Families of Parishes see packed churches at Holy Week celebrations
Many parishes celebrated Holy Week for the first time as a family this year, and found the blessings to be bountiful.
The Beloved Disciples of Christ the Lord, which has parishes in Lancaster, Depew, Cheektowaga and Bowmansville knew some adjustments would have to be made as they had three priests serving six parishes.
“There was some planning that needed to be done, some sacrifices. We weren’t able to do the full Triduum at each of the parishes, but we tried to come up with a fair way to give people opportunities (experience) it all,” explained Msgr. Richard Siepka, moderator of the family.
The family had six Holy Thursday Masses, and then three full passion services on Good Friday at different times, so people could find a convenient parish. Each parish then offered a unique experience on Friday night, from Stations of the Cross, the Seven Last Words of Jesus, a Taize service, and a Tenebrae service. On Saturday, they had three Easter vigils.
“It was a sacrifice that not every parish could have the Easter vigil, but what we did was create a little bit larger crowd, and it was a nice celebration,” Msgr. Siepka said.
The parishes each had a regular schedule for Easter Sunday.
“Easter Sunday, I think because of the weather and with Christmas being snowed out, I think the number of people at Mass was something we haven’t seen in years. It was wonderful. The next week we decided to have one Divine Mercy celebration in the family instead of each parish having a small one. It was standing room only. It was packed to the gills. It was an incredible response. People’s moods were good. It was a nice celebration of Easter,” Msgr. Siepka said. “People adjusted to not everything being at every parish. The priests moved around a little. I did the Good Friday service at Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It was a nice experience for all.”
The Central Niagara Catholic Family had a similar experience. Having three priests to cover four parishes involved some careful planning.
“We are a new family. We didn’t know what to do,” explained Father Steven Jekielek, vicar forane for the Niagara/Orleans vicariate, who had been serving as temporary administrator of the family at the time.
Along with Father Andrew Lauricella, pastor of St. Brendan on the Lake in Newfane, and Father Daniel Ogbeifun, pastor of All Saints in Lockport, they decided to keep the usual Palm Sunday Masses, and rotate the triduum services.
“What we decided to do this year was have Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper at All Saints Parish with Father Daniel presiding. All the ministries were covered by people from each of the parishes. So, we had altar servers from each parish. We had lectors, eucharistic ministers, music ministry were all combined ministries from each of our four parishes. On Friday, for the 3 o’clock liturgy, we did it at St. Brendan’s in Newfane with the same idea of mixed ministries. The Easter vigil itself was at St. John the Baptist at 8:30 in the evening,” Father Jekielek said, adding Immaculate Conception in Ransomville hosted the Stations of the Cross led by lay leaders.
“We weren’t quite sure how it was going to work out. When we first announced it, people were a little leery about the idea. People weren’t happy because things weren’t at their church,” he explained. “What we found when we got to All Saints on Holy Thursday evening, the church was packed. We had people from every parish there. The liturgy went beautifully. We said, ‘OK, this is a good start.’ On Good Friday, it’s always hard to tell what you’re going to get because it’s in the middle of the afternoon. Again, St. Brendan in Newfane was a packed church.”
The big surprise came on Good Friday when Immaculate Conception hosted the Stations of the Cross. Expecting a couple dozen people at the most to be present, they welcomed over 100. The Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, held at St. John the Baptist in Lockport, saw over 300 people in attendance for the long liturgy that included two baptisms and four confirmations.
“We thought, this is great,” said Father Jekielek. “We weren’t sure what to expect on Sunday because all these people came during the vigil. I presided at St. John’s on Sunday. Our first Mass was at 7 o’clock in the morning. Again, we had over 300 people there. For our 10 o’clock Mass at St. John the Baptist, we were standing room only with over 500 people there. When I checked with the other parishes, they all said the same thing – on Easter Sunday, all the Masses were full.”
It seems the people are starting to understand what parishes can do when they work as a family.
“When we talked with people after the different liturgies, they were all saying, ‘This is so wonderful being at these liturgies with a full church.’ We said, ‘That is why we are doing the renewal.’ So, we can have these big celebrations with full churches and everybody worshiping together. So, I think the idea is getting across, at least in this area,” Father Jekielek said.