Holy Week and Lessons Learned

While it may be challenging for students in the midst of the academic demands of exams and final papers to remember, theology is an applied discipline. Many use the motto attributed to St. Anselm – faith seeking understanding – as a way to explain the work theologians do, work that of necessity calls us to engage in the sacraments and with each other. And that makes Holy Week – a time when we are reminded that a life of faith is a life of service — a particularly rich and busy time for faculty, students and staff.

Fr. Mario D’Souza, CSB, our specialist in the field of religious education, for example, will spend much of Holy Week at Loretto Abbey, where he will celebrate the Triduum for the Sisters.

“I have done this for a number of years, and I really find this to be a time of great stillness and peace, “Fr. D’Souza says. “The quiet and dignified courage and faith of the Sisters never fails to impress and humble me.”

Systematics professor Dr. Darren Dias, O.P., who celebrated Palm Sunday Mass at St. Mary Immaculate Parish in Richmond Hill, ON, north of the city, will celebrate Easter Mass at St. Patrick’s in Mississauga, spending the Triduum at the Dominican Priory in Toronto.

Dr. Nick Olkovich, our Director of Pastoral Formation and Field Education, serves as the Co-Director of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish with Jessica DeLuca, a recent graduate of the Faculty. Their group has 11 candidates for baptism or reception this year. Two current students in the Faculty, Scott Harris and Sarah Kwiecinski, are also sponsors this year in the program.

As Nick describes it, “Holy Week begins with a dry run for the Vigil on Monday. We attend the Mass of the Lord’s Supper together and then candidates attend one of the two Good Friday services with their sponsors. We gather on Saturday evening before the Vigil for a short reflection, break briefly and then reconnect outside in front of the fire,” he continues. “The Vigil is what we as RCIA team members wait all year for. I used to think it was long. Now I’m upset when it ends. There is something so moving about all of it but it’s especially beautiful when the group gathers around the altar to receive communion first…. It’s amazing to be a part of someone else’s journey.”

Faculty Programs Co-ordinator Catherine Mulroney will be working throughout the week with her own RCIA group at Blessed Sacrament Church, as she has been doing since she completed her MDiv field placement there nine years ago.

“I thought I’d be involved for a year, applying skills I learned at the Faculty, and then move on,” she remembers, smiling. “What I hadn’t anticipated was how moving I would find the entire process. It’s a humbling privilege to journey with people who are called as adults to a life of faith in the risen Christ. The RCIA process reminds us all that the Church is very much alive and well.”

At Chinese Martyrs Parish in Markham, ON, ThM student Fiona Li will see the results of her efforts when the young members of her RCIC group (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Children, a parallel program to the RCIA) are baptized into the Church on Sunday. She says that readying young children means a great deal of advance work, such as preparing the little ones for the surprise of the cold water on their heads at baptism, as well as a great deal of fun time, working on Lenten and Easter crafts, as team members make themselves present for the children’s journey.

For those like teacher Susan McElcheran, who is working toward an MTS degree, family plays a key role in Easter plans. Susan directs the choir at St. Joan of Arc’s Holy Thursday celebration, while her husband sings in the choir.

“We also do music for the Easter Vigil, and when our kids are with us they help out in a small group that sings Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus for Psalm 42.” Susan says.

“Good Friday is the really special family time, and we’ve done things together with our kids since they were small. For supper, we make Good Friday Vegetable Soup (from the Mennonite cookbook More with Less), then we go to the Stations of the Cross candlelight procession at St. Thomas’ Anglican Church on Huron St., where I used to sing. When our children were small, we found that they loved singing in the dark by candlelight, and the rhythm of walking, singing, listening to Scripture, kneeling to pray, walking and singing again, kept them focused and attentive. Every year since then, the quiet, beauty and simplicity of the service, the psalms and the prayers, is a still point that we experience together.

“Afterwards we always walk to Harbord Fish and Chips. We sit outside to eat if the weather is good enough. In the last few years of her life, my mother-in-law would join us for the Stations and the fish and chips, so we remember her specially at this time. Now our kids are off on their own, but if they are within travelling distance they wouldn’t miss this,” she says.

For St. Basil’s Pastor Fr. Chris Valka, CSB, who earned his MDiv at the Faculty, this will be an Easter of change as he prepares to leave the parish later this spring to take up new duties at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. Easter is, of course, all about change and newness, he notes.
“What God offers us through the lessons of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is a path of love that creates something so very new: a way of living in the presence of God that was better than the original plan,” he says.

A blessed Holy Week from all of us at the Faculty of Theology.