there. “I hear things about their archbishop.”
“Oh, what do you hear?”
“Well, these are pretty conservative types. They don’t like how he deals with the gay issue.”
I continued: “You know, we trained him for the job in Spokane.” “What was he like?” I gave a “fair and balanced” assessment, mentioning how we faced tough financial times in the post-Chapter 11 years, and he got us through them. But not everyone appreciated the way he exercised authority. I thought I was fair.
Near the end of the meal, a woman approached our table: “I wanted to tell you that I know Cardinal Cupich, and he was very kind to me.”
What I want to know is: why do I open my big mouth?