Monday, April 15, 2019

What's the Big Deal about Holy Week?

I was sitting in Mass on Palm Sunday and as I looked up at all of the red material covering the sacred images, I asked myself,  “Why haven’t we done this in our home?”

I immediately made plans to go out and get some material to cover our crucifixes and other images.

Father’s homily that night, although he wasn’t talking about coverings, suggested that our homes should reflect this very sacred week, in addition to our devotional acts as well.

It is a good reminder to us to set this week apart, to free ourselves up to be able to focus on all that Jesus did for us.  Father reminded us that the entire week is holy because the days leading up to the crucifixion would have found Jesus preparing for his sacrifice.

We don’t tend to think like that, do we, to set the entire week apart? 

Too often we just arrive on Easter Sunday ready to celebrate, while overlooking not only the reason we celebrate, but what had to take place to get us there.

So, with that in mind, let’s do a quick overview. 

So here we go, in a nutshell:

We worked through the forty days before Easter during the season of Lent.  It reminded us of the time Jesus fasted in the desert when he was tempted by the devil.  He, of course, resisted the devil’s scheming.  Check out the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament, Chapter 4 to read about it.

As the conclusion of Lent arrives with Holy Thursday, we begin three holy days, starting with evening Mass on Thursday.  Each Mass we celebrate is a participation in the very last supper Jesus had with his apostles, but on this night—the eve of his crucifixion—we strip the altar after Mass and leave the tabernacle empty.  Normally, any remaining communion that remains after this particular Mass is reserved in the *tabernacle, but not on this night.

On this night, we process with the sacred host to a specially prepared room, set up to remind us of the agony Jesus suffered in the garden following his last supper with his apostles.  It is always a beautiful opportunity to spend time with Jesus and pray before the **Blessed Sacrament.

You see, it was there, in the garden (read about it in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 22, Verse 39) that the disciples of Jesus fell asleep while he intimately prayed to the Father, suffering tremendous agony as he anticipated his passion and death, which he willingly accepted.

Jesus’ submission to the Father’s will has always been for Christians not only a model for us in our own life to willingly accept God’s will, but a genuine revelation of his love for us.

We do not “re-sacrifice” Jesus as we celebrate Mass, but enter into that last supper that took place so many years ago.  You see, God works outside of time.  Time is just for us, so it is entirely reasonable that we are able to enter into that very moment that he shared with them; he is sharing it with us today as well.

Holy Thursday leads to Good Friday.  That’s the day Jesus died on the cross.  It is a very solemn day and Mass is not celebrated, although we are nourished and strengthened in our sorrow by receiving Holy Communion that was ***consecrated on Holy Thursday.  From Holy Thursday, enough is reserved to be shared with those who attend Good Friday services.

Our big day is Holy Saturday when we celebrate the vigil of Easter.  This is the night before Easter, the centerpiece of our church year and the time that anyone entering the Church receives the sacraments while the entire congregation makes a very loud, joyful noise of thanksgiving and praise! 

Baptism is the central sacrament received at the Easter Vigil, along with Confirmation and Holy Eucharist (Communion).  It is a HUGE celebration.

What is the cause of all this celebrating?

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the focal point of Holy Week and the Easter celebration of the resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of that loving act.

Why does it matter to any of us that Jesus died and was resurrected (raised from the dead)?

Well, if he had just died and not been raised up, that would be the end of a nice story.  He would have been considered a good guy, who loved God and died for his (Jewish) faith; like a lot of other holy people.

It is in his resurrection—his rising from the dead—that the Christian event takes on new life (read about his resurrection in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 24.)

Because Jesus overcame death and was raised, we can be certain that everything he said and everything he did was true.  And that being the case, we believe wholeheartedly that we, too, will have eternal life after we die if we live according to what he taught, best as we can.

Death is no longer the final word on our life’s journey.  And that is certainly worth celebrating!  This is what baptism is all about! 

You see, Christianity isn’t about being a nice person (although that is a good thing.)  It is being baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and accepting the truth about who Jesus was (and is), the reason he came, what he did, and living our lives accordingly.  Baptism forever marks us as a child of God.

Of course, history tells us that Jesus really lived, and as the resurrection event unfolds, there is no doubt about what took place because there were tons of witnesses (ordinary people like you and I) who were actually there and talked about it.

But, in the end, we ultimately do move on faith.

I hope this little summary has helped those of you who needed a refresher as well as those of you who are actively seeking information about Christianity.

Please feel free to share it with anyone you know who might be interested and I would encourage you to find a friend and step into holy week to see what all the fuss is about.

You will never regret it.

Have a beautiful Holy Week.

Janet Cassidy

*A tabernacle is an ornate receptacle near the altar where any host remaining after Mass are reserved.

**The Blessed Sacrament is the Body of Christ.  This can be displayed for Adoration.

***Consecration, or the act of consecrating, is the power of God during Mass, acting upon ordinary bread and wine to transform it into the Body and Blood of Jesus.

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