How to Pray through Holy Week – guide to help your imagination.
Our Holiest Week – A Reflective Guide to the Liturgies of Holy Week for those unable to be in Church doe to the Corona Virus restrictions.
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Entrance. “On this day the Church celebrates Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem to accomplish his paschal mystery” . “Entrance” is the key to understanding the liturgy of Passion Sunday. We enter into Jerusalem with Christ. We enter into our holiest week. We enter into our final preparation for the Easter feast. Ordinarily when we go to Sunday Mass we enter the church one by one, as we arrive. But for the principal liturgy on this Sunday we enter the church together. We make a grand entrance. The parish gathers in another location (outside the church, for example, or in the school hall). There one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem is proclaimed. “The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, / while others cut branches from the trees / and strewed them on the road. / The crowds preceding him and those following / kept crying out and saying: / ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’” (Mt 21:8-9). And then we “enter into” the Gospel. We go with Christ into Jerusalem. We process into the church.
Procession with palms. This is one of our most joyful and triumphant processions of the entire year. As we gather on this Sunday we receive a branch of palm or olive (or other green plant).
The Passion. The Gospel proclaimed on this day is one of the accounts of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew, Mark or Luke. (The Passion from the Gospel according to John is read each year on Good Friday.) Some parishes, in order to make the story more living and present, have several readers: As the Passion is read we find ourselves going with Christ to Calvary and standing at the foot of the cross. We find ourselves calling out “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Yet only a moment ago, when we were entering the church, we were triumphantly singing, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The contrast is striking. Is this not all too often our story? One moment I am full of good resolutions and promises to follow Christ; but when the times get hard, I find myself ready to crucify Jesus by my sins.
The Easter Triduum
The Easter Triduum—Holy Thursday evening through Easter Sunday evening—is the “high point” of the Church Year. The Latin word triduum means “a three-day period.” We use the word to name collectively Friday (which in the Hebrew way of reckoning begins Thursday evening), Saturday and Sunday. St. Augustine, the great fifth-century bishop of North Africa, speaks of the “triduum of Christ crucified, buried and risen.” Shortly after the time of Augustine the Church at Rome began to celebrate a special commemoration of the Last Supper on the Thursday evening before Good Friday and this celebration was included in “The Three Days.” Now, as the Roman Calendar (19) says, “The Easter Triduum begins
The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper preserves two ancient traditions that were once common to every Eucharist. First, the Mass begins with the tabernacle entirely empty. We receive Holy Communion this evening from the bread and wine consecrated at this Mass, not from a previous Mass. Second, the entire community is gathered at this one Eucharist, with all the priests, ministers and parishioners celebrating one Eucharist together.
Passover context. The opening prayer sets the tone: “We are gathered here to share in the supper which your only Son left to his Church to reveal his love.” The first reading (Ex 12:1-8, 11-14) recounts the origins of the Passover meal. The Hebrew people in Egypt are saved by the blood of the lamb which causes the wrath of God to “pass over” the houses marked with its blood. The second reading (1 Cor 11:23-26) contains the earliest written account of the Lord’s Supper. “I received from the Lord what I handed on to you, / that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, / took bread, and, after he had given thanks, / broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you.’”
The Great Commandment. We might expect the Gospel for this Mass of the Lord’s Supper to be one of the accounts of the institution of the Eucharist (Mt 26:26-29, Mk 14:22-25, Lk 22:14-20). Instead, the Church presents Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (Jn 13:1-15). And not only do we hear about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, but we see and experience it. The leader of the parish community takes off his Mass vestment and takes water and a towel and washes feet.
It gets to the very heart of what the Eucharist means. We gather to thank Jesus for the gift of the Eucharist; but the liturgy calls us to go deeper. The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not an end in itself; it is also the means to build up the unity of the parish and of the whole Body of Christ.
At each Eucharist we pray that God send the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine so that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ. But then we continue with the other half of the petition and ask God to send the Holy Spirit upon the community so that “we, who are nourished by his Body and Blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ” . We cannot stop short at the first petition without praying the second.
Divine in the ordinary. Maybe we are tempted to stop short because it is easier to see Christ in the Blessed Sacrament than to see him in the faces of the ordinary men and women around us. My fellow parishioners seem somehow all too ordinary to be taken up into the solemnity of Holy Thursday and the adoration of the Eucharist. But in the midst of gold vestments and vessels, ringing bells and smoking censers, when we solemnly recall the institution of the Eucharist and the incomprehensible miracle of God’s continuing presence among us, we wash feet! We are confronted with the reality that we cannot love God unless we love our neighbor.
Simple, humble, loving service for our sisters and brothers and the building up of the one Body of Christ: This is true reverence for the Eucharist. By the Christian assuming the lowest rank, all are elevated and share in a common dignity. This is humble yet glorious service, for it is the service of one who reigns triumphant from the cross. “So when he had washed their feet / …he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? / … I have given you a model to follow, / so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (Jn 13:12, 15)
Following the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist which will be shared tomorrow during the liturgy of Good Friday is taken in procession to a tabernacle prepared for it, and the church is prepared for Good Friday. “Then the altar is stripped and, if possible, the crosses are removed from the church. It is desirable to cover any crosses which remain in the church”.
The Altar of Repose
The decoration of the altar of repose should be special, At least four or six candles or lamps, and preferably more, should burn around it and should be tastefully arranged with flowers, drapes, fine cloths, carpets and a judicious use of subdued electric lighting in order to create the necessary ambiance of silence and meditation.
In those countries where it is possible, wheat stalks and young olive trees may also be incorporated into the decoration in order to evoke the themes of Eucharist and the garden of Gethsemane.
“Paschales Solemnitatis,” No. 55, reflecting the liturgical reform, specifies: “The place where the tabernacle or pyx is situated must not be made to resemble a tomb, and the expression ‘tomb’ is to be avoided. The chapel of repose is not prepared so as to represent the ‘Lord’s burial’ but for the custody of the eucharistic bread that will be distributed in Communion on Good Friday.”
Any crosses or images that might be behind the tabernacle should be concealed using curtains or drapes of white, gold or some similar hue so that nothing distracts from the tabernacle.
“Paschales Solemnitatis,” No. 56, briefly evokes the prevailing atmosphere for the adoration before the altar of repose: “After the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the faithful should be encouraged to spend a suitable period of time during the night in the church in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament which has been solemnly reserved. Where appropriate, this prolonged Eucharistic adoration may be accompanied by the reading of some part of the Gospel of St. John (chapters 13-17).
“From midnight onwards, however, the adoration should be made without external solemnity, because the day of the Lord’s passion has begun.” Thus the ambience should be meditative and silent.
Sober. The liturgy of Good Friday is the most sober of the entire Church year—restrained and straightforward. The altar is bare, without cloths, candles or cross. There is no Mass: “according to the Church’s ancient tradition, the sacraments are not celebrated today or tomorrow”. It is a day of fasting. There are no greetings, genuflections, opening songs, processions. We simply come and prostrate in humble submission before the Word and the glorious cross of Christ.
Readings. The first reading is from the book of the Prophet Isaiah (52:13—53:12). The mystery of the glorious cross is immediately placed before us: The suffering servant is raised high and exalted. If there were some way to explain in a few simple words how crucifixion can be “glorious,” we might not need the liturgy of Good Friday. But there is no simple intellectual resolution of “cross = glory.” The paradox can only be experienced. The second reading (Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9), speaks of our “great high priest” who “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” The cross “perfected” Jesus. This is at the heart of the Christian mystery.
John’s Passion. The third reading is the proclamation of the Passion according to John. If we listen closely we find that this Passion account is very different from the one we heard on the previous Sunday. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ power and majesty shine through. Jesus is in control of everything that happens. He carries his cross alone. He is victorious on the cross. Jesus reigns from the tree. The cross is our glory. The instrument of death is the instrument of salvation.
Intercessions. Following the proclamation of the Passion we join in the Church’s most solemn form of the General Intercessions. We pray that the glory of the cross be realized in our day. The intentions are announced; we kneel and pray silently; the presiding minister joins our prayers into a solemn prayer of petition.
Wood of victory. The third part of the Good Friday liturgy is unique to this day. A large cross is brought forward. It is unveiled and presented to us. We approach the wood of the cross, the instrument of torture, cruelty and death, and we reverence it with a touch or a kiss! If it were not for the eyes of faith we could never understand this strange, indeed bizarre action: seeing glory in the cross.
For some today this might not seem strange because the cross has been tamed and domesticated by our constantly seeing the cross only as a religious symbol or a piece of art. But what if we were asked to kiss a guillotine or an electric chair? The first Christians were faced with that kind of startling paradox: to kiss a cross!
The Good Friday rites conclude with a simple Communion service with the Eucharist from Holy Thursday’s liturgy. Holy Saturday is a day of quiet waiting and preparation for the Easter Vigil.
Keeping vigil. The dictionary explains that a vigil is “a purposeful or watchful staying awake during the ordinary hours of sleep.” This is what we do on Holy Saturday night. We gather; we wait; we watch. We keep vigil. We wait with the catechumens. We wait with the generations of those longing for Christ to rise from the tomb.
Service of light. As the natural light of day fades away, we turn our attention to the light that is Christ. We gather around a fire and we think of Christ, the light of God’s glory. And from this special fire, we light our most beautiful candle. As the light of this paschal candle enters the church, its light, spreads to the candles held by each member of the worshiping community. Our feelings during this unique ritual experience are expressed in song: “Exult, all creation, around God’s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! …This is our passover feast….This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave….O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”
Salvation history. In this light we keep watch. And as we wait around this special fire—the paschal candle— we tell our story: Creation, Abraham’s sacrifice, our passing through the Red Sea. Our joy and anticipation grow and we sing, “Glory to God in the highest” (a hymn we have not used since Lent began).