On the Clock: Holy Week a time of preparation for Christians — and church pastor

Rev. Patrick J. Butler said his prayers with 29 friends on a cool April morning. It was just after 9

Rev. Patrick J. Butler said his prayers with 29 friends on a cool April morning.

It was just after 9 a.m. on Holy Thursday, the Christian feast that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with his apostles as described in canonical gospels. People were preparing for Easter at St. Edward the Confessor, the Clifton Park church Butler has served as pastor since November 2006.

The prayer service took place in the chapel, a large room with tan-colored brick on two walls and light gray fabric on two others. Rows of windows on the north side of the room and a large window built into the roof allowed for natural lighting as pastor and parishioners sang refrains that would be used to answer each prayer.

“O Lord, open our lips, and we shall declare your praise,” sang Butler, dressed in a white gown-like vestment called an alb and a lavender and gray stole around his shoulders. The pastor used a low, melodious voice. His choir followed.

‘On The Clock’

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Prayers in song continued for about 20 minutes. Parishioners Kathleen Sacks and Kathy Masucci read religious verses, and Butler addressed his audience. “What do we do with the gift that God has given to us?” he asked. “Everything leads up to this, the celebration of Easter. We come together to prepare ourselves and welcome new members into the church.”

The session was over by 9:25. Holy Week — the days leading to Easter — is generally the busiest week on the calendar for church leaders. Butler left the chapel with a parishioner who needed a few minutes’ conversation in a church office. After five minutes, the consultation was over and the freshly hugged parishioner left the office with a smile on her face.

Butler, a young-looking 58, grew up in South Troy and graduated from Catholic Central High School, the University at Albany and Catholic University in Washington. He has been a priest at Corpus Christi in Clifton Park, Church of the Annunciation in Ilion (near Utica) and served 15 years at Christ the King in Guilderland.

Holy week plans

Butler was still wearing his service vestments when he walked an office hallway and prepared to discuss Holy Week plans with members of his church. He passed Melissa Grattan and her sons Austin, 7, and Anthony, 9, who had been present for prayers and were now placing purple-printed memorial pages into the Easter Sunday church bulletin.

“They’ll let anyone do this,” Butler joked. “You guys are sitting right by the candy bowl.”

“Too early for candy, Father,” said Melissa Grattan with a smile. But the kids were already prepped for a present — seconds later, a small brown bag of sweets rewarded the kids for their work. By 9:35, the pastor was in the church lobby, talking to members about the fire that would be lit outside St. Edward Thursday night — the Paschal flames would burn throughout the weekend.

Deacons Walter MacKinnon and Gene Kelenski were up next. Butler and the two men walked into the empty church and discussed plans for the 90-minute Holy Thursday service scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Kelenski, the church’s director of religious education, asked most of the questions and took notes. Locations for musicians and the ciborium, the covered cup that contains consecrated Eucharistic wafers, were quick subjects. Kelenski was also curious about the order of events for the evening gathering.

“Why don’t we start from the beginning?” asked Butler.

“I like that!” said Kelenski, with a smile.

“I like that,” answered Butler, another smile.

Ready for the masses

There was some concern about the number of people who might participate in the “washing of the feet” exercise during the service. Clergymen often wash the feet of parishioners on Holy Thursday, symbolizing Christ washing the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper. Butler said several pitchers of water would be in the church. “I’ll have them do a couple extra, in case we have a ton of people,” he said.

With 3,700 families in the parish family, many feet were possibilities. “Everyone could,” Butler said. “They don’t.”

“We’d have to get a hose,” joked MacKinnon.

By 10 a.m., most of the important points had been covered. Butler was looking forward to the evening services; he looks forward to the Lenten season.

“These days are supposed to be a retreat time, all of Lent is supposed to be a retreat time,” Butler said. “These are wonderful hours. . . . The Easter vigil is the greatest celebration of the church year, that’s what the weekend is all about. Its purpose is to baptize and confirm, bring people to the table, the Eucharist.”

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