In early March I wrote some reflections on the Season of Lent and promised to write more in regard to Holy Week later. So, now that we're nearing the end of Holy Week I figured it was time to write that reflection.
So what is Holy Week? This is the last week before Easter, a very holy time that begins with Palm Sunday and ends with the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. So much happens during this last week!
First Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday was this past Sunday and we started Mass outside the church where the bishop blessed our palms and a Gospel reading was read before the procession into the church. The procession reminds us all of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Once we're inside, the Mass starts and proceeds as normal. When we get to the Gospel reading, it is an extended reading of the crucifixion. I've always found this reading interesting and sometimes hard to participate in. This is one of a few times in the Church where the reading is written out for several readers and the congregation gets a part as well. I'm always uncomfortable with the role we get in the congregation as "the crowd." So our part usually consists of saying "Crucify him." It's an uncomfortable role, but I realized this year that it is also a good reminder that God is good. Christ died for us, he died for our sins. So although the people then shouted "crucify him" over and over again, and we today often turn our back on God assuming we know better, God still loves us and forgives us. It may be uncomfortable, but it really is a good reminder of our own sinfulness.
In previous years at the Cathedral we have had a Tenebre Service on Wednesday night of Holy Week. This year they moved it to Sunday night. As a result, we did not attend this year since I have to get up so early on Mondays. I was disappointed that it wasn't on Wednesday night because I always thought it was a great way to introduce the Triduum, which begins on Thursday. Anyway, I did write about the awesomeness of the Tenebre Service two years ago. So if you want to know more, check it out here.
Today is Holy Thursday and with today begins the Triduum. The Triduum is basically three days of prayer that preceed a special feast, in this case Easter, thus we call this three day period the Pascal Triduum. On Holy Thursday the Church holds a Mass to remember the Last Supper. Unfortunately, I am too sick today to attend this Mass, but my husband went tonight. Holy Thursday has so much meaning to it, it's truly an amazing day. During Mass the priest will reinact the washing of the feet. Traditionally twelve men will have there feet washed to represent the twelve apostles. In every Mass we remember the institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper, but obviously it has much more meaning during this celebration of the Mass. Also, this is the last time we will celebrate the Eucharistic mystery until Easter. The priest will concecrate enough hosts during this Mass to also have available for tomorrow's Good Friday service. Then as the Mass comes to an end, the Eucharist is retired to a side chapel where He remains until midnight. That's also how the Mass ends, if my memory is serving me right. It's a very solemn ending, very moving.
At midnight Christ present in the Eucharist is removed from the Church. It is the only time during the year that Christ is not present in the church. I always find that the church seems kind of empty during that time. It makes the anticipation of Easter even greater. I'm not really sure where they put Christ during that time.
On Good Friday we remember the crucifixion of Christ. Also, it's a day of fast in the church: two small meals, one regular size meal, and no snacks. On Good Friday we have a service (not a Mass) to remember the crucifixion. Why do we not call it a Mass? Well, the Mass revolves around the Eucharist, and since the priest will not be concecrating any hosts, we call it a service. This service usually begins with a procession into the Church with a huge cross (at least in my church). During the service we will also all come to the front of the church to venerate the cross. I can't remember what else happens during the service. I know it's also a very solemn service. But at the same time it's a joyful time. That may sound strange, but that's why we call it Good Friday. Without Good Friday we wouldn't have Easter. Jesus died for our sins and this is the day that we remember that great sacrifice. What a wonderful reminder of the goodness of God!
Holy Saturday, the third day of the Pascal Triduum, is the one and only day in the Church where there is no Mass or service anywhere in the world. The Eucharist is still absent (since Christ had died) and it is not yet Easter (the celebration of the Resurrection). However, once the sun goes down on Holy Saturday, the Church begins the Easter season.
Lent ends and the Easter Season is ushered in with the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night. After six weeks of Lent, six weeks of sacrifice and extra prayer, we joyfully welcome the six weeks of the Easter Season.
I enjoy Lent. Many people find it a struggle, and at times it certainly can be. But the sacrifices we make are only a small reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. That reminder over the past six weeks makes Easter even sweeter.