We have been proud of our parishioners at St. Mark’s, St. Mary’s, and Holy Trinity for their high rate and quality of attendance at our Holy Week liturgies in the past six years. Fortunately, most of our people seem to understand that Holy Week, if properly and prayerfully celebrated, is the best that the Catholic Church has to offer the faithful. Whereas every Mass centers on the death and Resurrection of Christ, and the presence of God in the faithful by the Holy Spirit, it is during the liturgies of Holy Week that the mystery of Christ is carefully and quite fully presented, from the reading of the entire Passion narrative on Passion (Palm) Sunday, through the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the remembering of the death of Jesus for all of us on Good Friday, and then the announcement of the Resurrection of Christ at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. Easter Masses conclude the celebration, and continue for weeks. For the faithful who attend, they hear the entire Passion narrative from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, and then on Good Friday, the Passion according to St. John. We listen, we think about what we are hearing, and we give thanks to God for what He has done for us in union with Christ Jesus. That is the core of Holy Week.
On Passion / Palm Sunday we attentively listen to the Passion of Christ, this year, according to St. Mark. The drama of God acting for us in Christ, and humanity suffering in and with Jesus, is told by the Jewish Christian, Mark. The conniving, power-loving rulers of this world have their day, and deliver Jesus over to have the flesh torn off his body (scourging), and then spikes driven through his wrists and feet, until he bleeds to death or suffocates. We see the invisible God in the humanity of Jesus must witness how our Lord is tortured, and how much he bears willingly for each of us and for all. The story is agonizing for those who love Christ—and it is liberating for the faithful. Jesus offers himself on behalf of all—not just “for many”—even for his torturers, and for the Romans and religious leaders who conspired to have him brutally murdered. For you. For us.
Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, allows us to hear and to see acted out Christ’s own interpretation of his suffering and death. By the Eucharistic meal and by the Lord washing his disciples’ feet, we see God giving himself to us in Christ. We see what true faithfulness looks like: not ideologically loaded teaching, not digressions on social problems, but direct speech to your heart: “This is my body, broken for you.” Here Christ interprets for us what he achieves on the cross: he brings us into the covenant God made with the Chosen People through Moses, now deepened and broadened as every human being is included in Christ’s will to give his life for all. On Good Friday no Mass is celebrated in honor of the death of Jesus. Instead, we listen to the reading of St. John’s Passion, we show our gratitude for Christ as we venerate the cross, and we receive the sign and instrument of Christ’s all-inclusive, eternal covenant through holy communion.
The Easter Vigil is truly the climax of the Church year, the single most significant celebration in the Catholic Church. We begin in darkness outside, reminding us of the spiritual darkness in the human soul without the light of Christ. The Easter candle is lit, Jesus is proclaimed as “Christ our Light,” and the faithful process into the church to proclaim the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. For us. For all. Adult converts are received into the Church on this night. We renew our vows to be faithful to Christ unto death, and receive His promise for each of us to share eternally in His love and life. What more, or what better, could be offered to us in life? “Apart from You I want nothing at all; God is my hope and my joy.”
The Easter celebration continues on Sunday, then through the entire Easter season, and indeed, on every Sunday of the year. “Christ is Risen from the dead. Alleluia, Alleluia.” That means, “Praise the LORD!” “O give thanks to the LORD for He is good; for his mercy endures forever.” For you. For me. For all.
Our common reading assignment for this Holy Week will be to read slowly, in quiet at home, the Passion narrative in the Gospel of St. John, chapters 18:1-20:31, which includes a brief account of resurrection experiences. For as we hear at the Easter Vigil, “if Christ had not been raised, what good would life be?”