Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the most sacred week of the Christian year. We can easily define Holy Week as the week that begins with Palm Sunday and ends in Easter.
But perhaps it’s not right to define Holy Week by the Resurrection.
I think that this week is “holy” not because of Easter, but because it is this week: the week when we commemorate the passion of Our Lord.
The week begins with Passion Sunday, commonly known as Palm Sunday. This is the one Sunday in the year when we hear two Gospel readings. From the early times of the Church, this liturgy was celebrated with a procession of palms. We celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We celebrate him as King.
And then, not 15 minutes later, we read the Gospel of the Passion. We are called to reflect on the fact that this one, whom we hailed as “King”, is now betrayed, falsely accused, put through a mock trial, and condemned to death. He is then tortured and executed in the most horrible way.
The crowds that first yelled, “Hosanna,” very quickly turn to yell, ”Crucify him!”
And with that, we begin the week – a week, that I suspect, for most, is a normal week, with work and school, with meals to prepare and chores to do.
For me that has always been difficult. Usually, because I am involved in some liturgical event, the week is marked by rehearsals, recordings, or writing for something about Christ’s passion or Easter. That has always helped me remember that this week is meant to be different.
At least until Wednesday. Come Thursday, we enter into the Church’s liturgy of liturgies. These three days that we call the Easter Triduum are not three separate liturgies but one great liturgy that begins on Holy Thursday and ends with the final blessing after the Easter Vigil.
Ever notice that the Mass on Holy Thursday does not have a final blessing? Ever notice that the liturgy of Good Friday is not a Mass? Ever notice that the Easter Vigil does not begin with a greeting and signing ourselves with the Sign of the Cross? It’s because they are all part of the same liturgy.
This is why we should try to attend all three.
I have always loved Holy Thursday. I love the Eucharistic theme (lending itself to great music). I also love the theme of service with the washing of the feet. This liturgy has a double symbolism: We are called to let Jesus wash our feet, and we are called to go and do the same. In some sense, “Do this in memory of me” takes on new meaning when put in the context of the washing of the feet.
I am so glad that Good Friday in Canada is a holiday. I think it would be very difficult for this day to be a “normal” day. Those who have to work or go to school on Good Friday have an extra difficult time in setting that day apart.
But it is a day to be set apart. Again, Good Friday is not “good” because of the Resurrection that is to come. This day is “good” because it is THIS
day. We are called to contemplate the Cross as if we did not know what was to come. We are called to sit at the foot of the Cross with Mary and John as if we did not know that Sunday would bring the Resurrection. We are called to embrace the Cross and gaze upon Love lifted high in his misery, his humility, and his suffering...
Because it is our misery, our humility, and our suffering.
And then comes Saturday, the only day of the year when there is no daily Mass or special liturgy. This is the day for the empty Tabernacle, the day when Jesus descended to the dead. It should not be a day for an advanced Easter gathering.
And with that we end this week we call holy... in most years.
Then we have this week. This year. The week that begins today, April 6, 2020 – a week that feels like it began on March 5. For some it began much earlier. I’ve been saying that Lent was forced upon the whole world this year, but in a way, it’s been an extended Holy Week.
This will be a Holy Week when many will not be working, but it is not a holiday. This will be a week that has been set apart, not by the Church, but by governments all over – by a virus all over.
Holy Week is a time when we see how, little by little, everything was taken away from Jesus. Maybe not everything, but a lot of things have been taken away from us too this year.
In particular, and most difficult for all Catholics, this will be a Holy Week without church-going. We will not have a procession of palm branches. We will not have foot-washing. We will not venerate the Cross as the choir sings, “Behold the Wood of the Cross
This Holy Week will feel like an extended Holy Saturday.
Perhaps that is a gift: the gift of the grain of wheat. This year, in a special and unique way, we are experiencing the death of the grain of wheat. You may never consider giving up going to church or receiving the Eucharist as a Lenten penance, yet that is what has been thrust upon us. Perhaps we should embrace it as Jesus embraced the Cross when everything was taken away from Him, too.
For we know why the grain of wheat has to die. And so we pray – we know – that we will look back at this time of pandemic as a time of more conversions, more vocations, and more saints.
This Palm Sunday, you may not be able to go to Mass, but place palms on your front door.
This Holy Thursday, you can wash the feet of those in your family, and then you can have a nice meal together.
This Good Friday, you can pray the Stations of the Cross and then venerate a crucifix in your home.
And on Saturday, sit by the tomb because, as they say, the best place to be if you are waiting for a resurrection, is a graveyard.
May this week be holy.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org