This Sunday begins the greatest drama in human history. On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the ambiguous response offered by the human community. In one instance, there is the human need for a royal majestic leader, who might guide the community out of the doldrums of our existence and achieve the longed-for desire of material prosperity. We convince ourselves that material gain brings happiness and the right leader will provide the way. We wave the palms heralding the “king” who will fulfill our hopes. But, when this newly proclaimed king fails to produce the desired results, we call for his execution.
We crucify him.
We join the assembly in the waving of palms and the shouts of hosanna. We want the Lord to be who we want him to be. With all humility, he submits himself to our humanity and its weaknesses, while fully understanding that all our human desires are realized not in an earthly kingdom, but rather in our ultimate relationship with God. It will be his suffering and death on the cross that will lead us to the destiny prepared for us by our God.
On Tuesday, we celebrate the Chrism Mass. This has developed into a wonderful celebration involving the whole Church. The Mass, designated as the celebration of the bishop with his clergy, has been extended in our archdiocese to include the religious and members of all our parish communities. We gather for the blessing of the oils and consecration of the chrism, which is used in the administration of the sacraments in the life of the Church. As bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful, we use this ceremony to renew our vows to live fully our station in life reflecting the power of Christ in his Church. For those who attend, it is an affirmation of the commitment necessary to manifest the Body of Christ as Church. I can assure you that one leaves the ceremony with a renewed pride in the Church and those who minister for us.
I encourage everyone who can to pray the triduum with your parishes. I know we are tired. I know we have busy schedules, but if it’s possible, remember the words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Could you not pray and watch with me for an hour? It’s the best investment you could possibly make.
Holy Thursday starts the “triduum,” the high point of the entire liturgical year. It is the three days of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. We gather in the Upper Room where Jesus offers to his disciples the bread and wine, which become his body and blood. The Eucharist is founded in service, His love for our brothers and sisters. The action viewed by the congregation is the washing of feet. This is a symbolic reenactment of what Jesus did for his disciples to demonstrate the willingness to serve that we must have if we receive Christ into our lives. It’s difficult to find individuals willing to have their feet washed. A little reluctance, I am sure, is the embarrassment associated with this action in public, but there is also a need to humble oneself to do as the disciples did what Jesus asked of them. On Holy Thursday, Jesus also gave us the priesthood to continue his gift of self through the consecration of bread and wine. The priesthood is gift and the priest realizes what a privilege it is to consecrate the bread and wine for the sake of the community. At the end of the service, the altar is stripped and the sanctuary is laid bare. The Eucharist is reserved apart from the normal tabernacle. There is a strange emptiness in the Church. It’s the emptiness of the tomb. The faithful use the opportunity for adoration.
Good Friday is the only day in the entire year that Mass is not celebrated. The three parts of the service are the proclamation of the Passion, the veneration of the cross and the reception of communion, which was consecrated on Holy Thursday. I am impressed by the number of people that will attend the Good Friday service. Perhaps it is a reminder of the cost paid for our redemption. In the reading of the Passion, I realized that Jesus’s death was a demonstration of the unconditional love God gives to us. In the death of His Son, God held nothing back. Veneration of the Cross is an opportunity to surrender our lives and unite our suffering to Jesus acknowledging that God’s love conquers all things. In communion, we join our selves to Christ and willingly carry Him into the world. The altar is stripped, which once again, reflects the emptiness of a world that crucified Christ.
Holy Saturday takes place at night, allowing the ceremony to begin with the sacred fire. The paschal candle bearing the light of Christ is brought into the darkened Church. It is a sign that Christ illumined the darkness of the world with life. God’s “word” through the history of salvation is proclaimed. And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The strains of the Gloria are sung and bells rung for the first time since its silence experienced during Lent. The water is blessed and the renewal of baptismal vows proclaimed. If there are those to be baptized and confirmed, the sacramental rites of initiation are administered. This is a liturgical service that embraces the totality of the life of the Church. “Light, the word and water,” are three elements of human experience made holy by the new life given to us by Christ. The empty tomb is a statement to the world of Christ’s power over death. He has transformed the world in which we live.
The Easter “Alleluia” is the expression of joy. It is praise to God who is. This God of ours so loves us that He offers us life through his Son, “Alleluia, Alleluia.”