Friday, April 10, 2009

Veronica, Patron Saint of Laundresses and Photographers, Pray For Me

It was the Maundy Thursday service, the footwashing service. I'd set out four chairs, four enormous stainless steel bowls, and draped the chair backs with fresh new towels a prescient parishioner had just bought at Costco's, a shrink wrapped batch of sixty. All was well. The service was proceeding smoothly. Altar Guild had done its thing and could relax into the liturgy. As the priest ascended the pulpit it suddenly hit me.


Sweet Jesus help me, I had forgotten the water. And how PRAY tell were feet going to get washed without water ? Was this going to be an air-guitar version of foot washing ? Dry cleaning ? A parting of the Red-Sea dryshod footwashing ? A miracle -- a transformation of air into water ? I crept, discreetly, out of the pew and down a side aisle, searching my memory -- was there a canonically prescribed vessel ? Could I use the baptismal ewer ? I tore open the sacristy cabinet, found the ewer, found an ancient, ornate, tarnished one in a brown felt bag, filled them with warm water, and (discreetly, I hoped, but not so discreetly the server wouldn't notice) put them on the piano bench. I crept back to my pew. Where was G., my long-departed Altar Guild mentor when I needed her ? This would never have happened on her watch. I needed her to smile sadly but reassuringly, to pat my hand, and take charge.

It quickly became clear that two dinky ewers of water would not suffice to wash the 60-odd feet that had come to the service. A bucket brigade of ewers and old brass vases quickly constituted itself between the nave and the sacristy -- not unlike the loaves and fishes event, come to think of it -- and every last foot was washed -- so many feet, in fact, that the water got gloriously dirty, and there was a mountainous pile of towels in the sacristy afterward. Along with mountainous piles of spent vases, bowls and ewers, sacred vessels and linens, and everything else that was, at service's end, stripped from altars, walls, chairs and kneelers in preparation for Good Friday.

I stood surveying the wonderful mess. All would be well.

At least I hoped it would. It's one thing to screw up the water. The Paschal fire is a whole other beast.

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