Observing Holy Week with faith and devotion

Throughout the forty days of Lent, we have been preparing for Easter which is fast approaching. We prepare in a special way during Holy Week, when we remember the last days of Christ on earth. I invite you to make this week truly holy in your individual and family lives through more fervent prayer and participation in the beautiful liturgies of Holy Week.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday. We begin the Mass of Palm Sunday with the commemoration of the solemn entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem. We carry the blessed palms and sing Hosanna like the great crowd that welcomed Jesus into the holy city. As the liturgy continues, we focus more on the Passion of the Lord which is the Gospel read on Palm Sunday. This is why Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. This year we will hear Saint Mark’s account of the Passion. In your prayer, you may wish to use this Gospel (Mark 14:1-15:47) for your own meditation during Holy Week so as to enter more deeply into the mystery of our Lord’s Passion and Death.

On Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week, we will celebrate the Chrism Masses in our cathedrals in South Bend and Fort Wayne. I invite all to attend these beautiful liturgies during which I will bless the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens and consecrate the Holy Chrism. At these Masses, our priests will publicly renew their priestly promises. This Mass manifests our priests’ communion with me, their bishop. I hope that many will come to celebrate with us the gift of the priesthood, instituted by Christ so that His priesthood would continue in the Church. Please pray for our priests who give their lives in the service of God and for the salvation of His people.

The Sacred Paschal Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and ends with Vespers of Easter Sunday. We celebrate during these three days the passing of the Lord from this world to His Father. We celebrate the greatest mysteries of our redemption. I encourage all to participate in the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum.

The Entrance Antiphon for the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper reads: We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered. These words express well the meaning of the Paschal Triduum. At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we especially commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist and of the priesthood. According to tradition, the washing of the feet is performed, representing the service and charity of Christ who came “not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). At the end of this Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is carried through the church to the place of reservation. All are encouraged to spend some time during the night in the church in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. I always find this a special time to reflect on Our Lord’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane on that first Holy Thursday night.

On Good Friday, the Church meditates on the passion and death of Our Lord. This is the only day of the year when the celebration of Holy Mass is prohibited. It is a day of Penance in which we are obliged to observe the laws of abstinence and fasting. In the afternoon, the celebration of the Lord’s Passion takes place. It is composed of three parts: the Liturgy of the Word, the Adoration of the Cross, and Holy Communion (which was consecrated the evening before). The Chants or the Reproaches sung during the Adoration of the Cross help us to enter into the mystery of Christ’s death on the cross, not only with our minds, but also in our hearts. Every Good Friday, we listen to the Passion according to the Gospel of John. Again, I recommend spending some quiet time in prayer reading and meditating upon the account of the Passion (John 18:1-19:42).

Some parishes also have other devotions on Good Friday, such as the Way of the Cross, processions of the passion, and commemorations of the sorrows of our Blessed Mother. These devotions, though secondary to the Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord, help us to observe Good Friday with special reverence. Though many people may have to work on Good Friday, I encourage all to try to spend time that day in prayer and to be observant of the sacred character of the day on which Our Lord died for us. We are all called to honor the death of the Lord on Good Friday.

On Holy Saturday, we are in a sense waiting at the Lord’s tomb. It is a day to continue meditating on Christ’s Passion and Death and especially his descent into hell. The Mass is not offered until nightfall when the Church celebrates the Easter Vigil.

The Easter Vigil is “the greatest and most noble of all solemnities.” Saint Augustine called it the “mother of all holy vigils.” He wrote: We keep vigil on that night because the Lord rose from the dead; that life… where there is no longer the sleep of death, began for us in his flesh; being thus risen, death will be no more nor have dominion… If we have kept vigil for the risen one, he will see that we shall reign with him forever.

The Easter Vigil has four parts: the Lucernarium (the blessing of the new fire and lighting of the paschal candle, procession, and the singing of the Exsultet); the Liturgy of the Word; the Baptismal Liturgy; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. On this holy night, the Church waits for the Resurrection and celebrates the sacraments of initiation. We celebrate the Christian initiation of the adults who have been preparing to receive the new life of Christ and enter into His Body, the Church. After their Baptism, they will be confirmed and receive their first Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil.

We celebrate Easter Sunday also with great solemnity. As we hear in the Collect of Easter Sunday Mass, on this day God, through His Only Begotten Son, conquered death and unlocked for us the path to eternity. We solemnly celebrate Easter for eight days: the Octave of Easter, ending with Divine Mercy Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter. The Easter season continues for fifty days, until Pentecost Sunday.

As you look ahead to Holy Week, I invite you to plan to observe these days with faith and devotion. We have been preparing our hearts throughout Lent through penance and sacrifices. That penance continues during Holy Week. With the Sacred Paschal Triduum, we solemnly celebrate Our Lord, crucified, buried, and risen. May this truly be a holy time for all of us and for our families! May God bless you!

Posted on March 27, 2012, to: