It’s always amazing to me the most populated Mass on a Sunday at any parish represents only 25 percent of the Catholics that should be there. If 50 percent of all Catholics attended Mass on a Sunday we would have to build more churches or establish more Masses.
Sunday Mass attendance has been a concern of church leaders for the last three decades. Our recent Archdiocesan Synod also addressed this issue. Many attribute the dwindling attendance to the loss of the sense of sin associated with missing Mass, while others claim it’s a lack of catechesis, while still others point to the pervasiveness of a secularized society that minimizes the importance of religion.
Whatever the reason, the decline must be addressed and we must return to the integration of the sacred into our lives.
In one sense, I might be accused of preaching to the choir an expression associated with someone who talks to an audience already in agreement with the teaching and the preacher.
I realize that those of you who receive the Herald probably go to church on Sundays. A good percentage of the Herald’s readership falls into the Matthew Kelly category of a dynamic Catholic. But if someone doesn’t preach to the choir, the choir itself may be prone to sing off-key or be persuaded by the opposition.
One of the ways to remain strong in the profession of the faith is to practice the faith and live in a manner that proclaims that our faith is not just one of many priorities in one’s life, but it is the priority.
I don’t want this column to be about attendance at Sunday Mass but rather the importance of celebrating the Triduum. So I am appealing to those dynamic Catholics to make every effort to celebrate the Triduum in their parishes. It’s not an obligation. It is a demonstration of integrating the sacred into our lives and it is a reminder that as we live in the present, we are preparing ourselves for eternity.
Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday constitute three days that changed the world. In the liturgies, we encounter Jesus with his apostles in the Upper Room, in his suffering and abandonment of his closest friends, death and Resurrection. Every liturgy celebrates the Paschal Mystery (suffering, death and Resurrection), but these three days help us to reflect on these actions as we encounter Jesus on the way to the cross and the tomb.
On Holy Thursday, there is only one evening Mass celebrated at the parish. It is Jesus in the Upper Room with his disciples. He now must accept the mission. In a sense, it’s a farewell meal at the same time it is establishing a meal for the ages through which he gives himself to his disciples for all time under the appearance of bread and wine, his body and blood. He also establishes for us the priesthood which would be the church’s instrument for presenting his real presence for the ages.
I have always thought it somewhat strange that St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, who gives to us the strongest statements on the real presence, concentrates in his Gospel on a simple action of the washing of the feet. If the Eucharist represents Christ’s self-giving love for us, then we in turn must take that Eucharist in Christ’s name in service to others: “love one another as I have loved you.”
Often the celebrant will wash the feet of 12 individuals in imitation of Jesus Christ who came to serve and not to be served.
After the liturgy, the tabernacle is emptied and the Eucharist is placed at an altar of repose so the faithful may offer adoration. The next day, Good Friday, is the only day in the entire liturgical year that the Holy Sacrifice is not celebrated. Therefore, Communion that will be distributed during the Good Friday service will be consecrated at the Holy Thursday liturgy.
On Good Friday, there are three parts of the service which is not a Mass. They are: the Liturgy of the Word, which is the reading of the Passion; the adoration of the cross; and the reception of holy Communion.
There is solemn mood that accompanies Good Friday. This is the time that Jesus died on the cross, paying the price for our sins. The reading of the Passion recounts the last moments of Christ on earth fulfilling the mission given by his Father.
The deacon and priest bring in a cross to be adored: “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the Savior of the world. Come let us worship.” People file by the cross bowing, kneeling or touching the cross as a sign of veneration. The faithful participate in the Communion service which closes the service. The altar is then stripped and the starkness of the setting is reminiscent of the emptiness felt at the death of the Lord.
The Holy Saturday Vigil Liturgy is filled with symbols. Fire is blessed and used to light the Easter candle which pierces the darkness as it is brought into a darkened church. It represents the light of Christ which has come into the world.
The Word is proclaimed as salvation history is traced through the Old Testament foretelling, through the history of Israel and the prophets, the coming of the Messiah.
The Glory to God is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent. It embodies the new mood of rejoicing at the glory of the Resurrection. All three sacraments of initiation are administered at the vigil: baptism, Communion and confirmation.
The church welcomes the newly baptized Christians and accepts new members into full communion. At the end of the liturgy, the deacon intones the dismissal rite with an alleluia which is praise to God. The Easter liturgy culminates with us taking the alleluia into our communities, praising God for fulfilling his promise through his Son, Jesus Christ.
During the Triduum we need to take time and celebrate with the church if only to remind ourselves how blessed we are to have a God who loves us.