Image banner reads, "Litany for Notre Dame, St. Landry Parish, and the world." Image shows Notre Dame Cathedral with white words on black text.
Devotions, Ministry, Pastoral Life, Poetry, Preaching, Sermons & Sermon Notes, Stewardship

Holy Thursday: Litany for Notre Dame, St. Landry Parish, and the World

This post is part of the weekly series, “His Encouragement: Thursday Thoughts to Strengthen Your Soul.” 

Image banner reads, "Litany for Notre Dame, St. Landry Parish, and the world." Image shows Notre Dame Cathedral with white words on black text.

Scripture: Psalm 40.3

“He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.”

-Psalm 40:3 (NIV)

Holy Week Began with a Tragedy

When I am faced with sorrow or anguish that I can’t explain, I turn to the words of scripture. This week, I am finding comfort in the book of Psalms. Everyone has the books of the Bible that they prefer and Psalms has always had a special place in my heart. I am drawn to the poetry of the Bible.

It has been a difficult season for my family, for my church, and it seems for the entire world. This past weekend was particularly challenging for me, so I was in an especially vulnerable emotional state when I received a text message from one of my closest friends.

She wrote no words. Words could not convey the depth of her feelings. Instead, she simply sent a link to a news article with the headline, “Notre Dame cathedral is on fire.”

I immediately clicked the link and I was horrified by what I saw. The images coming out of Paris were completely gut wrenching. When I saw the spire fall over livestream, all I could do was put my phone down and weep.

 

Ashes to Ashes

Even if you are not a particularly religious person, it is heartbreaking to watch sacred spaces burn.  At the same time Notre Dame cathedral was engulfed in flames, the historic Al-Aqusa Mosque in Jerusalem caught fire (Newsweek).

This was also a tragedy. Any place that inspires people to seek God is a treasure. Sometimes, our treasures are recognized on a global scale, like Notre Dame cathedral. Other times, the Holy Spaces that inspire us to draw closer to God are less famous. The church where I serve is only 102 years old. It is a mere baby in comparison to Notre Dame, which has stood for over 800 years. Nevertheless, it is a holy place for me.

Representatives of mainline protestant religions such as myself have been accused of having an “edifice complex.” Perhaps that is true. In my heart, I know that a church is more than the bricks and mortar that make up the building. But I also know that buildings hold memories.

On a Sunday morning, when I look out at the pews, I can tell you where beloved parishioners who have gone home to be with God used to sit. I feel their presence, even if their seats remain empty.

When we gather to break bread in the Fellowship Hall, I can’t help but think of all the potluck dinners that were prepared in that place or of all the hands that lovingly rolled dough into pot pie.

At my church, a name is inscribed on each hymnal and on every stained glass window. Some churches even have names in honor or in memory of parishioners carved into the very bricks that make up the building.

Hebrews 12.1 reminds us that we are “surrounded by so great a crowd of witnesses.” I am especially aware of this when I stand within the walls of a sacred building.

 

Darkest Before the Dawn

Churches are more than sacred places. The church is the people who are called to be the hands and feet of Christ here on earth until Christ comes again in final victory. The church exists in the hearts of all believers and all who have faith in Christ.

Nevertheless, one way to attempt to attack the very heart of a group of people is by destroying their places of worship. When the Romans wanted to crush the spirit of the Jewish people, they destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus predicted this  destruction. “Do you see all these great things?” he said. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down (Matthew 24.2).”

According to the New York Times, within the span of ten days, between March 26 and April 4, three historically black churches were destroyed by arson in St. Landry Parish in Louisiana. Although these churches were not nearly as famous on a global scale as Notre Dame in Paris, they had been the spiritual home for generations of black families (Zraizk & Choksi, 16 April 2019).

The person accused of setting the fire has been charged with arson and hate crimes (ibid).

Sometimes, it can feel as if the entire world is burning and crumbling to ash. My heart breaks for the people of Paris, for the people of St. Landry Parish, and for people all over the world who suffer. I am such a deeply empathetic person that sometimes I need to fast from the news and social media in order to maintain my own health and spiritual well being.

An image shows the stained glass of the rose window in Notre Dame. The window is circular with many bright colors. The window panes look like flower petals
After the tragedy of Notre Dame, my heart rejoices to know that the famous Rose Window still remains. It is my hope to see it some day before my eyesight wanes entirely.

A Word from the Lord?

Despite the fact that the news of the world causes me psychic anguish, I cannot shut myself out from the world for too long. We do not preach into a vacuum and Sunday mornings keep coming. Each Sunday, as I stand before my congregation, the unspoken question hangs in the air, “Is there a Word from the Lord?” 

It is truly a holy moment, and that is why every Sunday as I walk down the aisle and approach the cross, I feel a tension in my throat and a tightness in my chest. To approach something so holy and sacred is awe inspiring and frightening. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9.10).” 

There is always a Word from the Lord.

It is my own human weakness if I cannot hear it.

 

The Hope of Easter Morning

This Sunday is Easter and the Word is a Word of resurrection. It is a story of the stone that is rolled away and the triumph of an empty tomb. It is the hope of an Easter morning.

The symbolism of the burning of Notre Dame was not lost on me. As I watched the spire fall, I remembered an interesting fact that I learned years ago in seminary: Cathedrals are built in the shape of a cross. 

As Notre Dame was engulfed in flames, the people of Paris took to the streets and united in song. They found strength in their faith and in one another. Perhaps most poignantly of all, the people sang Ave Maria. “Notre Dame,” means “Our Lady,” in French. The cathedral is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On Good Friday, Mary wept for the loss of her son. She saw his body beaten and bloodied as it hung upon the cross.

On Easter morning, Mary’s tears turned to rejoicing as she saw that her son had conquered death itself.

On Monday, all the world mourned with Paris. But as we travel through Holy Week and into Easter morning, I have faith that a resurrection is coming. Already, donations have come pouring in to help rebuild the cathedral. The organ which my music loving colleagues and I had feared would be destroyed, seems to not have been irreparably damaged. The Rose window, which had been on my list of things to see before my eyesight wanes entirely, remains intact. The media has captured an image of a beautiful golden cross still standing amidst the rubble.

Most beautifully of all, the tragedy at Notre Dame has inspired people to give in order to support the reconstruction of the three historically black churches in Louisiana. As of late yesterday evening, the crowdfunding campaign surpassed its goal of $1.8 million dollars.

Like Christ on Easter morning, Notre Dame and the churches of St. Landry Parish will rise again. Just as Christ’s hands and feet bore the stigmata of his crucifixion, these sacred places will always bear the scars of the fires that tried to destroy them, . Both are reminders of the beauty of resurrection.

 

IMage shows the outside of Notre Dame Cathedral. It is a large gothic structure with many statues and flying buttresses.
Like Christ on Easter morning, Notre Dame will rise again.

 

Prayers & Poetry Bring Us Closer to God

This evening, we will gather in the top floor of my church (it’s a literal “upper room!”) in order to remember the Last Supper. Before partaking in Holy Communion, we will pray a litany for the people of Paris, the people of St. Landry’s Parish, and for the World.

The worship leader at my church is also a very talented French teacher. Sometimes I write poetry (much the chagrin of my beloved) and often I write prayers. Usually, there is very little difference for me between a prayer and a poem. I write both in order to draw closer to God.

The following is the litany (a litany is a responsive prayer) that I wrote for use at this evening’s Holy Thursday service. I plan to keep this as a resource for future use. Please feel free to adapt it to your own worship setting or to use it as part of your own personal devotions. It includes references to the Psalms and draws from the Kyrie, Agnus Dei, Dona Nobis Pacem, and Jesus Prayer.

The litany begins with Leader 1 beginning in English. Leader 2 then translates the words into French. All voices then join in unison. Eventually, Leader 2 leads in French and French becomes the dominant language.

As the piece continues, Leader 1 echoes with an English translation and there are  responses from the congregation. At last, the piece switches back to English and closes with the Agnus Dei. I tried to imagine what this piece would sound like and orchestrate as if I were writing for a choir with two soloists.

I’m interested to see how it works this evening. If you try it at home or in your own worship setting, please let me know. I would love to hear your feedback.

 

Litany for the People of Paris, the People of St. Landry Parish, and the World

By Rev. Rebecca L. Holland

French Translation by Timothy VanScoyoc

 

Leader 1 (English):

Let us pray:

 

Leader 2 (French):

Prions Dieu:

 

Leader 1 (English):

Dear God,

As we gather now at your holy table in this holy place, we confess that our hearts are hurting. Holy Week began with a tragedy. On the Monday before Easter, as we watched the cathedral of Notre Dame burn, we wept with all of Paris.

Leader 2 (French):

Alors que nous nous réunissons à ta table sainte dans ce lieu saint, nous confessons que nos cœurs nous font mal. La semaine sainte a commencé par une tragédie. Le lundi avant Pâques, en regardant brûler la cathédrale Notre-Dame, nous avons pleuré avec tout Paris.

 

People: Lord have mercy

Christ have mercy

Lord have mercy

 

Leader 1 (English):

Notre Dame, which had stood for over eight-hundred years, was almost destroyed in a matter of hours. We mourned with people of faith all over the world as we watched the spire fall.

Leader 2 (French):
Notre-Dame, qui existait depuis plus de huit cents ans, a été presque détruite en quelques heures. Nous avons pleuré avec des croyants du monde entier en regardant la chute de la flèche.

 

People: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on our world.

 

Leader 2 (French):

Le grand orgue est tombé muet.

Leader 2 (English):

The great organ fell silent

 

Leader 2 (French):

Mais la musique n’a pas cessé.

Leader 1 (English):

But music did not cease

 

Leader 2 (French):

Pendant que Notre Dame a brûlé,Le peuple parisien se sont réconfortés en chantantEt en élevant leurs voix dans des oraisons à toi, ô Dieu.

 

Leader 1 (English):

As Notre Dame burned,

The people of Paris took solace in song

And lifted their voices in prayer to you, O God.

 

People:

How can we sing in the midst of pain and anguish?

“How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? (Psalm 137.4)”

 

Leader 1 (English):

We weep not only for Paris, but for the three historically black churches destroyed by arson. We lift up the people of St. Landry Parish. We mourn that we live in a world that is so painfully broken. Help us to remember that we are all made in your image.

 

People:

 We know that the fires of hatred will not win. The Lord has given us “a new song to sing, a hymn of praise” to our God. Many will see what has been done and be amazed. We will put out trust in the Lord (Psalm 40.3).

 

 

Leader 2 (French):

Parfois, il semble que le monde entier brûle.Nous confessons craindre que tout ce que nous aimons et défendons se désagrège un jour.

 

Leader 1 (English):

Sometimes, it seems as if the entire world is burning.

We confess that we fear that all we love and hold dear will someday crumble to ash.

 

People:

From dust we were made, and to dust we shall return.

Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil

For we know that Christ is with us (Psalm 23).

 

Leader 1 (English):

The joy of Easter Sunday seems so far away when we are engulfed in the darkness of Maundy Thursday

 

Leader 2 (French):

La joie du dimanche de Pâques semble si lointaine quand nous sommes plongés dans l’obscurité du jeudi saint

 

Leader 1 (English):

The anguish of Good Friday

Leader 2 (French):

L’angoisse du vendredi saint

 

Leader 1 (English):

And the sorrow of Holy Saturday

Leader 2 (French):

Et la douleur du samedi saint

 

Leader 1 (English):

As we watched the spire fall, the symbolism was not lost on us:

Cathedrals are built in the shape of a cross.

Christ’s body was bloodied and beaten as he hung upon the cross

 

Leader 2 (French):

Mais il n’a pas été vaincu.Dans les ténèbres de notre angoisse,On nous a accordé une résurrection.

 

Leader 1 (English)

But He was not defeated

In the darkness of our anguish,

We were granted a resurrection.

 

People:

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,

Have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,

Have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,

Grant us peace.

 


This post is part of the series, “His Encouragement: Thursday Thoughts to Strengthen Your Soul.”

Thursdays are always a really long day of the week for me. As a pastor, Sunday feels like the natural beginning of my week. By the time I get to Thursday, I am tired and drained. That’s why I’m excited to join with a group of blogging friends in order to offer you a weekly devotional which will be posted every Thursday.

Rev Rebecca Writes Logo

Please be sure to check out the other great bloggers involved in the His Encouragement weekly series! 

Trisha @ Joy of Reading
Jacquelyn @ A Heavenly Home

8 thoughts on “Holy Thursday: Litany for Notre Dame, St. Landry Parish, and the World”

  1. “He put a new song in my mouth.”
    I love this. Speaks to me today. We humans can get stuck like a record and have on repeat that which is not so good for us. But God can change that record. He can fill us with a new song. One that is more fitting and more appropriate for praise. I really like this concept! Great post today.

    Like

  2. Very timely encouragement and written with such compassion. Thank you!

    Though I am not particularly attached to buildings — religious or otherwise — I understand that some places hold special significance to many people. Buildings can become powerful symbols due to historical events, personal memories, or religious meaning. So when these buildings are damaged or destroyed, it can be very sad for those who are connected to it through that symbolism, memories, or history. My heart goes out to all those who have experienced the loss of a special place: a church, a cathedral, a mosque, a home. God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was such a wonderful post! Even though the Church is not a building, it doesn’t mean that the buildings we meet in don’t hold memories for us that we can cherish. There is still a sadness when a building is lost or damaged.

    Liked by 1 person

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