Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Keeping Vigil at The Altar of Repose

You Could Not Watch One Hour With Me (Vous n'avez pu veiller une heure avec moi)
Artist: James Tissot; The Brooklyn Museum Open Collection

“Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?”
~ Matthew 26:40

During the Vigil at the Altar of Repose, we try to answer Jesus' request with a strong "yes." In his agony at Gethsemane, our Lord asked a few of His disciples to keep watch with him in his time of trial, but this proved too much for them. In the all-night Vigil between Maundy Thursday (April 2nd) and Good Friday (April 3rd), we attempt some reparation for this failure, and for the human weakness that it symbolizes: thus the Vigil can be, for some, the final and deepest time of self-reflection in Lent. 

Following the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, the reserve sacrament is solemnly accompanied to an altar outside the sanctuary (in our case, in the music room), where it will rest until Good Friday: this is the Altar of Repose, and there the sacrament represents Christ in the garden at Gethsemane on the night before He was crucified.

From the time the reserve reaches the Altar until the commemoration of His passion the following day at noon, a constant vigil is kept beside Christ as embodied in the sacrament. Devout Christians will traditionally commit to spending an hour taking part in this Vigil, though those who are moved to special devotion may certainly sign up to watch for a longer period. Silence punctuated hourly by a sentence or two of reading is the norm.

If you would like to keep watch with Christ for an hour (or more), please sign up for whatever time suits you in one of three ways: 1) using the physical sign-up sheet posted outside the parish hall at St. Mary's; 2) using the virtual sign-up sheet found here; 3) by e-mailing your name and desired time(s) to David Carlisle at

Please be forewarned: this Vigil can be a time of surprising spiritual depth and even personal trial, but may also bring a feeling of closeness to Jesus that is difficult to describe.
~ David Carlisle

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