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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Passion Sunday and Holy Week

April 5, 2009

Today is Palm Sunday and we come to the final days of Lent and our holiest days of the year. Today as we walk into the church, our eyes are caught with bright red banners and thronged-palms that are waved in the hint of a rich celebration. Our senses have become accustomed to a sparsely adorned church for the past 40 days. We sense that something exciting will occur today as we assemble at the doors to the church, yet shortly after singing our Hosannas, our jubilation turns to a solemn realization that our Messiah will have to die a brutal and shameful death. Something seems to have gone wrong.

Perhaps the grace for which we may want to pray this week is to sympathize with Jesus as he suffers in many ways. Suffering isolates. Holy Week comes alive to each believer in some fashion and we may take a look at the ways in which we continue to deny or betray Jesus or the ways in which we add more weight to his burdens. In the end, Jesus dies alone, even wondering if his dear Abba has abandoned him. Part of us turns away from him in horror and shame. Perhaps all that we are invited to do this week is just to watch closely the events of Jesus’ final hours and to learn from him about what he is feeling. May we merely be compassionate to him in his last days.

Let us begin with today’s liturgy by attuning ourselves to the heart, mind, and feelings of Christ as he enters into the Holy City knowing that the cursed cross awaits him. I quote St. Andrew of Crete on this entrance into Jerusalem, “So let us spread before his feet not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him.” Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. Monday of Holy Week

The church begins the week with selections from the prophet Isaiah’s “servant songs” that tell the story of God’s righteous and just servant who is tormented and killed. The early Christians could recall scripture and begin to make sense of the brutal and unexpected condemnation and death of Jesus. In the Gospels for the week, we hear about the religious leaders’ growing threats to Jesus. Amid all the furor and swirl of hostility, we become startled that even his closest disciples will betray and deny him. Tuesday of Holy Week – The Chrism Mass

In many dioceses, the Mass of Chrism is held on this day. The bishop will bless the three oils that are used throughout the church year for the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, holy orders, and for the anointing of the sick. These oils are collected by each parish at the Cathedral and are brought into the local church during Holy Week for use at the Easter services of initiation. Particularly striking at this Mass is the assembly of priests from the diocese who renew their solemn pledge to their local ordinary, the bishop. It is the one time in the year when the church sanctuary is filled with priests who concelebrate the Mass with the bishop.

Wednesday of Holy Week – Spy Wednesday

The church recalls the events of Judas the Iscariot who arranged to betray Jesus. Matthew’s account shows Judas eating during the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread with Jesus and their good friends after he had already arranged to hand him over to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver. All is now arranged now for the Prince of Darkness to rule the earth.

Holy Thursday – The Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Only one Mass can be celebrated in each parish this day. In the readings, we hear of the institution of the Eucharist as the celebration that will remember Jesus until he comes again in glory. We also see how the cultic priesthood is established, but that the prophetic priesthood is offered to al during the great mandate to wash one another’s feet. Jesus’ gesture of humility and service are traits that we are to imitate as disciples. They are also the gestures that heal us and make us able to care for others in a deeply loving way. I invite you to spend this night in prayer with Jesus in his final moments of freedom before his great Passion begins. What would you want to say to him before he is carried off and lifted up for the world to see?

Here is a text from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, “Into each of our lives Jesus comes as the bread of life – to be eaten, to be consumed by us. Then he comes as the hungry one, the other, hoping to be fed with the bread of life, our hearts loving, and our hands serving.”

Here are the first lines from the Pange Lingua (Sing, My Tongue): Sing, my tongue, the ageless story as the cross is lifted high! Tell how Christ our Savior conquered, when for us he came to die as a victim in the battle, death’s dominion to belie.

Good Friday

No Mass is offered in the church, but we venerate the cross and recall his steps during the Stations of the Cross. During the service of veneration, we head the Passion narrative once again. The church is bare: no flowers, no candles, no music, an empty tabernacle, and the altar is bare. Our eyes are focused squarely on the cross and on human suffering. In true Ignatian contemplation, as we gaze upon the sufferings of Jesus, we find our own chaos bubbling up into our consciousness and we present that to Jesus who will take it to the grave with him. We look at his suffering, which we know isolates, and we look at our suffering and feel isolated. We are left standing by the cross with the dead Jesus and we stay with our own darkness in the darkness of this world

And we sing the haunting song, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Holy Saturday – The Tomb

No Mass is celebrated during the day on Saturday. The absence of the celebration reminds us that we wait at Jesus’ tomb. Perhaps we find that we are still in the tomb with him. Maybe we have one more thing to say to him before we let go of him. We linger in the darkness and the meaninglessness that we encounter in our suffering. However, we do realize that in our faith, Jesus must die and be buried. We have to let him do this because he does it for us. Don’t rush yourself to come out of the darkness, but rather, let the Lord lift you out of it when God vindicates him. In our faith we know that it soon comes.

Holy Saturday - The Great Vigil

During the evening hours, we anticipate the Lord’s resurrection with a solemn vigil, which leads to a joy that will overflow into 50 days of celebration. The vigil consists of hearing God’s great story of love for us as we recall God’s loving acts of creation, redemption from slavery, and sustenance throughout all the periods of trial and doubt. The Easter Vigil is arranged in four parts: the Service of Light where the Pashcal Candle is lit; the Liturgy of the Word with up to nine readings; the Liturgy of Baptism to welcome new Christians into the community; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist that is restored to us to remember God’s great love for us.

I invite you to participate as fully as you can in the mystery that unfolds this week by participating in the sacrament of reconciliation and by participating in your worship at your local church. Holy Week is much more than just attending Easter services. We first have to gaze upon the Cross and walk with Jesus. The journey is worth it.

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