By Sister Karen Zielinski, OSF
Easter was a big deal at church and in our everyday lives.
Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, I remember attending Stations of the Cross at Saints. Peter and Paul grade school, and then attending them again during the weekend with my Mother. Toward the end of Lent, we practiced for the Easter Procession, wearing our Children of Mary Capes, and pretending to hold flowers for the Easter Sunday Procession.
At home, during Holy Week, my Mother prepared to bake her annual Easter lamb cakes to give to the Sisters (24?) at the Convent, and some to relatives, and of course, our family. It was a monumental task, with the two-part metal lamb cake mold, cake batter and frosting all made from scratch, cooling the cake, setting it in a green “grass” meadow made with dyed green coconut, jelly beans and candy.
Frosting the cake showed my Mother’s cake decorating class skills as she made the white buttercream frosting look curly like lamb’s wool. The final details of the face were painted on with colored frosting, and then a banner with the Pascal Emblem was placed in the lamb’s front leg. These lambs were cool!
The main baking took place on Good Friday. My Mother would tell us to keep silent on this most sacred and sad holy day. It was penance and preparation for Easter, a sacrifice for Holy Week. We tried our best to refrain from talking, but eventually, someone would giggle or break the silence. Years later, I wonder if my Mom just wanted some silence from four energy-filled kids!
But one thing is certain: we prepared and felt something holy was coming after the dreary, tuna-filled weeks of Lent. We stuffed pennies into Lenten boxes, and could not remember the last time we had a bologna sandwich for lunch on a Friday. Those times of deprivation paid off. We attended Holy Thursday Services, Good Friday stations and awakened to the Glory of Easter.
Holy means “set apart.” Christians set apart an entire week – Holy Week – to recall the events surrounding the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Holy Week is a time of final preparations and great anticipation. Our long-term preparations of prayers, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent will continue, but with greater intensity. Palm Sunday is our doorway into the holiest week of the Church year. The three solemn liturgies on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil) are called the Triduum.
The preparation we experience for the 40 days of Lent may make us feel somber, or a bit sad. But these preparations are more than a religious preparation for Easter. They are a cultural statement of our faith immersed in our daily lives. Easter is such a glorious day because of the time that preceded it. By our fasting and abstaining, doing more good works or adding a volunteer activity to our forty days of Lent, we are living the Liturgical calendar.
I drove by a fast food drive through on my way home from last year’s Good Friday stations. Customers were getting burgers and fast food and were loud and celebrating. For some reason I was saddened. I wondered why? I think it was because this time of year, this one week, on this one sad day that we spiritually ritualize was just like any other to some people. I realize that not everyone shares my faith tradition and that is fine. But I liked the fact I had to “do Lent”. It makes my Easter more triumphant, glorious and sweeter.
Lent is a season of conversion: we acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in or lives and we try to turn our hearts and minds back to God. By prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we can turn away from whatever has distracted us and turn back to God.
Maybe my Mom was right when she made us be silent on Good Friday or give up a TV show we liked during Lent. Feeling the experience of want, however temporary, can help us appreciate the true abundance in our lives.