The Easter Triduum in the church liturgy begins on Maundy Thursday eve through three days until Easter morning. Traditionally, the high altar is stripped of its linens (no lace altar cloths!), its flowers, its elegant candlesticks; the communion table is also barren wood. There is no organ, no bells, no rosary and no Hail Mary’s to open the small hours of prayer, and no Salve Regina’s in Dutch or Latin to close compline and the church for the night. There has been no alleluia’s since the beginning of lent. (I sometimes forgot along with other sisters and a half an alleluia was out before we caught ourselves.) Frankly, the church is barren of its richness. One large, long branch with sharp, solid thorns lays alone, stunningly and painfully defiant on the communion table. I had not realized just how rich and resplendent this ancient, beautiful yet simple church was in its blessed garments until she was stripped. I found it rather arresting.
During the Triduum not only are all the church bells silent but also the Bells of Bruges in the marketplace. During this time, once a year, the bells, like Easter’s resurrection, receive new life, a fresh and new melody is entered for their subsequent every quarter hour ringing. This new life takes time and must be done by hand, a very delicate and intricate process. The best Belgian legend though is that of the Bells themselves. Children in their innocence wonder why the bells that accompanied their play and school are all suddenly silent. Well…as the story goes the bells have all gone to Rome! There the Bells mysteriously collect chocolate eggs and bring them back to Bruges for the children to hunt in the gardens on Easter morning, when, of course, all the bells are again heard all over Bruges. Flanders is a historically Catholic region having staunchly resisted Luther’s reformation and I find it fascinating how so much of daily life is still undergirded by that heritage. The Bells could have gone to the North Pole for chocolates but no…they went to Rome.