Excerpts from “Holy Week Liturgies”

Excerpts from Holy Week Liturgies

A collection of liturgies written by Cynthia Bourgeault, Ward Bauman and Darlene Franz for an intensive meditation retreat at the Episcopal House of Prayer in Collegeville, Minn. In these excerpts, special attention is given to the journey of Mary Magdalene, whose dialogues are taken from the Song of Songs.


Tuesday: from Preparatory Ritual of Ablution and Absolution

Note: the retreat runs from Tuesday through Easter Sunday. While the core of the liturgy is that of the Holy Triduum of Thursday-Sunday, there are also preparatory liturgies for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office. I fast a little. I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched out his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.” (from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers)

"Furnace of the Heart" mandala by Maryjude Hoeffel

“Furnace of the Heart” mandala by Maryjude Hoeffel

Gospel reading: John 11:17-18; 32-44

What transformation do you will for this feast? Have you prepared yourself to receive the gift of God’s self?


 Wednesday: from Anointing Ceremony


Recitation: by Reader in the role of Mary Magdalene

Place me as a seal upon your heart,
For love is as strong as death,
Its ardor as unyielding as the grave.
It burns like a blazing fire,
Like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love.
Rivers cannot wash it away.

(Song of Songs 8:6-7)


Thursday: from Liturgy of the Supper

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.”  (John 14:25-31)


Friday: from Entombment Liturgy (Good Friday Vespers)

A recitation by the acolyte in the role of Mary Magdalene, from the Song of Songs (3:1-4)

Unknown Russian Icon Painter (1500s) Ikonen-Museum, Recklinghausen

Unknown Russian Icon Painter (1500s) Ikonen-Museum, Recklinghausen

All night, all night, I lay on my bed
I looked for the one my heart loves.
I looked for him, but I did not find him.
I will arise now and go about the city
Through its streets and squares I will search.
I will search for the one my heart loves.


from The Great Vigil of Easter


If, then, we consider the descent into hell from the hypothesis of a final decision, we see that at Christ’s death the whole world entered upon a cosmic spring the harvest of which will be the remaking of our universe in newness and splendor at the end of time. At the moment of Christ’s death the veil in the temple was rent in two from top to bottom, the veil, that is, that hung before the Holy of Holies. For Jewish mysticism and subsequently in the Christian interpretation of this mysterious happening, the veil of the temple represented the whole universe as it stands between God and man. This veil was torn in two at Christ’s death to show us that, at the moment when Christ’s act of redemption is consummated, the whole cosmos opens itself to the Godhead, bursts open for God like a flowerbud. In his triumphant descent into the innermost fastnesses of the world the Son of God tore open the whole world and made it transparent to God’s light; nay, he made it a vehicle of sanctification. (…) The universe is no longer what it was before. The transformation of the world is even now a reality. (Ladislaus Boros, The Mystery of Death)


Reading: God’s Love made known in the Cosmic Heart of Christ/ Kenosis (Philippians 2:5-11)



Easter Sunday

Burne Jones, The Morning of the Resurrection

Burne Jones, The Morning of the Resurrection

Gospel Reading:  John 20-1; 11-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb…She stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold onto me, because I have not ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The poem below is by Lois Warrington, who attended the Holy Week Retreat at the Episcopal House of Prayer in 2012 and wrote this in the week following.


What Mary Magdalene Taught Me

Lois Warrington

That God is revealed through Love.

That inner work is a pathway to healing.

That one must Trust the Journey.

That extravagant, self-emptying Love will be misunderstood by some.

That steadfast Love means being there.

That the deepest meaning of the crucifixion is Love.

That Love and Knowing are intertwined.

That resurrection and joy come after weeping.

That Love is as strong as death.

That I must not cling.

That it hurts to be demeaned, diminished and denied.

That Love empowers.

That I am sometimes called to speak Truth to power.

That it is in solitude and silence that one hears.

That love is eternal.