April 10, 2017
Holy Week: The Great Week Celebrates Our Salvation
In the first centuries of the Church, the week preceding the solemnity of Easter was called the “Great Week.” Then as now, Holy Week is the commemoration of the successful conclusion of the work of salvation accomplished by our Lord, starting with Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, and culminating with His glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Below is a brief summation of events.
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion recalls Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem where He was hailed as the Son of David; who comes in the name of the Lord. The liturgy begins with the blessing of palms and the reading of the Gospel of the Passion. The Church offers an apt instruction at the beginning of the procession on Palm Sunday that is applicable throughout Holy Week: “Therefore, with all faith and devotion, let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city of our salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross, we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life.”
The Mass of Chrism is celebrated by the diocesan Bishop with his priests as concelebrants. Together they renew their priestly vows, manifesting the communion and unity of faith between the priests and their prelate. At this Mass, the sacred oils are blessed and distributed to each of the parishes throughout the Diocese. These oils are used throughout the year at Baptisms, Confirmations, Ordinations to the sacred priesthood, and Anointings of the Sick.
On Thursday evening, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is offered, which celebrates the Last Supper of Jesus and His apostles on the night He was betrayed. At the Mass, the priest washes the feet of 12 men, just as Jesus did to give the apostles an example of priestly service. At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the ministerial priesthood and the Most Holy Eucharist. The Mass concludes with a procession to an altar of repose—symbolically recalling the journey to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asked his disciples to join Him in prayer. It is noteworthy that after the beginning of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper until the end of the Easter Vigil, there is no blessing, dismissal, or greeting, since the Church views the sacred Triduum as one salvific event of worship.
Good Friday commemorates the Passion of the Lord, the day of the crucifixion and death of our Lord. Nowhere in the world is Mass offered on this day. Reception of the Most Holy Eucharist is possible because hosts were consecrated the evening before at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The veneration of the cross, the instrument of Christ’s death that brought about our redemption, is a powerful reminder that each of us were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured (Council of Trent, I, 5, 11).
Holy Saturday is a day to keep watch for the expectant rising of Our Savior, when He descended into the dead to bring up with Him those righteous souls who died before His coming. Most fittingly, on this night, the Easter Vigil is celebrated and persons who have been preparing to become Catholics receive the sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation) and join the Church in renewing our baptismal promises.
Participating in the great drama of our faith through the Church’s liturgies during Holy Week, will not only help us to experience the true joy of the Risen Lord on Easter Sunday, but prepares us for the end of our earthly pilgrimage, where we hope for a share in His Resurrection and to be worthy of the promises of Christ.