Holy Week is a solemn celebration of the culmination of the mission of Jesus Christ. It is here that we are reminded of the unconditional love God has for us. I have been blessed as a priest to participate in Holy Week services here in the United States, in Germany with our American troops and in Rome. I shouldn’t be disappointed, but I am always amazed at the number of Catholics that choose not to be engaged in the Holy Week ceremonies.
Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he entered into prayer, realizing the task that awaited him, he stated, “my soul is sorrowful even to death?” He asked his most trusted to keep watch with him. (Matthew 26:38) Coming back he found them asleep: “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) I have said this before, but our society cannot fulfill our destiny apart from God, and when God is relegated to an hour a week (for some), then our priority in our own lives as to what is important is lost. God is not one of many priorities; God is the priority. We need Holy Week to insure that we not forget the purpose of Jesus Christ’s entry into humanity.
In our archdiocese, we begin with Palm Sunday, a reminder of how quickly cheers become jeers. The palms are waved in exultation, in anticipation of the cries of “crucify him.” I always love seeing people take the palm branches home with them. Hopefully, they represent a willingness to find a place for Christ in their lives.
On Tuesday, we celebrated the Chrism Mass. This is a joyous celebration of who we are as a Church. Present in the congregation is every ministerial aspect of the Church, in union with myself as shepherd, pledging their commitment to live for Christ and the people of God. Think of this ceremony as an acknowledgment of the flow of grace that is offered through the sacraments and sacramentals. The oils represent a symbolic source of grace (God’s activity) that comes from the action of the Church. The Church instituted by Christ to give grace. In this sense, the Church is the Sacrament of Sacraments. We carry the oils back to our respective parishes in union with the whole Church.
Thursday evening, we begin the triduum, the three days we journey together with Jesus to Calvary and the empty tomb. If you have ever been privileged to be at the bedside of a loved one who is dying, you know that every moment of that person’s last breaths is special. Words spoken become a unique testimony. At times, the words offered are reflective of the whole summation of one’s life, words of thanks, hope and expressions of love, sometimes entrusting the care of children or spouses to the attention of those present. Here with Jesus present, knowing that he will die, this moment is characterized as the Last Supper. Jesus shares with his disciples an empowerment, a vision and the direction for the continued mission, which will be entrusted to them.
It is interesting that the disciples are oblivious to the significance of this moment. However, this moment was meant not only for them but also for us. It was His gift of the institution of the priesthood that would perpetuate the sacrifice for all ages: the Eucharist that would be our food for the journey through life, and the washing of the feet that would signify the humble service required of all Christians.
The starkness of Good Friday presents us with the cost of our redemption. The Church stripped of decorations depicts the emptiness of the moment. Every year, I travel to Holy Hill and begin the day with the Stations of the Cross. We have been blessed with fairly good weather, sometimes a little cold and overcast but nothing that prevented us from completing the journey. The pectoral cross that I wear on that day contains a relic of the true cross. Many people approach me after the service and request a special blessing with the relic of the true cross. I imagine that they are uniting their personal crosses with that of Christ.
Afterwards, Fr. James Lobacz and I drive to the Cathedral for the noon celebration of the veneration of the cross. One haunting melody, which plays in my head during the veneration, is “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I wonder whether I would have had the courage to stand with Christ. I then realize that the same opportunity is given to me and you in our modern world today, in the face of those that would quickly deny the Christian message or water it down to reflect no divine substance. The Good Friday service ends with the distribution of Communion. This is the only day during the entire year that a Mass is not celebrated. The whole Church has that empty feeling of Christ’s death, His absence.
Holy Saturday evening incorporates light (fire), word and water, symbolic elements that touch the very core of our beings. Many of us see ancient individuals as people who are so very different from us; however, we are united in the very makeup of our humanity. God uses these elements to speak to us of His presence and assist us in responding to His message. I am the Light of the world, Jesus proclaims. In the darkness of the Church on the Easter Vigil, a single light comes into the Church and draws the attention of all seeking to find a way through the darkness.
The word is proclaimed: “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Here, we listen to passages of sacred Scriptures, which tell of salvation history as God walked with us, leading us to the greatest moment in human history: the coming of His Son. His word continues to shape us in our journey through life.
It is through the invitation of Jesus to join Him in a rebirth through water and the Holy Spirit. This water cleanses us from the sin of our first parents and reunites us to the promise the Father, established for us from the beginning of the world.
Members of the community are baptized and cause us to remember our baptism. We are joined to His death on the cross, which ransoms us from sin. This is the statement of the unconditional love God has for us. St. Paul says: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were indeed buried with Him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. (Romans 6: 3-4)
The Resurrection is the statement that, joined with Him in this world, we are assured of living with Him in the next. He has risen as He said. Alleluia, Alleluia. Happy Easter.