I write on the eve of Holy Week. And because Youngstown was a city of churches, I’m reminded that Holy Week observances shaped the growing up years of many of us, whether we continue to embrace the beliefs behind those observances or not.
Holy Week began with Palm Sunday. In many of our churches palm branches were distributed that celebrated the triumphal ride of Jesus into Jerusalem in which the crowds made a carpet of cloaks for him to ride on and everyone waved palm branches and threw them down before him crying “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” I often wondered (and still do) how a city could give him such acclaim and then crucify him five days later.
We lived in the tension between Palm Sunday and Good Friday throughout the week. My wife describes how each year, she would take the palm branch she received and plait it into a cross. Holy Week was the final week of Lent and the fasting of this forty day period continued. In my wife’s house, it was lots of pierogies and boiled cabbage, especially on Wednesday and Friday. In my Protestant household, we abstained from meat on Good Friday. My wife recounts taking time out from classes to walk the stations of the cross, remembering the events and encounters of the Via Dolorosa and the cross itself.
Many of our churches had a Maundy Thursday service or Mass. Thursday evening was the night of the Last Supper. After the homily, some churches would have a foot washing. At the end of the Mass or service, the altars would be stripped to prepare for Good Friday.
Then came Good Friday. I often wondered at the name “Good”, considering the focal point of the day was the crucifixion of Jesus. The only thing that seemed good was that we had the day off from school. My mother commented that often the skies would cloud over during the afternoon of Good Friday, reminiscent of the darkness that descended over Jerusalem as Jesus died. Many churches had services at 3 pm commemorating the hour of Jesus death. I also attended services where “the seven last words” of the cross were remembered. In some churches, the cross was draped with a black cloth.
I think for many of us from Youngstown, this space between Palm Sunday and Good Friday reflected a tension in which we lived. We celebrated whenever we could because we were aware that life brought suffering (“crosses”). Lent ideally kept any of us from an inflated view of ourselves as we were reminded of our flawed and finite existence on this earth and that there was a hope of redemption for all of us. Even the criminal who died at Jesus side would be with him that day in Paradise.
As Good Friday came to an end, the waiting and anticipation of Holy Saturday began. As kids we looked forward to Easter baskets, but also to new clothes, and the celebration of Easter. More on this next week…
Interested in reading other posts in this “Growing Up in Working Class” series. Just go to my home page and click the “On Youngstown” link under “Categories”.