Today, Palm Sunday we begin Holy Week. In many Spanish speaking countries Holy Week is a vacation time, people go to the beach and enjoy themselves. That was not the original idea of stopping work during Holy Week. Rather, it used to be a time in which all attention would go to honoring the events of Christ’s Passion and Death.
I once read an account of Holy Week in town in Spain before the Spanish Civil War; stores closed, games stopped, laughing and joking was considered out of place, people tried to keep talking to a minimum, and nearly everyone took part in the liturgical actions and popular devotions, which included processions through the town.
Even today, in The Dalles, for some, the instinct is still there from noon to three on Good Friday, the hours our Lord spent upon the Cross. Many people feel drawn just to come and spend some time quietly sitting in the barren church, with the altars stripped and the statues covered over.
At the Last Supper Jesus said, Do this in remembrance of me. His words referred to his Passion and Death; above all that is what we are supposed to remember. In every celebration of the Eucharist we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
The Lord’s death of the Cross was the greatest act of love, the greatest revelation of God’s love and of God himself in human history. The Lord’s death on the Cross is the source of our salvation; the Cross has become the new Tree of Life.
To remember what the Lord has done is right and just; to forget is to be ungrateful. When we remember what the Lord has done and give him thanks, we open our hearts to his action in our life; when we forget we inevitably turn away from the Lord himself and pursue our own way without him.
This is true during the whole course of the year and at every celebration of the Mass. Nevertheless, while during the year we call to mind many of the countless things that the Lord has done during the course of salvation history, during Holy Week, the whole Church unites in a focused recollection of all the details of our Lord’s suffering and death. Truly this is one week in the whole year in which the world should come to a stop and in which, as much as possible we should leave aside other activities, and turn our attention to remembering what the Lord has done.
If someone only goes to Mass on Sundays, he will find that in Palm Sunday Mass the whole of Holy Week, from the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem to his death on the Cross, is condensed into a single celebration. Then he will return on Easter Sunday for the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection. During the week the liturgy allows us to follow Jesus in a more step-by-step fashion, lingering on each detail.
On Monday through Wednesday, at Mass we hear about the anointing at Bethany (Monday), Jesus identification of the traitor (Tuesday), and Judas treasonous deal with the high priests (Wednesday).
In the ancient Temple in Jerusalem there was the outer chamber called the ‘holy place’ and the inner chamber called ‘the holy of holies’. Sunday through Thursday of Holy Week are like the holy place; Thursday evening begins the Sacred Triduum (or three days) of the Lord’s death and resurrection, which is like the holy of holies of the whole liturgical year.
At 7PM on Holy Thursday is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, in which we do not just celebrate the Mass, but commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist and of the priesthood that took place at the Last Supper. With the tabernacle empty we remember the very first Mass, the Mass celebrated by Jesus himself that anticipated the Lord’s death, unlike all the Masses since that recall the Lord’s death. After the Mass we remember Jesus’ time in the garden, when he told his disciples, Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. (Mt 26:41) During this time the sacrament is moved to the altar of repose, the main altar is stripped bare, and we have the opportunity of keeping Jesus company, watching and praying before the tabernacle until midnight.
At 7PM on Good Friday we will have the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion. On this day the Church commemorates the Lords’ Death on the Cross, without the celebration of the Mass. We focus, one could say, on the reality itself apart from the memorial of the reality. We hear in the readings Isaiah’s great prophecy of the suffering servant; St. Paul’s great hymn about Christ’s self-emptying, humiliation, and exaltation; and then we listen to the whole account of the Passion and death as told to us by St. John. Afterwards there are solemn intercessions for the whole Church and all of mankind; a special collection for the upkeep Holy Places in the Holy Land; the solemn veneration of the Cross (this substitutes for the actual making of the Eucharist and the offering of the sacrifice); and finally holy communion.
Holy Saturday is the day of great silence, rest, and preparation. The Lord won his great victory on the Cross, but the victory is revealed in the resurrection. Thus the Sacred Triduum reaches its culmination with the celebration of Easter which begins with the Easter Vigil (9PM) this year, the greatest celebration of the whole Church year.
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