Holy Week is the week that changed the world. I invite you to reflect with me on the days of this special week.
We begin our reflection with Palm Sunday. On this day we gather as a Church and our celebration of the Eucharist begins with a procession of palms and includes the reading of the Passion of Jesus Christ. We turn our minds and hearts to Jerusalem, the Holy City, and shout with the crowds, “Hosanna!” Why? Because Christ entered this Holy City to suffer and die so that he could rise again. He entered Jerusalem as God’s Son so that he could save us from our sins. Palm Sunday reminds us to always follow in his footsteps until we reach the new and eternal Jerusalem, Heaven, where he lives and reigns for ever and ever.
On Tuesday of Holy Week, Bishop Cunningham celebrates the Chrism Mass, a Mass in which the oil of the sick, used in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, and the oil of catechumens, used in preparation for the Sacrament of Baptism, are blessed; the sacred Chrism, used in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders, is consecrated. At this special Mass, all priests in the diocese renew their priestly promises and their pledges to remain in communion with the bishop, our Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of Christ for and head of the Church of Syracuse. The Chrism Mass reminds us all that we are anointed priests at our baptism and that, through the ordained men he chooses, Christ continues the ministry of his one High Priesthood, a ministry of word and sacrament.
Thursday of Holy Week marks the end of the holy season of Lent and the beginning of the most sacred time in our liturgical year: the Paschal Triduum, wherein the greatest mysteries of our redemption are celebrated.
On this night we as a Church gather in the evening and our attention is directed to the ordained priesthood, the Holy Eucharist with the washing of feet, the solemn celebration of the Eucharist, and the procession with the Eucharist to the altar of repose where we adore Christ and keep watch with him. Holy Thursday reminds us that Christ has given us a new commandment: to love one another as he has loved us. He himself showed his love to us by sacrificing himself on the Cross. His love and the salvation he won for us are made new and present in our midst whenever the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist is celebrated.
On Good Friday we as a Church fix our gaze on the Cross. In the solemn ceremonies of Good Friday — the adoration and veneration of the Cross, the reading of the Passion and the reception of Holy Communion — we not only behold the wood of the Cross, but we also unite ourselves and our crosses to our Savior. In doing so, we realize that in the Death of the Lord we, too, have died to sin.
The high point of the Paschal Triduum is the Easter Vigil, what St. Augustine calls the “Mother of all Vigils.” This Vigil includes a service of light — the lighting of fire and the Paschal candle — which recalls that by his death and resurrection Christ banished the darkness of sin; the Liturgy of the Word — seven Old Testament readings, a New Testament epistle and Gospel — in which the history of God’s salvation is proclaimed; the Liturgy of Baptism, in which new members are incorporated into Christ and the Church; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which we remember, as always, the death and resurrection of the Lord until he comes again.
At the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday, we as a Church celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in which he conquered death itself and opened the gates of Heaven to all of us, his believers and witnesses. And so we proclaim with great joy on this day: “The Lord is Risen. He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!”
Thank you for taking the time to reflect with me on the week that changed the world and each of us, Holy Week; the week in which we remember and celebrate the events by which Jesus Christ won our salvation: his suffering, death on the cross, and glorious Resurrection from the dead. May God bless you and may you have a happy and blessed Holy Week.
Father Christopher Seibt is a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse and is currently studying canon law in Washington, D.C.