Immerse yourself in beauty and richness of Holy WeekBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
It seems the topic of “Spring” is on everyone’s mind as the occasional warm and sunny day pops into these waning months of winter.
While we often think of the seasons of spring, summer, winter, and fall, we also have the beautiful liturgical seasons of the Church: Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and Ordinary Time. Often, the liturgical season and the seasons of the year enhance one another and sometimes even collide with one another.
The highlight of the Church’s liturgical year is Holy Week, specifically the Easter Triduum. Holy Week begins with Passion (Palm) Sunday, commemorating the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem, and the three days prior to Easter is the Triduum (Latin for “three days”): evening of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and its close at nightfall on Easter Sunday. During Holy Week, we also celebrate the annual Chrism Mass(es) in our diocese, blessing the sacramental oils that will be used throughout the coming year.
The Easter Triduum
The Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and reaches its high point at the Easter Vigil (Holy Saturday) and closes with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday. Since the core and center of the Paschal Mystery (the life, death, and rising of Jesus Christ) is celebrated in these three days, the Easter Triduum is the culmination of the entire liturgical year of the Church. Of all the signs, symbols, and rituals of the Catholic Church, those of Holy Week have a drama and a mystery beyond compare. Which one of us has not been touched by the beauty of the Chrism Mass, when all the priests gather together to renew their commitment to serve the people of God in the priesthood? Who is not touched on Holy Thursday by the simple reenactment of the washing of feet, recalling the command to love? Is there any heart that is so cold that it is not filled with gratitude on Good Friday when we each take our turn to reverence the Cross of Christ? Do you experience a little shiver, like I do, when we cry out, “let him be crucified” on Palm Sunday and Good Friday? And of course, what about the anticipation of Easter itself? When was the last time you attended the Easter Vigil in your parish or mission with the lighting of the fire and the procession into the dark church along with the singing of the ancient Exsultet? It is powerful, as the light of individual candles fills our churches, casting away the darkness.
At the Easter Vigil, we celebrate with all of those who long to join us at the Eucharistic table, becoming members of the Catholic Church. Together at the Easter Vigil, we welcome them as they receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist, Christ himself. There is a beautiful spirit of renewal in the Church throughout the seven weeks of Easter: our own Season of Spring.
The Church gifts us with these liturgical celebrations and the 50 days of Easter. These are the rituals that define us as Catholic Christians. And I have always found it so sad when I hear people say, “Oh, I’ve never been to the Holy Week services.” How sad it is when spring break takes precedence over the beautiful ceremonies of Holy Week? How sad it is when families go on vacation and give no thought to the holiest days of the year being celebrated while they are away from their home parish? How sad that for many, Holy Week is anything but holy!
Allow Holy Week to be holy for you, personally
If Holy Week is going to be “holy” for each of us, it is because we allow it to “inconvenience” us and to jolt us out of our routine. Why would we “rob” ourselves, or our family, of participation in the life of our Lord and the witness of the institution of the Church? To witness and experience the washing of feet; to hear the command to “love one another,” and to celebrate the gift of the priesthood and the Eucharist: In these celebrations we find our identity and the roots of our faith. These liturgies of Holy Week are gifts to each of us. What could keep us from this?
It is my prayer for all of you that you allow Holy Week, each celebration from Palm Sunday to Easter and its season of 50 days, to invade your routine! If you’ve never done so, go to the Chrism Mass; show up in order to kiss the Cross on Good Friday; be present in order to hear the announcement of the angels, ‘He is not here, He has been raised.” Give yourself the gift of Holy Week and the fullness of Easter. You will not be disappointed!