HOLY WEEK. Today we enter the holiest week of the year, commemorating the holiest week of all time, when the God of heaven and earth, creator of all the universe, God the Son, eternally begotten of God the Father, condescended to suffer and die in our flesh for the sins of all mankind. The week Jesus offered Himself as a living sacrifice out of love for His Father and for us.
A week that changed the world forever, echoing throughout history until the end of time. And so today we remember it, not just as something that happened 2000 year ago, but as something that is alive today. And we use the gifts of intellect, reason, sensation, emotion and faith to take us back, to walk and be with Jesus, and with Mary, John, Peter, Magdalene, Pilate and Caiaphas…and Judas. To see what they saw, hear what they heard, feel what they felt, and even touch what they touched.
And so we use visible, audible and tactile realities to draw us into these events: we sing hymns, look at pictures or watch movies, read and listen to Scripture. We pray the Sorrowful Mysteries fingering our Rosaries, and we walk the Stations of the Cross. And we actively participate in the very special liturgies of this week, that outwardly and ritually express the holy mysteries.
We begin today with Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion, as we hold the palms and greet Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem at the beginning of that first Holy Week. And then we listen as multiple readers proclaim the drama of the Passion of the Lord from St. Luke’s Gospel, and verbally join “the crowd,” even shouting with Caiaphas, “Crucify Him.”
And then there’s Holy Thursday. There are no Masses all day long anywhere in the Diocese, except for one: the morning Chrism Mass at the Cathedral. There the Bishop gathers with the priest of the Diocese to consecrate the holy oils and to renew their priestly promises, signifying the priests’ distinctive communion with the apostles and share in their ministry, as they came together with Jesus to prepare to celebrate the Passover.
Finally, on Thursday evening the parishes celebrate their only Mass of the day: The Mass of The Lord’s Supper (7:00pm). Here we celebrate the institution of the Sacraments of the Priesthood and Eucharist at the first Mass celebrated by Our Lord just hours before He was to suffer. Afterwards we process with our Eucharistic Lord from the church to the Parish Hall, just as the apostles walked with Jesus from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane, and there we watch and pray until Midnight, recalling Our Lord’s agony and betrayal.
We awake on Good Friday to a church that is stripped as much as possible of all decoration: the altar is stripped of its cloths, and the candles, crosses and rugs—every moveable ornament—are gone. This reminds us how the first disciples were stripped of all consolation and how the Lord was stripped of all outward appearance of human dignity during His trial and suffering, and how He was finally stripped of His clothes, to be hanged naked on the Cross. Recalling all this, we join in Our Lord’s suffering by fasting and abstaining from meat (see rules elsewhere in this bulletin). From noon to three, wherever we are, we try to observe a time of quiet recollection—perhaps in church, but also even at work or home—recalling these are the hours Jesus hanged on the cross.
And then at 3 o’clock, the hour of His death, we all gather in the church for the solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord. Every year I am profoundly moved by this most unique liturgy, as our church is filled to the brim with the faithful who come together as one body to stand with the Mary, John and Magdalene at the foot of the Cross. Their senses and faith lead their minds and hearts back over the centuries to Calvary, as their eyes see the Cross and all the eloquent rituals, and their ears hear the words of the Gospel, the prayers and the glorious yet sorrowful music of the choir. And then they walk up slowly and reverently, many in tears, to gently touch or tenderly kiss the wood of His Cross. And finally, their tongues taste the goodness of the Lord, as He comes to console them in Holy Communion.
As I do every year, as your spiritual Father, from the depth of my heart, and invoking whatever filial respect I may call upon, I beg you not to miss this most unique and Holy Liturgy. I know this may mean taking off from work, and that the church and parking lot are crowded, and that it’s a very long liturgy. But it is the holiest hour of the year, the hour of the death of Our Lord. What in the world could be more important than this?!
Then on Holy Saturday, though no Masses are said during the day we join the whole Church waiting “at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting” by our somber prayerful reflection and voluntary continuation of the fast and abstinence of Good Friday (as the Church strongly encourages). But then, when the sun goes down on Saturday evening, the Light of Christ shines forth as we begin the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord with the Easter Vigil Mass (8:00pm), with all sorts of unique ceremonies: the blessing of the Easter Candle; the chanting of the Exsultet; a richly extended Liturgy of the Word; celebration of adult Baptism, reception into the Church, and Confirmation. It is a glorious Mass, and I encourage all to attend. (However, lasting two hours, it can be tough for little ones).
And don’t forget we have Confessions all week (except Holy Thursday), and daily Mass Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. (See below for the entire schedule). And above all, live out the holiness of Christ in your life: love Him with all your heart, be open to His grace, love your neighbor, keep the commandments, and pray. Let this truly be a holy week at every moment and in every way!
Pro-Life. Thanks to all who took part in 40 Days for Life last weekend. As one of our very active parishioners wrote me: “…while we always manage to cover our hours, the response for this campaign was nothing short of outstanding – amazing. I was truly humbled at the participation level. Seems like folks were tripping over each other to participate. Sometimes we had upwards of 12 on the sidewalk at a time.” God bless you all.
Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, go see the movie “Unplanned.” Surprise of surprises, even with greatly limited mass media advertising and an unnecessary R-rating (as compared to other films) this strong pro-life movie came in 4th overall at the box office in its debut weekend. This is a movie that helps pro-lifers understand “why we fight.” So please see this movie, and take your teenagers if they are emotionally mature enough (see last week’s column).
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles