A while back, I used to see bumper stickers on many cars from on of the local megachurches that simply said “All In” with a logo of their church brand. It’s a popular phrase meaning “completely committed, ready and willing to devote myself to that particular church and their mission.” Not a bad public relations slogan.
Of course our faith goes much, much deeper than just an advertising slogan. We are not just dedicated to a parish community (as important as that is). If we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ, that requires us to be wholly committed to Him and His one true Church and to recognize Him as Our Lord. If we are serious about our faith, we have to align everything in our lives with our relationship with Jesus Christ. Our relationship with Christ must be at the core of our being but we also have to believe that the Church, with the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, truly has the light of Christ.
In fact, the Catechism reminds us that we can not separate our belief in the triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) from our belief that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic (see Catechism #750). That is the beauty of Holy Week. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with both Christ and His Church and realign everything to the ultimate reality in our lives.
The greatest mysteries of our faith are all intensely revealed and lived out during this week, most especially during the Triduum (the three continuous days of the sacred liturgy from Holy Thursday through the Vigil Mass of Easter).
On Holy Thursday morning (traditionally), priests around the world gather together in their home dioceses at the cathedral church with their bishops to celebrate the Chrism Mass. On this occasion, the priests renew their sacred promises made on the day of their ordination (somewhat parallel to a married couple renewing their wedding vows). In the evening, those same priests celebrate the beautiful Mass of the Lord’s Supper with their parishioners, remembering that sacred night when Our Lord first gave to the Apostles, those first priests, and to the Church of every generation the gift beyond compare: the holy Mass and the Blessed Sacrament, anticipating the gift of His sacred Body and Blood, crucified and risen, in the new Passover. It is an opportunity to reflect
with profound gratitude on Christ’s institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Without those twin gifts, the Church literally could not exist and salvation would not be possible. The evening Mass traditionally ends with the transfer of the Blessed Sacrament – in which Christ is truly present – to a beautifully decorated special altar outside of the Church, accompanied not by the glorious sound of bells, but by a harsh rattle, symbolic of the bittersweet moment when Our Lord went off into the night, preparing to be abandoned by those He loved, but resolute in His mission to offer Himself in sacrificial love for our salvation.
On Good Friday, the churches around the world are stripped of the presence of Christ in the tabernacle. The startling sight of the tabernacle empty and open, with the tabernacle light extinguished, and the altars stripped of their cloths, all combine to remind us of the terrible emptiness of heart that mankind experienced when Our Lord lay truly dead in the tomb. The Church observes the ancient custom (at 3:00pm, the hour when Our Lord breathed His last and commended His Spirit to God the Father) of venerating the holy Cross, on which Jesus made the saving sacrifice of His own life, as priest and victim. As is customary, our parish churches will also be open for quiet prayer and stations of the Cross between 12:00 and 3:00, observing the three long hours of agony on which Our Lord hung on the Cross.
That quiet prayer and fasting continue throughout the day on Holy Saturday. We reflect on St. John’s account of the Passion of the Christ, with the long exchange between Pontius Pilate and Our Lord, about whether Jesus is truly a King and just what that means. Both in revering His Cross and reflecting on that Gospel, we come face to face with the unavoidable question of what it means for us to acknowledge that Jesus is the King and Lord of our lives.
Finally, that evening, in the dead of night, lit only by the Paschal candle, the symbol of the Lord’s Resurrection, the Church bursts into exultant praise of the Lord Jesus, risen from the tomb, conqueror of sin and death, who rescued us from the sin of Adam and Eve, our first parents, that would have otherwise doomed us all to eternal darkness and damnation. The symbolism of the Church being lit only by the Easter candle reminds us that Christ is the only true light.
These are the truths that matter to our lives. My prayer for you as pastor this Holy Week is that the Lord will grant abundant graces to you and open your eyes and hearts to the power and mystery of His saving work in your own lives through your participation in these holy days. Please make sure to avoid all other distractions – television, internet, and so on – so that the Lord can truly speak to you this week, and please join us at the liturgies.