This week was Holy Week. For those of you who are unaware of what Holy Week is it is the week that falls between Palm Sunday and Easter. It is the last week of Lent. It contains Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Church’s often will see an increase in their attendance during this week and also provide more services. In the Anglican Church like the Catholic Church, there is an Alter of Repose which is the location of the sacraments after Maundy Thursday. Often membership is requested to be with the sacrament for an hour. Over three days I dedicated five hours to being with the sacrament.
Like most individuals immersing yourself in the culture and rituals of the society you are observing can be scary and relentless. My first hour in the Alter of Repose was scary not because of being placed in a room by myself with no one there to engage with but the lack of understanding what I was supposed to do in the room. There is no prescribed ritual in the Book of Common Prayer for the hour of engagement at the Alter of Repose. I had to go with the concept that it’s like being in church. You’re not going to read a fiction book or play a game on your phone during church, so you wouldn’t do it at the Alter of Repose. The hour I was in there I prayed, read the bible, and then performed the evening prayer. The word I kept focusing on was Cherubs. I am not sure why but I decided maybe to talk about it a little bit.
A cherub is by tradition considered the second highest angle order of the celestial hierarchy. In the Middle East cherubs are often depicted with four faces, a lion, bull, eagle, and one of a man with four sets of wings. In other traditions and more common is the depiction of the cherub as a chubby little child which is a miss representation, children with wings are known as Putti, of what Pseudo-Dionysius described them as in De Coelesti Hierarchia. Like the tradition of the Christian religion, Pseudo-Dionysius used the mystical number of three. In the Christian faith the number three holds important significance. In the organization of the hierarchy of Angles, there are a total of nine different types of angels organized into three separate spheres or choirs that perform specific tasks for God. Cherubs are assigned to the first sphere with Seraphim and Thrones. The cherubs’ responsibility is the councilors of God. Cherub performs those tasks commanded by God and are responsibility of protecting Gods thrown and watch over the stars and the light.
The second time I was in the Alter of Repose I received an answer to a question that had been running in my head for a while. My friend at Church were discussing our childhood experiences with asking challenging questions about the faith. After doing my mini ritual of praying, reading, and performing evening prayer I found the answer I needed while reading Genesis. To answer the question, God commanded Noah to build it, Noah was subservient to God, and in order to ensure the waters receded back so there was land to walk upon Noah needed a manner in which to get the dove out without other animals trying to escape.
The third hour I again followed my standard ritual and prayed, read, and did morning praying. Then I had my fourth hour right after the third so I decided just to sit for an hour and think. Just let the brain wonder and listen. If one can get calm enough and quite enough, I prayed for insight and just looked at the candles that were lit in the room. The air wasn’t on but it was interesting to watch the flames flicker. The fifth hour was my last, I figured out how to light the incense burner and just prayed to be open to guidance. As I sat on the floor, in front, I was the calmest I have ever been. Sounds faded away and a sense of peace just came.
It’s interesting to see that when by ourselves we force ourselves to start patterns or rituals to provide meaning and purpose to the time we have. Without having a ritual we often have misguided time with no end purpose. It is not just in church when we do such things, we also doe them while waiting for a class to start or waiting at the doctor’s office. Everyone has their own personal rituals they perform to move them to a next activity or prepare them for an event. I guess the question then becomes how impactful is that ritual if only known to one and engaged by one. We are taught at church that if three are more are gathered that God will be there and hear our prayers. If this is so, the concept of the self-centric engagement of ritual is minimal as compared to the power of the group engagement.
It was a good week and I learned a lot about ritual from the aspect of singular performance and the power of it being done by multitude of individuals. Ritual is more than the words and acts but about the coming together of a community to move the group forward and closer to their objective, whatever it might be. Thanks again for reading about my experience performing ritual in the Anglican Church this week. Next week I am going to be discussing the concept of how ritual is perceived by Millennials, Middle Aged and Elderly and its importance on each generation.
May you find enlightenment today and everyday hence forth, until next time.
Wilt Thou not turn again and quicken us, O Lord?
That Thy people may rejoice in Thee.
Show us Thy mercy, O Lord,
And grant us Thy salvation.
Vouchsafe, O Lord,
To keep us safe this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us.
Have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let Thy mercy lighten upon us.
As our trust is in Thee.
Turn Thee again, O Lord, at the last.
And be gracious unto Thy servants.