Skip to comments.Catholic Caucus: The Meaning of Holy Week
Posted on 04/15/2003 5:14:35 PM PDT by Salvation
Historical documents tell us that as early as the fourth century the Church celebrated this "Great Week" with a feeling of profound sanctity. It begins with Palm Sunday, which marks Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The central feature of the service proper to this day, as it was in the earliest times, is the procession of palms. The palms are blessed and are then borne in procession to the church, where an entry is made with a certain amount of ceremony, after which the Mass is celebrated. The other notable and very ancient feature of the present Palm Sunday service is the reading of the Gospel of the Passion by three readers.
Especially important for Catholics is the Easter Triduum. This is the three days just before Easter. On Holy Thursday, we reenact the Lord's Last Supper, which He shared with His apostles on the night He was betrayed and arrested. This is one of the most beautiful liturgies of the entire liturgical year. At the Mass, the priest will wash the feet of twelve men, just as Jesus did. Also on this night, priests all over the world will renew their sacred vows. This is because, at the Last Supper, Jesus not only instituted the Mass (Eucharist) but also the ministerial priesthood.
On Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion and death of our Lord, we have the veneration of the Cross. A service is held at three o'clock in the afternoon (the hour He is believed to have died) and another later in the evening. We go forward and kiss the Cross in order to show honor and respect for Christ's sacrifice for our sake. There is no consecration of the Eucharist on this day, and the Communion we receive will be from the night before, which has been reserved in the tabernacle.
Holy Saturday is a vigil. We keep watch for the expectant rising of Our Savior. This was the day He went down into the netherworld in order to bring back up with Him into heaven those who had died before His coming. Up to this time, the gates to heaven were closed and no one could go there because of the original sin of Adam. Jesus changed all that. By paying the price for our sins on the Cross, He gained for us our eternal salvation, and heaven was opened once more. Also on this night, persons who have spent months of preparation will be received through Baptism and Confirmation into the Catholic Church for the first time. It is a joyous occasion.
Those who engage themselves wholeheartedly in living the entire paschal cycle (Lent, Triduum and Easter's Fifty Days) discover that it can change them forever. This is especially so of the Triduum which, standing at the heart of the Easter season, is an intense immersion in the fundamental mystery of what it is to be Christian. During these days, we suffer with Christ so that we might rise with Him at His glorious Resurrection. Holy Week is a time to clear our schedules of unnecessary activities. Our minds and hearts should be fixed on Jesus and what He did for us. Let us bear the Cross so that may be worthy of wearing the crown He wore.
Grace MacKinnon. "The Meaning of Holy Week." (March, 2003).
Reprinted with permission of Grace McKinnon.
Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. She is the author of Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith published by Our Sunday Visitor. Order online by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-348-2440.
Readers are welcome to submit questions about the Catholic faith to: Grace MacKinnon, 1234 Russell Drive #103, Brownsville, Texas 78520. Questions also may be sent by e-mail to: email@example.com.
You may visit Grace online at www.DearGrace.com.
Copyright © 2003 Grace D. MacKinnon
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As I prepare for the Triduum, I'm reminded every year of this passage from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, which I think must be the most moving bit, for Catholics, of all of modern literature. Cordelia is speaking to Charles:
"They've closed the chapel at Brideshead, Bridey and the Bishop; Mummy's requiem was the last Mass said there. After she was buried the priest came in -- I was there alone. I don't think he saw me -- and took out the altar stone and put it in his bag; then he burned the wads of wool with the holy oil on them and threw the ash outside; he emptied the holy water stoup and blew out the lamp in the sanctuary and left the tabernacle open and empty, as though from now on it was always to be Good Friday. I suppose none of this makes any sense to you, Charles, poor agnostic. I stayed there till he was gone, and then, suddenly, there wasn't any chapel there any more, just an oddly decorated room. I can't tell you what it felt like. You've never been to Tenebrae, I suppose?"After many vicissitudes, this theme is taken up once again on the last pages of the book, when Charles returns to Brideshead as an Army officer:
"Well, if you had you'd know what the Jews felt about their temple. Quomodo sedet sola civitas ... it's a beautiful chant. You ought to go once, just to hear it."
There was one part of the house I had not yet visited, and I went there now. The chapel showed no ill-effects of its long neglect; the art-nouveau paint was fresh and bright as ever; the art-nouveau lamp burned once more before the altar. I said a prayer, an ancient, newly learned form of words, and left, turning towards the camp; and as I walked back, and the cookhouse bugle sounded ahead of me, I thought: --
The builders did not know the uses to which their work would descend; the made a new house with the stones of the old castle; year by year, generation after generation, they enriched and extended it; year by year the great harvest of timber in the park grew to ripeness; until, in sudden frost, came the age of Hooper; the place was desolate and the work all brought to nothing; Quomodo sedet sola civitas. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
And yet, I thought, stepping out more briskly towards the camp, where the bugles after a pause had taken up the second call and were sounding Pick-em-up, Pick-em-up, hot potatoes -- and yet that is not the last word; it is not even an apt word; it is a dead word from ten years back.
Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame -- a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.
Best wishes to you all for Holy Week.
Bumping an old thread with a pertinent topic for this week.
Yesterday (Friday) He came with His disciples from the desert village of Ephrem to Jericho. When near the Jordan we heard from His lips the third prophecy of the crucifixion. Then Salome approached with her two sons, John and James, and begged important positions for them in the coming kingdom. This gave Jesus the opportunity to proclaim His wonderful teaching on humility. We stand close and listen.
The Lord enters Jericho. I am Zacheus, the chief publican, the little man who wants to see the Messiah from a tree. He looks up to me and says, "Today salvation has come to your house!" He stays two nights with me, a despised publican!
Over the Sabbath Jesus remains in Jericho. The next day (Sunday) He starts for Jerusalem at the head of a lordly caravan. Along the road there sits a blind beggar. It is I, again. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on mel" He heals my eyes, I see, I am enlightened!
In procession we pass through Jericho's inhospitable ravines up to Jerusalem. Night intervenes and Jesus stops at Bethany. He is joyously welcomed by Martha and Mary. Am I an active Martha or a meditating Mary? Possibly it was on this Sunday evening that the memorable meal took place when, with Lazarus present and Martha as hostess, Mary poured out the costly ointment for Jesus' burial. It was the act which estranged Judas completely from his Master.
In solemn procession on Monday afternoon the King of Israel comes to the top of Olivet, weeps over Jerusalem, and then continues on to the temple. We feel ourselves part of this festive procession, waving palms in our hands. We accompany our King and watch Him drive the money-changers out of His Father's house. Tuesday morning He returns with His disciples and while crossing Mt. Olivet curses the unfruitful fig tree, a figure of the Jewish people. This barren tree is likewise a warning for us.
Verbal encounters with the Jews take place in the temple courtyard until Wednesday afternoon when Christ hurls His eightfold curse upon Pharisee and Jew, and leaves the temple forever. With His disciples He then proceeds to the Mount of Olives and delivers His powerful discourse on the end of the world and the destruction of Jerusalem. Present in spirit we hear this sermon and take to heart His final admonition, "Be vigilant!" Meanwhile Judas has left the circle of disciples and offers his assistance to the chief priests.
Thursday morning Christ sends Peter and John from Bethany into the city to make the needed preparation for the Passover meal. As evening falls He bids farewell to His mother and His friends and goes with His apostles to the Upper Room in Jerusalem for His "Last Supper" with them.In mind and in heart we will follow our Blessed Lord closely during these sacred days of Holy Week.
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