Palm Sunday

Holy Week. This week is the holiest week of the year, on at least three levels: historically, ecclesially (i.e., as the Church); and individually.

First, it is the holiest week historically because it holds the most sacred events of the history of mankind, that bring about our salvation: the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is amazing to think that on the Cross Jesus pays for the sins of all mankind—alive in the past, present and future—the debt of the love we owe God, the punishment we deserve for our offenses against God. Think of that: the all-powerful God the Son becomes a fragile human being so he can die for the sins we’ve committed against him—he is punished for what we did to him. Who would do that? Only a God who is Love itself.

In recognition of this love the Church establishes special prayers, rituals and customs to draw us into the profundity of those ancient historical events that remain present to us in mystery today. The Church comes together as one body in Christ by celebrating together in our churches with praying the same words and rituals used in Catholic churches around the world. As we carry our palms in procession, or shout “Crucify him, Crucify him,” or kiss the cross of Christ at the hour of his death, et cetera, this universal unity of prayers and rituals symbolizes and expresses, that we, though many, are made one and holy in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ.

Finally, it is about individual holiness. While we come together as one holy Catholic Church in Christ, God doesn’t just love “the Church” in abstract, but as the union of all of its parts, “members.” Christ died for the sins of all mankind, but also specifically for your sins and my sins. He loves and died for you. So during this week we personally strive to be worthy of that love. We weep for our sins for which he suffered and died, but with hope-filled hearts, realizing he did all this because of his astounding love for us. And we let that love overwhelm us, drawing us to Him, and His Father and Spirit, and transforming our lives, so that we can begin to love as he loves.

My children, it’s HOLY WEEK, so let us be holy! As I noted last week in my homily, this Lent has been filled with distractions—some good (“Habemus Papam!”), some bad. But now, for 7 days, lay all that aside. Turn to Christ with all your heart, mind, soul, strength and body, and keep your eyes fixed on him. Let your life be sinless by keeping his commandments, both in letter (and “the smallest part of the letter”) and in spirit. Live in charity with all, but especially with your family members—be kind, patient, helpful and forgiving to your parents and siblings, and to your spouses and children.

And be prayerful: talk and listen to Jesus, to His Holy Mother, St. Peter, St. John, and St. Mary Magdalene. Stay in their presence every moment: walk the road to Jerusalem, sit at the table of the Lord’s Supper, stand in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house and of Pilate’s praetorium, kneel at the foot of the cross, lay weeping at the tomb. Do this in spirit, at home, at work, but especially here in church. And do this in union with the Church, especially by coming together in our parish church to pray the prayers, rituals and sacraments of Christ’s Church.

We have begun today, with this unique Mass of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, with the blessed Palms, the Procession and reading of the Passion. Perhaps you can continue this by attending the outdoor Stations of the Cross performed by our youth this evening (Sunday) after the 5pm Mass.

Then on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, come to daily Mass—let’s fill the church with prayer! I know it can be inconvenient for you, but so was carrying the Cross. And if you haven’t been yet this Lent, come to confession—our Lord awaits you there, to wash you clean with the grace pouring from his side on the Cross.

On Holy Thursday, there is no Mass during the day except the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral (all the priests and the Bishop celebrate the institution of the ordained priesthood). But in the evening join us here in the parish as we celebrate The Mass of The Lord’s Supper, commemorating the institution of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Priesthood. The ritual includes the ceremonial washing of the feet, and procession with of the Eucharist to an altar in the Parish Hall, where the Lord invites you to “remain here, and watch with me…watch and pray,” as he once invited his apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Then comes Good Friday, the holiest day of the year. It is a day of fasting and abstinence (see the rules below), to share a taste of the suffering of the Lord. We should keep the day with quiet, reflection, and charity—even at work—especially from noon to three. There is no Mass, but 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. It is a powerful liturgy, so please don’t miss it, even if it means leaving work early. This liturgy includes the personal/individual veneration of the Cross by all present, by a kiss, or some other gesture. Once again, we are allowed to use only one cross for veneration. I was a little nervous about this last year, but it went beautifully: all seemed to be moved by the powerful symbolic meaning of kissing the “one cross,” and of waiting with the Blessed Mother, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross. After veneration, the priests distribute Communion from hosts brought from the sacristy. After the liturgy is over, the Cross will remain in the sanctuary for those who wish to venerate it later in the day. Later in the evening, at 7:00pm Stations of the Cross are solemnly prayed with the priest.

On Holy Saturday the Church continues its somber reflective mood, as the Church encourages us to voluntarily continue to fast and abstain from meat as we do on Good Friday. Mass is never offered during the day on Holy Saturday, but at 8:30pm (after sunset) the celebration of Easter Sunday begins with the Easter Vigil Mass. It is the “Mother” of all liturgies with all sorts of unique ceremonies: the blessing and presentation of the Easter Candle; the Exsultet; a greatly extended Liturgy of the Word; and baptism, reception into the Church, and confirmation for adults. It is a glorious Mass, and I encourage all to attend. (However, lasting two hours, it can be tough for little ones).

May this truly be a holy week for all of us.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Rules of Abstinence & Fasting
Failure to “substantially” keep these penances is a grave matter (e.g., potentially a mortal sin). The law of abstinence requires that no meat may be eaten on these days, and binds all Catholics who are 14 years old or older. No other penance may be substituted. The law of fasting binds those who are between the ages of 18 and 59. The Church defines “fasting,” for these purposes, as having only one full meal a day, with two additional smaller meals permitted, but only as necessary to keep up strength and so small that if added together they would not equal a full meal. Snacking is forbidden, but that does not include drinks that are not of the nature of a meal. Even though these rules do not bind all age groups, all are encouraged to follow them to the extent possible. Children in particular learn the importance of penance from following the practice of their older family members. Special circumstances can mitigate the application of these rules, i.e., the sick, pregnant or nursing mothers, etc.

March 17, 2013

Our New Pope. By the time you read this I am confident that we (will) have a new Holy Father. But as I write this, on the morning Wednesday the 13th, the cardinals in conclave have been through 3 unsuccessful ballots, and no pope yet. I guess they didn’t know about my deadline. In any case, assuming we have a new Pope, I’m sure you join with me in joyfully thanking the Good Lord for His great gift of our new Pope, and in pledging total support and obedience to our new chief shepherd, and pray that he may live and reign, as they say, “a thousand years.”

Sometimes people ask me why we call the successor of Peter “Pope” and “Supreme Pontiff.” The word “pope” comes from the Latin and Italian “papa” which is just what it looks like—what a child calls his father. Its usage is to refer to the Bishop of Rome goes back to at least the 3rd century. The term “Pontiff” comes from the Latin “pontifex,” which literally means “bridge builder” (bridge: pons, make: facere—priests build bridges between God and man), and was a term used to refer to the highest ranking priests in the pagan religion of ancient Rome—the “Pontifex Maximus” being the “high priest.” Some say that taking this title from the pagans is inappropriate, but any time Christianity translates itself into a new language we can only use the words of that new language to communicate equivalent ideas from the “old language.” So the Latin word used to name the ordinary “priests” of pagan Rome was “sacerdos”, and so that is what Christian priests were called. Likewise, “pontifex” became a common term for bishops, and Pontifex Maximus (“Supreme Pontiff”) for the pope.

Passiontide. As Lent continues, today we enter into that part of the season called “Passiontide,” a time when we more intently and somberly focus our attention Christ’s Passion. We try, in effect, to take ourselves 2000 years back in time and walk with Jesus in those last days before Good Friday. We mark this in a very dramatic way by covering the statues and crucifixes in our churches: Good Friday has not yet happened, so there is no cross yet; Easter has not happened, so no saints are in heaven. (This year we hope to cover the main cross hanging from the ceiling over the altar. If it works, thanks to Jane and Rick Steele who worked so hard to make it happen; if it doesn’t, sorry, it’s my fault…). Keep this in mind in the coming days: “I’m walking with Jesus, and Peter and the apostles…With Judas. With John, and Mary Magdalene… Walking toward Jerusalem, stopping in Bethany, going to the temple….I’m in the Upper Room, at the Last Supper…In the house of Caiaphas…In the palace of Pilate…Standing with Blessed Mary as they scourge her little boy….”

The bodily/physical reminders of these days are so important to our experiencing the meaning of the season—Jesus created us in bodies, and came and spoke to us and suffered and died in His body. Which is why it’s so important to experience the mysteries of this season “in the flesh.” So, please, come to the church and physically take part in the various sacraments, liturgies and other pious activities of the Church and parish in the next few weeks.

I strongly encourage all of you to take advantage of the extra Mass and confession times (we’ll have at least 2 priests hearing at most times, and sometimes 3 or 4), as well as opportunities for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In particular, please participate in praying the Stations of the Cross, especially in the church, and particularly on Friday evening at 6:30, led by the priests.

I also strongly encourage you to attend next Sunday’s (Palm/Passion Sunday, March 24) Living Stations of the Cross acted out by our youth group a little after the 5:00pm Mass. As last year, the Living Stations will take place outside (pray for good weather! If not, we will be in the Parish Hall). Come and both support our youth and enter more deeply into the mystery of the Lord’s suffering.

Also next Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday, March 24, please consider coming to the 8:45 Mass and joining in the Solemn Procession with Palms at the beginning of Mass. Those who would like to join in the procession should gather inside the Parish Hall before 8:45 and then, after some prayers and a Gospel reading, process outside, and enter the church from the front, taking their pews as normal. All this should take about 10 minutes. We will be reserving pews for those who join in the procession, if they call (703-440-0535) or email (straychrch@aol.com) the office during the week (you need not call to join the procession). If you attend the 8:45 Mass you may also simply take your seats in the church before Mass as usual and listen over the speakers in the church to everything said/sung in the Parish Hall.

Holy Week. Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord is, of course, the beginning of Holy Week. Next Sunday we will include a schedule for Holy Week, but I ask you to plan ahead today. These are the most solemn and sacred days of the Christian year, marked by special and unique liturgies, including Holy Thursday’s evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, with the washing of the feet and the solemn procession and silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until midnight—“can you not watch one hour with me?” Then there’s Good Friday’s Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, with the Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion, which begins at 3pm—the hour of the Lord’s death. And finally, the Easter Vigil at the end of Holy Saturday evening.

As your spiritual father I beg you, from the bottom of my heart, to try to participate in all of these liturgies, that are so important to experiencing the fullness of Catholic prayer in Holy Week. I especially recommend that you attend the 3pm Good Friday service, with the Veneration of the Cross. Last year I was so edified and moved to see a standing-room-only church, as well-over a thousand people stood in line patiently, many in tears, to venerate the cross of Christ. Some say, “but it’s a work day!” But I say: “it’s the hour of the Lord’s death! The most sacred hour in all time! Why would any Catholic want to be at work?”

And finally, I remind you that on Holy Saturday afternoon—a day which is supposed to be marked by the quiet somberness of Good Friday—we will once again be showing Mel Gibson’s incredible film “The Passion of the Christ” in the Parish Hall, beginning with a short talk by myself. This powerful movie is so helpful in reminding us what Holy Saturday is all about. (Note: Parents should use their discretion in bringing children to this graphic movie).

Oremus pro invicem, et pro novo Papa nostro. Fr. De Celles