It’s very fitting that Holy Week occurs in the springtime since both speak to us of new life. While we welcome the new life that nature will soon bring, at the same time we celebrate the new life that comes to us through the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord.
The liturgies of Holy Week recall the great events of our redemption. Holy Week is much more than a history lesson though. In Holy Week we actually participate again in the dramatic events of salvation history. That’s the power and beauty of Catholic liturgy.
On Palm Sunday we recall the solemn entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem that marks the beginning of the story. We find ourselves in the midst of the crowd chanting, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” And shortly thereafter we’re again in the crowd shouting, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.”
On Holy Thursday we gather around the table with other disciples to share the Last Supper “which Jesus left to the Church to reveal His love.” With gratitude and reverence we receive the marvelous gifts of the Eucharist and the Ministerial Priesthood.
On Good Friday we recognize the consequences of our sins, humble ourselves before the cross and prayerfully recall the suffering and sacrificial death of Christ that “saved us all from the death we inherited from sinful Adam.”
At the Easter Vigil, the “mother of all vigils,” we await in darkness and silence at the tomb of Christ anticipating the new dawn of the resurrection “when Jesus passed from death to life.” We sing of the “night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth and man is reconciled with God.”
And on Easter Sunday we join with Christians everywhere to rejoice in the victory and renewed hope of the resurrection. We pray: “God our Father, by raising Christ your Son you conquered the power of death and opened for us the way to eternal life.”
Holy Week is a mini-course of salvation history, and throughout the week the Scriptural centerpiece is the passion of the Lord, proclaimed on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday. The passion of Christ was a real historical event, but also a story that transcends a particular moment in time. The passion of Jesus is lived-out in every generation, including our own. It’s a worthwhile spiritual exercise to look at the various characters involved in the passion and to see how they responded to the event.
We think of Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord with a planned and deliberate act of the will. For their part the other Apostles tried hard, but while “their spirit was willing, their flesh was weak” and they disappointed Christ at the most critical time of His life. We see Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus to carry the cross, although rather reluctantly. The women in the passion narrative remained faithful to Jesus, overcoming the anger and fear of the moment to stay with Him even to the foot of the cross. And finally there’s Joseph of Arimathea who came forward willingly to respond in charity to the need that he saw.
As mentioned above, the passion of Christ is lived-out in every generation. I wonder, then, if you can find a little of yourself in the characters of the passion story.
Are you sometimes like Judas; do you betray the Lord by committing serious and deliberate sins, in thought, word and deed? Have you abandoned Christ and despaired of your own weakness and abject failures?
Or perhaps you’re more like the Apostles; even though you love the Lord and want to follow Him sometimes you just fall short because of human weakness and imperfection. When you fail are you willing to ask for forgiveness, try again and continue your discipleship of Christ with renewed determination?
Maybe you’re like Simon of Cyrene; though you do so reluctantly and with hesitation and uncertainty, in the end you come forward to do your part, to assist Christ in your brothers and sisters who are struggling under the weight of their crosses.
Hopefully you’re like the women in the passion; despite the chaos that surrounds you, you remain faithful to Christ and stay with Him all the way, even if it leads you to Calvary.
And maybe you find a model in Joseph of Arimathea; you’re aware of the needs of your neighbors along the road and you eagerly respond recognizing that in serving others you serve Christ Himself.
In short, while the Passion is an historical event, it’s also about you and me and our discipleship of the Lord. So then, what role do you play in the passion of Christ?
The opening prayer of the Mass for Palm Sunday summarizes the theme of the Holy Week we will soon celebrate: “Almighty and ever-living God, you have given the human race Jesus Christ as our Savior and a model of humility. Help us to bear witness to you by following His example of suffering, and make us worthy to share in His resurrection. We ask this through the same Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
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The Rhode Island Catholic (March 6, 2008)