By Rev. Ray Atwood, Sacred Heart Parish, La Porte City
We are about to enter the most solemn week of the Christian calendar, Holy Week, which commemorates the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This week is filled with ritual, symbol, and celebration. By understanding the mysteries we can participate more fully in the Paschal Mystery. The following remarks reflect the Catholic liturgical experience, which may differ significantly from liturgies of other Christian denominations.
We begin on Palm Sunday. Palms are blessed as the faithful enter church. These represent the palms that people waved as Our Lord entered the holy city of Jerusalem. Days later crowds screamed for Our Lord’s death. We hear the Passion according to Matthew. These sacred words touch our hearts as we hear details of the Lord’s suffering, death, and burial.
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are days of prayerful reflection. We hear the account of Judas’ plan to betray the Lord on Wednesday, which is sometimes called “Spy Wednesday,” and which is why early Christians fasted on Wednesdays.
Thursday evening is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We remember the night that Jesus gave us the Eucharist as the living memorial of His suffering, death, and resurrection. At the end of Mass, the Eucharist is removed from the church proper, a symbol of Christ’s removal after the institution of the Eucharist. We conclude in silent prayerful reflection of the mystery of the Eucharist.
Good Friday is not a celebration, but instead a solemn commemoration of the Lord’s suffering and death. John’s Passion account is read in church, the faithful may venerate the cross, and Holy Communion is received. Holy water is removed from the fonts as part of the “dying” of the liturgical environment. Freshly blessed Easter water will replace the water in the fonts.
The Easter Vigil is the beginning of the Easter celebration. We gather at the entrance of the church and bless the fire specially prepared for this occasion (a symbol of Sinai, where a pillar of fire led the Hebrews out of captivity) and decorate an Easter candle. The Easter fire is transferred to the Easter candle (a symbol of Christ Himself), and the priest sings “Christ our light” three times as he moves up the aisle of the church. The church is in darkness, symbol of the world until the Resurrection. The Exultet, or hymn of praise, is sung, several readings (up to nine) are proclaimed, and the Church initiates converts (baptized and non-baptized) into the Christian community. Water is blessed and sprinkled on the people gathered for worship. The Church sings “Alleluia!” for the first time, and all leave church with a song on their tongues and joy in their hearts.
The richness of these days is unsurpassed. May we enter into this coming Holy Week with joyful and open hearts.