Today we begin Holy Week. For almost 40 days we’ve been trying to grow in charity and holiness through Christ’s grace and our Lenten penances and resolutions. Most of us have met with mixed results. But we have one more week: let’s resolve to make it a truly “holy” week centered on Christ and His ineffable love.
To do this I propose we follow the ancient practice of allowing each day to be permeated with the passion of Christ. That is, to constantly be aware and thoughtful of what He was thinking, doing, saying and suffering in those last days and hours, and how He endured all this because of our sins and out of love for us.
The Church gives us multiple gifts to help us do this, in particular the unique liturgies of Holy Week. We begin today, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, as we have the blessing of the Palms, and (at several Masses) either the Procession with Palms or the Solemn entry into the church, reminding us of the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We combine this with the reading of the Passion from Luke’s Gospel, using the form of a narrative and dialogue; is there any more painful moment for each of us than when we cry out together “Crucify him”?
Each day of Holy Week then proceeds with ample opportunities for going to Mass and confession, as well as visiting churches to adore our Eucharistic Lord, to meditate on the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, or, especially, to pray the Stations of the Cross.
On Holy Thursday things become even more focused and intense. No Masses are said during the day, except the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral, where all the priests gather with the Bishop to celebrate the day when Christ instituted the ordained priesthood, and renew their ordination promises.
In the evening Mass is finally said in the parishes, as Lent officially ends and the Triduum (“three days”) begins with The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, commemorating the institution of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Priesthood (Holy Orders). Here we find ourselves in the upper room at the Passover meal with Christ and the first priests, His apostles. (Please remember, as I explained last week, the ritual washing of feet will not be included in this year’s Mass). As Mass ends, just as the Lord led the apostles to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, the priest leads a procession with the Blessed Sacrament to a place of repose (in the Parish Hall) where all are invited to remain with our Eucharistic Lord as late as midnight, remembering Jesus’ words: “remain here, and watch with me…watch and pray.”
The next day is Good Friday, in a certain way the holiest day of the year. The whole Church throughout the world observes a day of fasting and abstinence (see the rules on the next page), to share a taste of the suffering and sacrifice of the Lord. The day should be marked by quiet reflection, and charity, even as we go about our necessary regular duties—even at work—especially from noon to three.
Masses is not offered on Good Friday. Instead we gather in the church at 3:00 in the afternoon, the hour of our Lord’s death, for the solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord (a powerful liturgy; don’t miss it, even if it means leaving work early!). We begin as the priest silently enters the bare sanctuary (all decoration is removed and the tabernacle is empty) and prostrates himself before the altar, and all join him by kneeling. We then read the Passion in narrative/dialogue form, from the Gospel of John. After the readings, the priest prays ten ancient ritual intercessions, calling down our Lord’s mercy on the Church and the world.
Then the priest brings a large crucifix to the sanctuary, and the people come forward to personally venerate the Cross, by a genuflection, kiss, or some other gesture. While this ritual veneration can take some time to complete, the beautiful strains of our choir and the solemn atmosphere of the church help us to place ourselves for a few minutes next to the Blessed Mother, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene who waited for three hours at the foot of the Cross. (Last year we introduced some added instruction and practices that helped the lines move much more steadily without unnecessary delays). After veneration, the priests bring the Blessed Sacrament from the sacristy and the faithful receive Holy Communion. Afterwards the Cross is left in the sanctuary for those who wish to venerate it later in the day. Stations of the Cross are prayed at 7:00pm.
On Holy Saturday the Church continues its somber reflective mood. This day is not a day of celebration; in fact, the Church encourages us to voluntarily fast and abstain from meat as we do on Good Friday.
Mass is never offered on Holy Saturday, but at 8:30pm (after sunset) Saturday officially ends and the celebration of Easter begins with the Easter Vigil Mass. We begin with the blessing of the Easter Fire and the Easter Candle outside the doors of the Church. The Easter Candle is brought into the darkened church, representing the Risen Christ, the Light of the world; and as the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet) is chanted the lights of the Church come on. This is followed by four readings from the Old Testament, four psalms, a magnificent sung Gloria, an Epistle, and the Gospel account of the Resurrection. After the homily new Catholics (from RCIA) are baptized, or received into the Church, and confirmed. The members of congregation also renew their baptismal vows. It is a glorious Mass, and I encourage all to attend. (However, lasting two hours, it can be tough for little ones.)
This is a wondrous week, filled with grace and prayer, and accentuated by awe-inspiring liturgies. Let’s not miss this opportunity to have a truly Holy Week, that can be the beginning of a holier life for each one of us.
CYO Congratulations. Last Sunday our eighth grade girls’ and sixth grade boys’ basketball teams won the championship game of their CYO tournaments. Congratulations to them and to all the other kids in our CYO basketball program this year. And thanks to the parents and coaches for their hard work. It was a great year, noted for some excellent basketball, teamwork and Christian sportsmanship.
Plant Manager Update. Well, Paul DeRosa officially retired as Parish Plant Manager this past Friday, and he will be sorely missed. In the interim, Mary Butler will be assuming his duties on a very part-time basis, but we will definitely be shorthanded. Please help out by being patient and letting us (priests, ushers or staff) know if you notice anything out of place or not working in the next few weeks, in the physical plant or otherwise. We continue to accept applications to fill the position. And please pray that the Lord sends us the right person, and save us from any major mishaps in the interim.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles