Holy Week can be the most emotionally intense period of the liturgical year. Beginning with Palm Sunday, we notice some changes to the usual liturgy, namely: the opening reading, the much longer narrated Gospel, the red vestments, and the presence of blessed palms. As the week continues, our anticipation may be building towards an emotional peak, probably the commemoration of Christ’s death on Good Friday or His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. We may be tempted to take it all in stride and grimace at the raw details of Jesus’s sacred Passion while holding on for the joys of the Easter proclamation. We are, after all, the “Easter people and Alleluia is our song,” according to St. John Paul the Great. I have found myself guilty of this detachment sometimes and now propose, as we have already entered Holy Week, that we immerse ourselves into the intense details—that raw, human emotion—of the Triduum in order to accompany Christ more closely during the most significant moments of His earthly ministry and the fulfillment of salvific history.
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the entrance of the Savior into Jerusalem, that sacred capital of the Jewish nation then occupied by the Roman Empire. The joys and uproars that Jesus’s entrance brings facilitate the events at the end of the week, when we observe the frenzied crowd turning against the One they now hail as the long-awaited Messiah. Of course, Jesus knows fully what will come to pass in the next days before the Passover.
Do we stand among the crowds welcoming Jesus into our hearts and wanting Him to rule over us as the eternal Heavenly King, or are we like the jealous plotting authorities who resent Jesus over His exposure of our hypocrisy and prideful nature?
The days between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday are filled with anticipation. An observer of the times could tell something big was about to happen in Jerusalem. The holy city would soon be embroiled in the rancor sowed by the authorities against Jesus rather than preparing to celebrate the annual Passover meal.
Are we spending this time of calm in prayer and preparation in the presence of the Lord, or are we going about our daily routine until we face the ugliness that has been fermenting against Jesus and that forces us to decide if we will stand against the crowds for the sake of the Savior?
Holy Thursday arrives and already the focus may be towards the one evening Mass scheduled at the parish. Many dioceses celebrate the annual Chrism Mass earlier in the day, during which the sacred oils of ministry are blessed by the bishop and distributed among the parishes from the cathedral. In the evening, the Last Supper and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane are commemorated with liturgical richness: the humble washing of feet, solemn processions, chanting, the use of candles, Eucharistic adoration after the tabernacle is emptied, and then… silence. There is so much to unpack. We can ask ourselves:
Am I heeding the Lord’s request to “Keep watch and pray”? Am I remaining vigilant and faithfully at the side of our Lord as he leads the Passover meal, praying with Him in the garden, or not abandoning Him during His arrest?
We, of course, cannot celebrate Easter Sunday without recalling Good Friday. This year, I invite you to place yourself at the foot of the cross and gaze upon Christ crucified. With the Blessed Mother and St. John beside you, behold the sight of the suffering Savior, scourged and dying. Listen to His seven final words and feel their intensity. Here the cruelest injustices have been heaped upon Jesus; He bears them willingly and lovingly. Recall your own failings, which have driven nails and scourged the sacred flesh of our Lord. This can be a true time of repentance and faith.
Do I offer even a fraction of the love being poured out from the cross this day?
The darkness of Good Friday recedes, Holy Saturday arrives and there is…more silence. Our Beloved Lord has died and there is a sudden emptiness as we come to terms with the reality that the departed is gone. We must not gloss over this period before Easter Sunday: take time to mourn for our Lord and the human acts of sin which buried Him in the tomb. It had to occur, but it is not the end. We do not mourn for the dead as if we have no hope— because of the Resurrection, Christians do not fear death or even despise suffering. Jesus bore the worst in humanity with love and died to accomplish salvation for all who seek it.
In the holy silence of Holy Saturday, am I reflecting on the events that have passed, long foretold by the biblical prophets, as Mary and the disciples did in the Upper Room?
On Saturday evening, we experience the Easter Vigil. This extraordinary Mass begins in darkness outside the Church with the Service of Light in which a “blazing fire” is used to light the Paschal candle. This candle processes through the church and is used to light the unlit candles of all present. Nine readings from the Old and New Testament are read, recounting significant moments of salvation history. It is during this Mass that the Church also welcomes new members from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults into the Body of Christ. The congregation joins in the renewal of baptismal promises and recalls their own Sacraments of Initiation.
In the wonder of this Easter Vigil, are we joining wholeheartedly in the joy and celebration of the Resurrection? Do we marvel at the re-telling of the mighty acts of God throughout human history? Do we rejoice in welcoming new members to the Church?
Finally Easter Sunday, the world rejoices with the proclamation, Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ commands! We proclaim Christ’s great salvific act but do not shy away from what He endured to accomplish that eternal victory. We glorify Christ who has ascended from the depths of death to rescue humanity and deliver them to the throne of God. Nothing like this has happened before. The world celebrates God’s great love!
Do we joyfully proclaim Christ to those who have no hope in their lives, who yearn for meaning and purpose?
By taking the time each day of Holy Week to reflect upon the nuances and details of these great events in Scripture, we can better prepare for the emotional gravitas of the liturgies this week and accompany Christ himself. The graces of standing firm and being witnesses to His Passion can yield the same reward first achieved by the good thief crucified next to Jesus, to whom Christ declared, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
For more resources to accompany you in your Lenten and Easter journeys, please click here.