For the seventh consecutive year, Good Shepherd Parish, Menomonee Falls, will celebrate Pentecost with “Word Without End,” a tradition based on an ancient practice of a 24 hour continuous reading of Sacred Scriptures.
The reading begins Friday, May 13, 4 p.m. and ends at 4 p.m.,, Saturday, May 14, prior to
the Pentecost Vigil Mass.
The idea is credited to the parish’s former pastor, Fr. Kenneth Mich, now a senior priest of the archdiocese.
During a 2008 sabbatical journey, he visited the Golden Temple of the Sikh religion in Amritsar, India.
While there, he experienced the continuous reading of their sacred Scriptures that has gone on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for many years.
“I saw it as a striking witness to the important and life directing place their community saw their Scriptures to have; and I thought and hoped that perhaps an event like ‘Word Without End,’ albeit on a much smaller scale at Good Shepherd, would witness to the importance of our Scriptures in our lives and our life as a parish, and not only for those who participate, but for the whole parish because they know it is going on,” he said of his effort to replicate the experience in Wisconsin.
The prayer to which Fr. Mich refers is an Akhand Path, a continuous reading of the 1,430 [su_pullquote align=”right”]If you want to go Friday, May 13 at 4 p.m. to Saturday, May 14 at 4 p.m. Word Without End Good Shepherd Parish Chapel N88 W17658 Christman Road Menomonee Falls (262) 255-2035 www.mygoodshepherd.org[/su_pullquote]pages of the Sikh sacred book, the Sri Guru Granth. The ceremony, born in India two centuries ago as a reaction to persecution, has become a mark of the faith’s identity.
Akhand Path means “unbroken reading.” A series of men and women read the sacred text, which they revere as a living spiritual leader. Like relay runners passing the baton, each new reader recites a few lines in unison with the previous reader before continuing along for an hour or more.
According to Charles Murphy, event organizer with parish pastoral associate, Jane Clare Ishiguro, the books of Luke, Acts, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, first and second Letters of Peter and 10 psalms will be read throughout the 24-hour period.
“It takes about four hours to read everything through and then we start over again and cycle this for the 24-hour period,” said Murphy. “We divide the 24 hours into hour-long slots and ask two readers per slot in a rhythm where one person stands and reads for about three to five minutes, or as long as the passage is, change and alternate through that slot.
Sometimes we have families with multiple readers and may have two to five people reading the text.”
Because the readings take place outside of Mass, there is an opportunity to use various biblical translations rather than the official liturgy of the church.
“We look around for interesting phrasings and a little more freer translations,” said Murphy. “We don’t want to turn Scripture into a lap dog where it doesn’t surprise you much. At times, the Scriptures are a little startling in terms for people to pay attention, so some of the translations we use are a little more engaging than you may usually see at Mass.”
Online sign up is available and Ishiguro generally sends out approximately 55 emails asking people to reserve a space. Murphy prepares the text in a readable font with pronunciation guides to make for easier reading.
“The effect of the reading is very lulling and soothing and takes you in after a while,” said Murphy. “Part of our faith is in hearing Scriptures in smaller blocks week by week, but the long, continuous reading has a different dynamic to it.”
This year, Ishiguro explained, the parish is trying to have the entire audio portion streamed live so those unable to come and listen or read can still experience the Scripture reading.
“We are not sure we have a strong enough connection in the chapel though, but if we are able to stream this live, we will send out the link to parishioners via email and, hopefully, have the link on our website,” she said.
The feedback is positive, especially among parishioners who have given their time to read.
Last year, 54 volunteers read.
“Last year, Shari Youngs sent us this note, ‘This year I read with my son who is 10. Other than he was extremely tired doing it (maybe do it at a different time next year), he seemed to really enjoy it and actually had questions for me – which to me meant he was really listening. Thank you for reminding me that young ones should get involved too. He even said he would do it next year – if we didn’t read so late. Thumbs up,’” Ishiguro said.
For those who volunteer to take turns reading, or for those who come to the chapel to listen and meditate upon the words being read, it is a blessed time, explained Ishiguro.
“Chuck (Murphy) chooses different books of Scripture each year. We always include the Gospel of the year,” she said. “Pentecost seems a perfect time to hold ‘Word Without End,’ as it is a fitting end to the long and celebrative season of Easter.”
While finding volunteers to fill the wee hours of the night can be challenging, some will volunteer for more than one time slot to ensure all 24 hours are covered.
“Sometimes if Pentecost falls on Memorial Day weekend, it is hard to fill because people travel,” said Murphy. “But people are great in that they will take multiple spots if needed.”
While Murphy knows of many parishes that offer perpetual adoration, theirs is the only parish they know of that offers a continual Scripture reading like “Word Without End.”
“If you look at the Vatican II documents, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, Chapter 6, paragraph 1, it speaks about the church venerating the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord,” he said. “So, we feel that doing this is very important.”
Fr. Mich is pleased Good Shepherd continues “Word Without End.”
“The feedback that I received while at Good Shepherd was primarily from participants who spent their time during the 24 hours and how this time in the presence of God through the reading of the Scriptures touched them significantly,” he said.