We are about to celebrate the holiest week of the year for Christians. Next Sunday, Palm Sunday is the preview. During Holy Week we relive the fellowship and foreboding of Holy Thursday, the pain of Good Friday, the loneliness of Holy Saturday culminating in the indescribable joy of Easter morning.
This week of weeks touches all our emotions. As we relive those days our understanding is stretched, our faith tried, our ability to accept love is tested. Each year, we devote a whole week to reenacting the final hours that Christ spent amongst us on this earth. We need to linger over every sacred moment as we walk with Christ towards Calvary and beyond.
Our Holy Week prayer will take various and different forms. There will be words, gestures, movement, symbols, water, fire, candles, wood, chants and much else besides. On Palm Sunday, our prayer will begin as movement as we gather in a public place and carrying the blessed palm walk together towards God’s house. To make the living memory of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem even more vivid, some Christian communities include a donkey in their procession. We will hear the final hours of Christ’s life among us recounted as the passion is read.
On Holy Thursday the great three-day liturgy begins. At the Mass of the Lord’s supper, our prayer blinds into service as we imitate Christ who washed his disciples’ feet. We rejoice in the sacraments of the Eucharist and priesthood gifted to us on the first Holy Thursday. At that Last Supper, not everyone accepted Christ’s embrace. We hear the sound of a door closing as we meet Judas. He leaves Christ and goes out into the dark in search of those who wished him harm. That same darkness will return many times during Holy Week. It will find an echo in the jeering crowds, the fear of the disciples, the soldiers’ lashes, the mockery, the sham trial, the condemnation, the casting of lots, the hammer driving the nails, the corpse of Christ on the Cross. The Holy Thursday liturgy does not conclude with a blessing. In fact, it does not conclude at all, we merely pause as we gather in silent prayer at the altar of repose. We keep the Lord company in the Garden as he awaits in agony, surrounded by his sleeping disciples, for the soldiers to come and take him.
Good Friday is stark and silent. The altar is bare, the tabernacle empty, the sanctuary light extinguished, there is no decoration, the bells and organ remain silent. We continue the prayer we began the previous day as out liturgy resumes without greeting or invitation. We hear the passion as recounted by John. We kiss the wood of the Cross on which hung the saviour of the world. Again, our liturgy is paused as we depart in solemn silence. This Holy Week continues.
We began on Palm Sunday in the open air. On Holy Saturday we assemble under the stars. The darkness is shattered by the Pascal fire as it truly illuminates the night. We bless the Easter candle that will enlighten our steps during the year ahead. Each person carrying his/her own candle lit from the sacred fire, we walk together to the Church. The light of Christ ends the reign of darkness. We hear the story of God’s love for his people as recorded in the Old Testament. As we sing the Gloria, the Risen Lord becomes present to us. We bless the living water of life. The bells ring out, Alleluia is our song.
Our familiarity with the Gospels can endanger reverence and wonder. Christ dining one last time with his disciples – those men who had walked the roads of Palestine with him, heard him preach, tell parables, heal the sick, defy the proud. We read of the love, the faith, the devotion, the courage of his mother Mary, of Veronica who wiped his face, and of the women of Jerusalem who comforted him. We meet Simon who helped him, John who remained until the end, the women who went to the tomb early in the morning to anoint his body. These gestures recall the prophetic, saving, loving actions of Christ himself giving us his body and blood so that we might have life that endures forever.
Light and darkness, good and evil, peace and agony, love and hatred, anointing and betrayal abound in this cosmic drama. It resonates with the history of humanity and the personal story of each of us. We unite with people of good will of every place and time as we walk with Christ along the path of pain, hope and glory. We rejoice with the women of faith who were the first to encounter the Risen Lord on Easter morning.
Fr. Albert McDonnell
Radharc na nOileán Pastoral Area.
Clare Champion Article 8th of April 2022