Happy Easter! Liberia Mission is truly a special place to be Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday (Easter Monday too – because school is closed!).
Palm Sunday begins as students gather at the football (soccer) field in Blacktom Town. On the field, the students make a big archway of palm fronds they’ve grabbed from a large table. Father Gabriel is there with Holy Water, accompanied by servers who have thuribles full of hot coals loaded with incense that pour smoke into the air. Stephen, the donkey, is led out to the field to walk next to Father as he begins the procession from the field over to the church. Stephen isn’t much on having someone on his back – but he is happy to walk along side Father Gabriel as he leads the students and community members in singing “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest!” When the entourage gets to Saint Michael’s, they begin Holy Mass and the reading of the Passion of Our Lord. As in Catholic Churches everywhere in the world, the Priest, Parishioners and Prayer Leaders speak parts of the Gospel and dive deeply into Christ’s Passion as Holy Week begins.
Holy Thursday is a profoundly meaningful day on the mission. Many cultures and traditions come together to tell the story of the Jesus. The afternoon begins with the students preparing the Seder meal dishes. Eggs are hard boiled, apple sauce and nuts are mixed to make Haroset, and parsley and radishes are cleaned and prepared. A group of students prepares sheep and goats for the celebration. The parishioners and students gather to celebrate the Seder Supper as they read from the Book of Exodus. Students also take a small bowl of blood and make the sign of the cross on the door and lintel of their dorm rooms and all the other doorways of the mission. Everyone then gathers back and finishes the Seder. At 7 p.m., the Mass of the Lord’s Supper begins. Father Gabriel proclaims the Last Supper narrative, then washes the feet of the students. After mass, Blessed Sacrament is received in a special chapel the students put together at the back of the church. The main altar is stripped, the tabernacle is left open, and an all-night Eucharistic Adoration vigil takes place. The students take turns making sure someone is with Jesus the whole night, at times falling asleep just as the apostles did in the garden of Gethsemane.
Maundy Thursday service at the Mission.
Good Friday proceeds with the students and parishioners meeting for Stations of the Cross at 3 p.m. They return to the church at 7 p.m. to pray on the only day of the year that no Mass is said anywhere in the world. The students leave the church with the tabernacle door left open and empty. The altar is stripped and all walk away in silence.
Holy Saturday morning is begun with Morning Prayer: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise,” as echoed in eons and will be repeated in the future from east to west. The afternoon is spent in silence, cleaning and decorating the church; preparing food for Sunday; and everyone doing their laundry, pressing their best black trousers, skirts, and shirts, and polishing their shoes, making sure everything spiffy clean. We have no vigil mass at the mission, as Holy Saturday is a day of solemn silence.
Easter Sunday arrives to the ringing of bells and once again the Morning Prayer of the ages is said by all: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.” The students busy themselves getting on their “dress blacks” and they look their best. The bells ring as the servers make huge coals for the thurible and load it up with incense. Community parishioners pile into our little chapel and the singing begins an hour before mass starts. They follow one praise song with another: no papers, no booklets, no program, no order, no pre-selection of songs, just one heartfelt song belted out after another because Jesus has risen! You feel it, you sense it, you know it because He is alive in the people around you, in the words of the Gospel, and in the Holy Eucharist we share 2000 years after His triumph over death.
It is amazing, truly amazing, in my fond recollection…
But in reality, on Palm Sunday, Stephen, the donkey, loves to take off running and Nupuwo, one of our students, has to contain him so he will walk next to Father. On Holy Thursday’s Seder Supper, the students roasting the sheep and goats eat all the meat and we are left with only bones to share with the community members. On Holy Saturday, the students are chased around to do their laundry and get their clothes ironed. Mary, the monkey, escapes and chases the girls around their dorm because she knows they are afraid of her. On Easter Sunday, we get up to make donuts at 3 a.m. so they will be ready after 8 a.m. mass, but the dough doesn’t rise well and each donut weighs in at about five pounds.
But still, Jesus has risen! You feel it, you sense it, you know it because He is alive in the students and the people around you, in His word, and in the Holy Eucharist He left as His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity to keep us in Him until we are with Him.
Happy Easter to everyone!
-Joe Sehnert, Board President