We are approaching Holy Week, which for Christians is the most important week of the year. This most sacred of all weeks gives us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the Paschal Mystery, the great mystery of our faith. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, we will follow Christ’s final days as He enters Jerusalem, celebrates the Passover with His disciples, endures the betrayal of Judas, embraces the cross, and is laid to rest in the tomb.
In my message for Lent I suggested we “not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross… and has taken his place at the right hand of God’s throne” (Heb 12:2). In this final week of our Lenten journey, let us be attentive to Jesus, keeping our eyes fixed on His actions and our ears open to His words. What will we see and hear?
On Palm Sunday, we hear an account of the Passion. The beginning of the liturgy recalls Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the joyful chant of the crowds: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:38). St. Luke’s account of the Passion, however, leaves no doubt that Jesus’ kingship is far different from what many Jews were expecting.
One of the best ways to listen to the story of Jesus’ Passion is to put ourselves into His shoes. A recent reflection on the Passion brought this point home to me. “Have you ever had someone smile at you on the surface but then do something to intentionally hurt you? Have you ever had your best friends abandon you in a dark time? Have you ever been the brunt of terrible jokes and pranks that hurt you” (Cf. The Word Among Us, Reflection for Palm Sunday, Lent 2019)? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have had a taste of the Passion.
The first readings on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are from Isaiah. The selections on those days are called the “Suffering Servant” songs. As we listen to them, we immediately recognize Jesus. He is the “chosen one, the light of the nations” who “opens the eyes of the blind and brings out prisoners from confinement” (Is 43:7). Through Him “salvation reaches to the ends of the earth” (Is 49:6). He is the one who “speaks to the weary” and who “gives his back” to those who beat him, his cheeks “to those who plucked his beard,” and whose face “did not turn from buffets and spitting” (Is 50:5-6).
On Holy Thursday, we are in the upper room with the apostles and Jesus as they celebrate the Passover. We watch as Jesus washes the feet of the apostles and tells them — and all those of future ages who wish to be His disciple — to follow His example. We watch and listen as Jesus takes bread and wine and changes it into His Body and Blood, instructing the apostles, “Do this in memory of me,” thus assuring that His saving action is made present for all generations. We commemorate so much on Holy Thursday: the Mass, the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ given to us as food for our journey, and the priesthood. We linger in prayerful silence before these mysteries and savor their meaning and beauty.
On Good Friday, we hear St. John’s account of the Passion and we venerate the cross, embracing the wood upon which Christ died and redeemed the world. Caryll Houselander, an English spiritual writer of the last century, poignantly reminds us that everything contributing to Jesus’ Passion continues in the martyrs of our times: “The intrigues and the fears of politicians, the hatred of fanatics, mass hysteria; the unstable crowds . . . the popular craving for sensation — and those many Pilates of our day who wash their hands of the responsibility of knowing ‘What is truth?’ and shut their eyes to Christ in human beings and try to escape from personal accountability” (Give Us This Day, Reflection for Palm Sunday, April 2019).
We stand beneath the cross and look at Christ, disfigured and suffering. We try to grasp the mystery of His love for us. We pray our hearts will be seized by God’s grace to accept the mystery of the Cross as it plays out in our lives.
Holy Saturday is a quiet day. “Something strange is happening — there is great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep” (Office of Readings, Holy Saturday). We know that Good Friday is not the end of the story, but the Church gives us a day to contemplate Christ’s death and wait in expectation for the end of the journey. We keep watch for the rising sun of a new day and the unbelievably good news that the eternal Son of the Father will rise on the third day. Holy Saturday concludes with the celebration of the Easter Vigil, welcoming our catechumens to the reception of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist and our candidates to full incorporation into the Church.
I encourage you to journey through Holy Week by attending Mass and participating in the liturgy each day during the sacred triduum. If possible, do this as a family. The liturgy is our greatest source of grace and the place where we are taught and experience the wonderful mysteries of our faith. Following the advice of St. Andrew of Crete, “Let us run to accompany Jesus as He hastens toward His passion, and imitate those who met Him then, not by covering His path with garments, olive branches or palms but . . . by trying to live as He would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at His coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.”
Be assured that during Holy Week I will pray for you and all those you hold dear. A thoughtful and prayerful walk with Christ through the events of this week prepares us for the joys and blessings of Easter.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.