The joy of the season

St. Matthew’s to celebrate Holy Week with a mix of tradition and faith

Five members of the St. Matthew’s choir sing the Hosanna during the 11 a.m. Palm Sunday Mass on April 13.

Five members of the St. Matthew’s choir sing the Hosanna during the 11 a.m. Palm Sunday Mass on April 13. Allie Wenner

— More than one billion Catholics across the world are in the midst of observing Holy Week, which began with a Palm Sunday service and will conclude with a final mass on Easter. Holy Week, the last week of Lent, is an deeply spiritual time of year for the Catholic Church – it begins with a celebration on Palm Sunday, then turns into a solemn observance of Jesus Christ’s death and ends with an elaborate, joyful celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter.

For Jared Shepard, the organist and choir master at St. Matthew’s Church in East Syracuse, it’s not only an emotional week; it’s the busiest week of the year. He spent most of his time at the church for the last couple weeks, usually practicing the organ and preparing the choirs three to four hours a day to prepare for the plethora of services held during Holy Week.

“From Holy Thursday to the last mass on Easter, there’ll be several hundred people at every service, so collectively, we’ll have probably about 1,000 to 1,200 people coming,” Shepard said. “I’ve learned through experience that when you’re tired from doing all of the services throughout the week, it’s obviously harder to play. And I don’t have very much fun unless I’ve gotten to the point where I’m really confident that I can play it without much effort.”

Holy Week has been observed by the Catholic Church for thousands of years – and throughout that time period, many churches have stopped partaking in some of the more “traditional” aspects of the services. Shepard said that at St. Matthew’s, tradition is celebrated, whether it be through Gregorian Chant, sung during masses, or the readings selected for the observance.

“We’re very convinced, through experience, that these traditions and the things that they communicate symbolically are very effective,” he said. “Which isn’t to say that they’re always effective for everyone, but the experience here – for the parishioners, the clergy and myself- is that it’s very meaningful.”

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