Are you going to walk with Christ this Holy Week?
Today we begin Holy Week, during which the most important events in all history will be enacted before us: the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord JESUS Christ. Be sure to attend as many of the ceremonies as you can as you will receive many graces if you attend them devoutly. We begin today, Palm Sunday, with Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As early as the fourth century, Christians in Jerusalem celebrated the event by meeting on the Mount of Olives and marching into the Holy City singing and carrying branches cut from the trees. The Church in Rome borrowed this tradition from the Church in Jerusalem, where they would gather at the Church of St Sylvester in Rome which represented the Mount of Olives, where palm branches would be blessed, and they would process carrying them to the Lateran Basilica singing, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” On arrival they would be greeted by the clergy and choir, then enter the basilica and celebrate Mass.
This is very similar to what we do today. The priest blesses the palms, incenses them, and then the procession begins. The faithful accompany the priest, who represents Christ our King and Saviour. As we carry the palm branches we profess our faith in Him, and by doing so, indicate that we are prepared, if necessary, to follow Him to death as we sing, “All glory, laud and honour to Thee, Redeemer King.” So we see that these very same ceremonies go right back to the early Church.
On Thursday evening we begin the Sacred Triduum (three days) with the Mass of the Last Supper. This was the very first Mass during which Our Lord changed the bread and wine into His own Body and Blood and when He ordained the Apostles His first priests. He also washed their feet. In the book of Exodus, the washing of feet or mandatum was part of the Aaronic priestly ordination ceremony, and so this is why Our Lord washed the feet of His Apostles as He ordained them the first priests of the New Covenant. Because of the gravity of these days, the bells are rung at the Gloria, and then remain silent until the Gloria of the Easter Vigil. At the Consecration a ratchet or noise maker is used instead of the bells to indicate the Church has now entered a period of mourning. Then follows the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose where we are invited to keep watch. We are reminded of Our Lord’s words, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with Me” (Mt. 26:28). The altars in the church are then stripped.
Good Friday, the day of the Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord is a day of mourning. All is desolation in the church. The altar is bare, the tabernacle is empty and all ornament is removed. It is a day of prayer, fasting and abstinence. No Mass is celebrated on Good Friday because the Mass is the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary. But on this day we remember the reality, because it’s the day it actually happened and so it is not re-presented. There is no Consecration and therefore no Mass, although Holy Communion is distributed. During the Sacred Liturgy we venerate and kiss the Cross to honour Christ’s sacrifice for our sake. If you receive Holy Communion, recall that the word “host” comes from the Latin “hostia” meaning victim. All depart in silence.
The Easter Vigil is the climax of Holy Week and begins with the solemn blessing of the Easter Fire and the Procession of the Paschal Candle into the dark church. JESUS is the light in the darkness. We listen to the prophecies foretelling all these events, and then suddenly at the Gloria the bells are rung, the organ played, announcing Christ’s glorious Resurrection from the dead and His victory over sin, death and Satan.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC