Friday, March 14, 2008

The Great and Holy Week

FRIARS CORNER, March 16, 2008:

The Great and Holy Week

With today’s celebration of Palm Sunday, we enter into the most spectacular week of our Church year – Holy Week. This is the most wonderful week ever and yet how few Catholics take advantage of all it has to offer. Holy Week originated as part of the ritual of bringing new members into the community beginning in the 4th century. As we enter into this week, let’s take a brief look at each of the stops along the way of this week.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Some of you might remember that these were once two different Sundays. Palm Sunday was its own day, Passion Sunday was the week before. Following the Second Vatican Council, in the renewed rites, it was placed into one celebration. Today, I always like to think of it as a Prologue to the rest of Holy Week. We begin by seeing Jesus enter Jerusalem triumphantly as the people drop palms on the roadway before Him and hail Him as King. By the end of that Mass, we are recalling his crucifixion, passion and death. So, too will we on our journey throughout the week.

Tuesday, Chrism Mass. The Chrism Mass is the one true Archdiocesan celebration of the year. The entire Archdiocese comes together at the Cathedral and celebrates Mass with the Archbishop. During this Mass, the Archbishop will consecrate all of the Holy Oils that will be used throughout the year in the sacraments of the Church: the Oil of the Sick (to be used every time we anoint someone), the Oil of Catechumens (which is used during the Sacraments of Initiation), and the Sacred Chrism, which is used for Baptism, Confirmation and Ordinations. Also, at this Mass, all of the priests, deacons and religious renew their vows that they took when ordained or entering religious life. This Mass is the hidden gem of the liturgical year – and it is open to the public (11 a.m.).

SACRED TRIDUUM. There are three days during Holy Week that stand out above the rest – Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. They are actually one liturgical celebration spread over three days. We make the sign of the cross at the beginning of the Holy Thursday Mass, but will not have a dismissal until the end of the Easter Vigil.

Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This Mass, by its name, has again a two-fold presentation. It commemorates the gift of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and the establishment of the priesthood. It also reminds us that both of those gifts must lead us to service and so we have the Washing of the Feet at this Mass, just as Jesus did at the Last Supper. Following Mass, we continue our celebration of the Eucharist in adoration until midnight. This celebration begins in joy – we even get to sing the Gloria, which we haven’t done since before Lent began.

Good Friday. This is perhaps the greatest day of sadness in our Church year. It is witnessed in the Church, which was completely stripped the night before. There is a solemnity, a quietness and a somber nature to this day. On this day, no sacraments are celebrated, in commemoration of the death of Jesus. We gather during the day to pray the Stations of the Cross and at night to celebrate the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion – again remembering His crucifixion and death. The great beauty of this celebration is in the solemn veneration of the Cross. This is a day of fasting and abstinence; easily the most penitential day of the whole year. This celebration begins and ends in silence and there is a long standing tradition in the Church of everyone trying to speak as little as possible throughout this day.

Saturday Easter Vigil. If Good Friday was the saddest day of the year, the Easter Vigil is the happiest. This day is the proclamation of the triumph of Life over Death. Jesus had been killed, and we have mourned, but now, He has done the seemingly impossible – He has been raised from the dead back to Life! All things are made new on this day.

We begin our celebration at 8 p.m. to be certain the sun has gone down. We have great drama right at the start as we meet outdoors to bless the new fire and light the new Easter candle. We enter the Church in darkness as the Deacon sings, “Christ our Light” and presents the Easter candle to the people who respond, “Thanks be to God.” As he moves through the Church, we all light our candles and the Light of Christ transforms our darkness to new light. During the Liturgy of the Word, we have expanded readings – seven of them – that tell the whole story of our salvation from the Creation through the Resurrection.

The other highlight of this celebration is the welcoming of new members into the faith, and so after the homily, we have the celebration of baptisms and confirmation. If someone is joining the Catholic Church from another Christian faith, and does not need these sacraments, they too will be welcomed. At the time of Communion, those new members of the Church will also receive their First Holy Communion.

My challenge to you today is to experience the fullness of this week. The full schedule of our Holy Week celebrations is on the handout in today’s bulletin. Come and experience this unique, interesting and holy time in our Church. Have a blessed and holy week!

Love,Fr. Tom

1 comment:

  1. I printed out your Great and Holy week blog. I am excited too, and go to confession tonite to prepare!
    God Bless ya,
    Susan Reeves St. Mary's parish Arkansas.