During Holy Week, we enter into Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. This is known as the Pasqual Mysteries. We not only commemorate the important events of our salvation in a historical way but, we also celebrate them in a sacramental way that makes these sacred mysteries, present to us.
We accompany Jesus from his glorious arrival into Jerusalem to his final meal with his disciples and ultimately, to his death on the cross.
Holy Week begins on Palm (or Passion) Sunday and prepares us to leave behind Jesus’ public ministry and to enter into his suffering and death. From miracles, crowds and praise, we move to pain, silence and humility. Only the strong and true believers of Jesus will make it to the foot of the cross.
This liturgy recalls Jesus’ dramatic entry into Jerusalem. He came humbly, yet the people greeted him by laying cloaks and palm branches on his path and acclaiming him as the Son of David, and therefore heir to the kingdom. After hearing this story from one of the Gospels, we take up our own palms and sing a hymn in honor of Christ our king as we process into the church. Imagine the scene as if you were there. Hear the sounds of the crowd. See the crowd around you, the palms on the path. Watch Jesus riding on the colt of an ass. By riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus embraces the path of the Messiah that God had mapped out through the prophets. He comes in as a king, yet in peace and obedience, Jesus wins with meekness and love.
But, the story is not over. Later, we hear the story of the passion of Jesus. The same people who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem ask for his crucifixion less than a week later. We reflect on the fickleness of human nature and our own weakness.
The Easter Triduum
Triduum means a “three-day festival.” The Easter Triduum is three days of prayer and worship beginning on Holy Thursday evening and ending with vespers (Evening Prayer) on Easter.
Holy Thursday is the feast day of the institution of the priesthood and of the Eucharist.
Chrism Mass – In the morning, in cathedrals around the world, priests and people gather with their bishops for the great chrism mass. The priests renew their commitment to priestly service, and the people are asked to pray for them.
The three oils used in the church are blessed by the bishops on Holy Thursday:
The oil of chrism used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders; the oil of catechumens used in the baptism of children and with adults preparing for baptism; the oil of the sick, used in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The Triduum begins with the evening mass, which celebrates the institution of the holy Eucharist. After the reading of Jesus’ command to serve others as he was served, the celebrant washes the feet of twelve people, representing the twelve apostles whose feet Jesus washed at the Last Supper (John 13:1-15). At the end of mass, the priest takes the Blessed Sacrament from the main tabernacle to a separate altar of repose.
Read John 13:1-15 – (Model of Service) Imagine the scene as if you are there. Imagine Jesus washing your feet. Feel the water on your feet and the towel Jesus uses to dry them. Look at him, bent down low in service. He looks up at you and your eyes meet. How do you feel about Jesus washing your feet?
“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13: 14-15)
Good Friday – the central act of worship on this day is the celebration of the passion of the Lord, which has three key parts.
First: In the Liturgy of the Word, we hear the story of the passion from John’s Gospel and pray for the church and the world.
Second: With Adoration of the Cross, we approach the cross with a sign of reverence for this symbol of our salvation, this sign of God’s love for us. We reverence the cross because we adore Christ, and we thank him for his perfect sacrifice on the cross.
Third: Regarding Holy Communion: Good Friday is the only day in the church when Mass is not offered but holy communion reserved from the Mass on Holy Thursday is distributed.
Good Friday is a day of abstinence and fasting on which the altar is bare, crosses in the church are covered or removed and the service ends in silence. This day may be seen by some as dreary and uncomfortable, something to quickly pass over on the way to Easter. But, Good Friday can not be skipped over. We must pass through Jesus’ death and ponder what it means to us.
At the Foot of the Cross – Can you imagine standing at the foot of the cross? Witnessing his agony? This is difficult for many of us! Listen as Jesus speaks his healing words of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23: 34). Allow his forgiveness to touch you. Ask Jesus to help you see with his eyes and forgive others as he has forgiven you.
Through Christ’s victory over the cross, he offers us everlasting life. During the Good Friday service, the celebrant reminds the assembly three times, “Behold the wood on the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world” to which we respond, “Come let us adore.”
Holy Saturday – During the day, the church is silent, the altars are bare, and the Tabernacle is empty. We wait in silence at the tomb for the Lord’s resurrection. We prepare for the Easter sacraments by prayer, reflection and optional fasting. After sunset, the church explodes in joy and celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. “This is the night when Christ broke the prison-bars of death,” proclaims the church in the Proclamation of Easter (Exsultet-a hymn of praise sung before the paschal candle during the Easter vigil). And what a night it is! This is the night when the whole parish and church come together. Having attended the Good Friday service, we gather for the Easter Vigil so that we may experience the complete message of our faith: the assurance that death and sin have been conquered.
The vigil begins at the door of the church where new fire is kindled. The priest blesses the new paschal candle and lights it from the Easter fire. He or a deacon holds the candle high and carries it on to the darkened church, proclaiming, “The light of Christ” to which we respond, “Thanks be to God.” Gradually the light of Christ dispels the darkness. From the paschal candle, other candles are lit until the light fills the church.
The Liturgy of the Word leads us to reflect on God’s faithful love throughout salvation history. Up to seven Old Testament readings are proclaimed with psalms interspersed. We listen to the epistle from Romans in which, St. Paul writes about our being buried with Jesus Christ “through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). We sing the “Alleluia” for the first time since Lent began. The Gospel and homily follow.
Catechumens are called forth for baptism. We pray a Litany of the Saints. The priest blesses the water. Clothed in white garments and given candles, adults and children are baptized. The assembly renews their baptismal vows. Candidates for full communion make a profession of faith. They join the newly baptized for confirmation and later receive the Eucharist for the first time.
As with every Mass, we are sent forth to be Christ’s body in the world. The Mass ends, but the journey of new Catholics just begins.
Easter morning follows. Today, we celebrate the most important mystery of our faith, the greatest event in the Bible and all of history. Nothing before the events of Easter morning contains their full meaning, and nothing after makes any sense without them. Jesus’ conquering of death validated all of his preaching, teaching and miracles. Now his doctrine of love, forgiveness, faith and baptism is confirmed, as is God’s definitive revelation for man’s salvation. In other words, the resurrection proves that Jesus was not merely a good man, a wise teacher or a revolutionary. He was all those things and more -he was the Son of God!
New life and fresh hope have come in the risen Christ. We celebrate with a renewal of baptismal promises to reject sin and evil, love God and follow Jesus.
Easter is such a significant feast that the celebration continues for fifty days. The joyful music, the elegance and fragrance of lilies, and life in Christ, new or renewed, continues until Pentecost … and beyond. Rejoice! Reflect on the truth and power of this day and allow God’s son to open the tombs of your heart and life.
Clarifying the confusion of the “Third Day”
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was an event that happened both in and out of time. Theologians say it was a transcendental event with historical consequences. Because Jesus’ resurrection is not like anything we have ever seen before and bears little or no resemblance to any other historical event, our concepts of time falter when trying to express exactly what happened. To put it another way, the length of time that Jesus spent in the tomb is much less important than what he did there. What really matters is that he conquered death, vacated the tomb and entered into his risen and glorified state.
For those who have studied the Bible, you realize that it is an understatement to say, the Jews of Jesus’ day were not as precise in their measurement of time as we are today. We tend to measure time in terms of hours, minutes and seconds. They thought in terms of sunrises and sunsets. When seen in this light, the typical explanation given to the three-day time frame of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is that it took place in the course of three separate days:
Good Friday (when Jesus was condemned to death and crucified), Holy Saturday (when Jesus lay in the tomb), and Easter (Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead).