Parishes celebrate old traditions, create new ones

By Jennika Baines
SUN Assoc. Editor

Holy Week traditions are often as much about the shared experience of faith as they are the history and community of a parish. There is comfort to be found in the repetition of old traditions as well as a spirit of rebirth in the fresh formation of new ones.

Parishes throughout the diocese are welcoming Easter with traditions new and old.

At Sacred Heart Basilica in Syracuse, a predominantly Polish parish, the traditions are centuries old.

“The best tradition is the blessing of the food,” Msgr. Peter Gleba said.

This is a traditional Polish observance in which people come with baskets of food which are blessed by the pastor. The food in the basket has symbolic significance, with the decorated eggs symbolizing new life, the horseradish representing Christ’s bitter sacrifice and babka, a sweet bread, representing the staff of life.

Babka was made at Sacred Heart on March 27. “Oh, it’s really delicious,” Msgr. Gleba said. “They sell over 500 loaves of bread.”

If they would like, parishioners can also include some kielbasa or ham, and the meat represents Christ’s destruction of an older order which forbade meat.

Sitting on the very top of the basket is a figure of butter molded into the shape of a lamb. Holding a red banner of resurrection emblazoned with a gold cross, it “watches over” the food in the basket. The lamb symbolizes the Paschal lamb, Jesus.

The parishioners have already come together to decorate their easter eggs and make the butter lambs.

The blessing of food will take place at the basilica on Holy Saturday at 8 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

“It’s a nice tradition; it all signifies life and the blessing of life that Christ was for us,” Msgr. Gleba said. “And then on Easter morning it’s joy and happiness.”

Father Sean O’Brien, pastor of St. Patrick’s Mission in Forestport, said parishioners are becoming involved in the celebrations at his parish as well.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper will be celebrated on Holy Thursday. Before the  Mass, confirmation students will serve a soup and sandwich supper, but Father O’Brien stressed that they wanted to keep it very simple to reflect the austerity of Lent.

“Well, you know how some people are. ‘It’s Friday, we can’t have meat. Let’s go to Red Lobster,’” Father O’Brien said. This will be more in keeping with the purpose and spirit of penance and preparation.

On Good Friday there will be the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion which includes the veneration of the cross.

On Palm Sunday, for St. Luke’s account of the Passion, Father O’Brien said different voices will be assigned for each role.

“When I grew up in Vestal there were the three people: the voice, the priest and the narrator, and that was it,” Father O’Brien said.

Then he snored.

Instead, this year St. Patrick’s will bring the experience into the pews.

“So, on Palm Sunday, there are the two criminals, Peter, the temple guard, Pontius Pilate, Jesus, the narrator — so we’re involving, in some cases, one-liners and in others big reading parts,” Father O’Brien said. Those giving voice to each part will not be standing by the altar, but will instead be seated with their families. That way the voices will be heard calling out from among the parishioners.

The parish will also welcome six RCIA candidates, Father O’Brien said, “which is not bad for a small town like Boonville.”

St. Ambrose Parish in Endicott offers a dramatic presentation of the Lord’s Passion during the Saturday vigil and Palm Sunday Masses. “It’s 15 people taking part in the reading of the Passion and it’s a dramatic reading with sound effects using timpani and other percussion instruments,” said Becky Monforte, parish secretary and organizer of the event.

Father Charles Currie plays the role of Jesus, while Father Donald Bourgeois is a collaborator and Father Ben Manding takes the role of Judas. “Father Manding always says, ‘Hey, if it wasn’t for Judas we would still be wallowing in our sins,’” Monforte said, laughing.

The presentation has been taking place for about 11 years and has carried on despite the relocation of Father Peter Creed. He helped start the presentation with the help of Monforte’s husband, Tony, a professional drummer who passed away in 2005.

Monforte, who plays the cymbal, tambourine and triangle during the presentation, said it is an emotionally-draining performance, but well worth the effort. She said around 200 people show up for each Mass, and when she looks out at those attending, the crowd is paying rapt attention and is very moved.

“I can’t imagine Passion Week without it,” Monforte said.

The children in the parish also present the stations of the cross, reading aloud the stations and acting them out. “It involves kids from four years all the way up to high school,” said Barbara Kane, parish life coordinator. “It’s something they grow up with.”

St. Paul’s Church in Oswego will, for the second year, hold a Divine Mercy Novena from Good Friday until Divine Mercy Sunday, the second Sunday of Easter.

“One of the parishioners came in and asked if we would host a Divine Mercy Novena,” said Father Guy Baccaro, pastor.

He said he expects around 20-30 people and he said people travel from other parishes to take part.

The novena begins at 3:30 p.m. on Good Friday.

“Hopefully,” Father Baccaro said, “it’s the beginning of a tradition.”

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