cross with sun behind it


 April 8, 2017


I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with Holy Week. The richness of the liturgies and readings, the drama, the opportunity to stop what we are doing, put ordinary life on hold, in order to reflect more fully on the great mysteries of our faith–I love this. The work of making this happen liturgically, all of the details and special preparation I both loved and hated as it was a tremendous drain not only on my physical energy, but spiritual energy. How hard to live with those readings from Scripture, to live through that final week in Jesus’ life, through his death, over and over again. There is a richness that is inspiring, yet exhausting.

Aren’t moments of passion, high intensity, like this? Even amidst the sorrow of death there is an opportunity for bonding as a community. There is the telling of stories and sharing of laughter even as we grieve. It is a gift to us during times of trial, a gift and blessing that carries us through these times. Also a source of memories.

The death of a loved one becomes the family reunion, when members gather from near and far to remember. Holy Week is a great family reunion for the church. A chance for us to gather in the parish church and diocesan church, at the cathedral, a chance to gather as a world church in the one celebration of Holy Thursday and Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. All of us throughout the world praying the same prayers, following the same ritual, within the same time frame although separated by time zones. There is a power in this.

Palm Sunday starts with the challenge of going from a celebratory tone as we re-enact Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem with palms, gathering outside and clumsily making our way into the building to be greeted by the somber tone of Isaiah, the suffering servant song and the reading of the Passion. No matter how well planned and orchestrated, it is simply not possible to move such a large group of Catholics from outdoors to indoors in procession without gaps in the singing and some messiness. But that’s okay, life is messy and liturgy reflects life.

Perhaps those cultures where processions are more prominent manage this better than my own experience. It’s such a contrast to come in from outside, on sun-drenched, or even rainy days, amidst laughter as we try to move everybody, young and old alike inside, and then to hear the words of Isaiah. But then what a contrast from Jesus’ reception into Jerusalem to his final day. The words of the congregation, “crucify him, crucify him,” are a stark reminder of the fickleness of life.

This day is followed by three days of relative quiet in preparation for the Big Three–the Triduum. The Chrism Mass on Thursday is where Catholics gather as a diocesan church. The oils that will be used in the Easter rites of baptism and confirmation and the oil for anointing the sick are blessed by the bishop and distributed to representatives from all of the churches in the diocese.

Then that night the parish church gathers for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Another difficult service to celebrate well. The air is one of celebration, remembering Jesus’ last meal on this earth, but looming in the background is the knowledge of what is to come. How little did the apostles suspect what was to come as they drank the ritual cups of wine that were part of their Passover celebration, yet Jesus was aware of what the night would bring. They celebrated this one last meal together as Jesus taught about service through washing their feet. The re-enactment of this is a central part of the service which starts with the entrance procession with the oils from the Chrism Mass. The celebratory tone of the service shifts abruptly at the end as the Eucharist is removed from the church to the somber tunes of Tantum Ergo and the smell of incense. The Eucharist is placed in a special place outside of the church and individuals keep watch through the night.

Good Friday, so simple in its starkness. No mood changes to set, just the one somber mood of the passion. The solemn entrance of the celebrants and their prostration on the floor is a reminder that today is like no other day. It’s a sign of great sorrow and penitence. The sorrow continues with the readings, this time the Passion narrative from John, followed by prayers for the world, the adoration of the cross as people come forward and humbly acknowledge the cross upon which Jesus died with a kiss, then communion from hosts consecrated the previous night.

Nowhere in the world is the Mass celebrated on Good Friday. All of the consecrated hosts are consumed, save one or two kept by the priest in case they are needed for someone dying. The tabernacle door remains open and Jesus, in the form of the Eucharist, is no longer present in the church until the Easter Vigil. Then the Easter fire is started, the Easter candle lit and we listen to the saving history of God, welcome new members into the church community and once again celebrate the Mass, inviting Jesus back into our churches in the form of Eucharist.

The drama and pageantry are tremendous when done well. Each year we truly die with Jesus in order to be born with him again in the resurrection on Easter!

The readings and liturgies of Holy Week are just too rich to be relegated to one meditation for each day. The Passion narratives of the four Gospels, Jesus last words, the suffering servant songs of Isaiah, the Lord’s Supper and the retelling of salvation history all warrant a book of their own, much less a chapter. And so I will allow myself license to write several meditations for each day or reading as the Spirit leads.

May you experience the passion of this week; may you die with Christ in order to live with Christ.


This post is part of a series of reflections on the Church year.   click here to follow blog

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.