I loved Holy Week. The days before Easter when all the bloody and very mean things happened to Jesus, somehow conjures up fun memories for me. The whole tragic, last days of Christ had been imprinted on our our little Catholic brains since Kindergarten. Images of that poor, super-skinny dead man, hammered into splintery wood, with prickers on his bleeding head, were so commonplace that, by age eleven, looking at it was about as troubling as looking at a hamburger. Nor did any of us question the outlandish stories and rituals of the Easter season, nope, we embraced them with the full knowledge that the whole crucifixion thing was all our fault, and the least we could do was go to church a million times in one week. But the guilt didn’t weigh us down, it was our baseline, so, mostly we were thinking about the new shoes, the hidden baskets of teeth rotters, and the upcoming days off.
It starts with Palm Sunday, which was no picnic. Mass took about three days to get over with because they read The Passion, which, despite its title, had zero making out. There were the palms though. They got draped over the crucifix in your bedroom and collected measurable dust for a whole year. Next came Holy Monday and Tuesday – hardly worth a mention because it was full days of school, but we were one day closer to eating the Jujufruits or saying the bad words, or whatever it was that was given up for Lent. The next day is when it started to get good, nothing really terrible happened to Jesus on Wednesday, so we weren’t forced to think about suffering too much. So, there was that, and, after a half day of school we didn’t have to go back until after the resurrection! Again, we knew our vacation was because His Only Begotten Son had to go through a world of shit on account of all of us being so impure, and Sister Mary Immaculate Heart probably impressed upon us that we should, by no means, enjoy any of this time off, but we were just sinful kids, and we couldn’t help it. Plus, all you had to do was make a heartfelt, scripted confession, say a couple of Hail Marys and a Blessed Be, and the slate was clean.
So, Jesus’ last supper was our first whole day off. Playing Barbies, walking around the neighborhood eating Funions, maybe a game of Red Rover if the ground wasn’t too wet, the world was our oyster, until mass that night.
Holy Thursday is when we were all reminded that, because of our inherent human wickedness, Jesus had to make it so we could all eat His body and drink His blood to be forgiven. “ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME??!!” is what we should have collectively screamed as we ran out onto Walter Street to find everlasting salvation through other, less cannibalistic, means. But, again, this was normal nancy for us. We had all made our First Communion in second grade, so we were over the body and blood stuff, it was just cool to see what everyone was wearing when you walked up and back from receiving the little, not-to-be-chewed, sacramental treat. Also, we got to sing my favorite Lenten song (yes, that is a thing) “Oh Sacred Head Surrounded”. It began, “Oh sacred head surrounded by crown of piercing thorn, oh bleeding head so wounded, reviled and put to scorn…”, and it made you feel so stinking sorry for Jesus’ head and all, that for at least one whole song you were suffering like you were supposed to that week.
Good Friday was the day you should feel the very worst about yourself. I however, have a very vividish memory of riding bikes in the church parking lot with the Ebel sisters, and Mary Anne Finnigan, having a blast. We played this game called “Collision Almost”, where you rode your beautiful, magenta Stingray with the hippie-flowered banana seat, as recklessly close to the other kid as you could without crashing. This game rocked on any day, but between the hours of noon and 3PM, on Good Friday, it rocked the hardest. See, we were supposed to stay silent for those three hours because God was dying, so, trying not to laugh or scream during Collision Almost cranked the fun-o-meter up past eleven. We had to get home in time to change for Stations of the Cross, yet another opportunity to be with your friends, maybe not the same pew, but still. This service included lots of kneeling and then standing and then sitting while you were supposed to be looking at the step by step gloomy images that lead to the crucifixion while someone read the details. After that we went home and didn’t eat meat, only to return a few hours later for another creepy and bacteria-laden ritual we never questioned, the Veneration of the Cross. Mind you, there is no music now until He comes back from the dead, so the quiet amped up the eeriness for this whole number. What we had to do was all process to the altar where the priest held a giant crucifix, the Altar Boy, a napkin, and, one by one, kiss the sculpted, nail-penetrated feet of our Lord. Was I thinking this was lunacy? No, I was thinking I wanted to be first in line so I didn’t miss the beginning of the Brady Bunch.
Next came Holy Saturday. Like its week-mates, Holy Monday and Tuesday, nothing really happens on Holy Saturday. Jesus is in the tomb so you shouldn’t be too happy even though there is a brand new, pink and white plaid seersucker jacket from Wards, waiting in your closet for you to wear tomorrow. We did color eggs though, and my father was masterful with that waxy drawing stick that came with the dyeing kit. We each got one with our name and a picture on it, and of course, there had to be one with the obligatory cross. My mother probably said a good Act of Contrition before she cracked into that one to make salad.
And then, He rose. We would find our baskets in obvious hiding places, make sure the single, candy eyeball on the hollow, milk chocolate bunny wasn’t detached, chug a few jelly beans, then it was off to mass, again. The holiest day in the Roman Catholic Church really packed ‘em in – new shoes, new hats, and the promise of everlasting life was a big draw. A congregation full of people convinced that God really dug all the repenting, and kneeling and standing and kneeling, and sacrificing, and confessing they were doing, when She was probably just as happy watching kids ride bikes.
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Teresa Burns Parkhurst is a cartoonist from Albany New York. Her stuff appears regularly in businessey publications and on greeting cards and is counted among The Usual Gang Of Idiots at Mad Magazine. She enjoys not going places.