God made us to be both spirit and matter, body and soul. The psalms tell us to “Learn to savor how good the Lord is” because God wants us to enjoy the sights and sounds, the touch and feel, the flavor of all that is good in the world (Ps 34:9). Our worship is not just words but also actions. We kneel and stand. We bless ourselves with water to recall our baptism. We turn to one another and offer a greeting of peace. Above all we “savor how good the Lord is” in the Holy Eucharist.
Holy Week is an experience not just of the spirit but also of our senses. When Catholics gather for worship and prayer at Mass, we do not just remember the past. The sacred moments of our salvation are made spiritually and physically present to us through the sacramental love of God. It is for this reason that I ask that you try to attend and experience, in addition to Easter Mass, the services of Holy Thursday and Good Friday at your parish.
Holy Thursday makes present to us the events of the Last Supper. That night before he allowed himself to be handed over to authorities, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the Priesthood that brings us the Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist where we literally savor the Lord. When the priest takes the bread and says, “This is my Body,” and the cup of wine and declares “This is my Blood,” Jesus is truly present and asks us to invite him into our lives. We are not bystanders at Mass but, rather, participants. The Eucharistic Liturgy gives us a means by which we share in Christ’s sacrifice. At each Mass we are able to join ourselves to Jesus’ suffering and victory over sin without having to die on a cross. The Venerable Servant of God Pope John Paul II, in his last encyclical letter on the Eucharist, expressed so beautifully the faith of the Church. “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and Resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and ‘the work of our redemption is carried out.’”
During the meal of the Last Supper, we see how Jesus wanted to show his apostles how they were to lead. Just as Jesus took a basin of water and washed their feet, so too the priest will wash the feet of twelve people to remind himself that the call of the priest is to serve and not to be served. When Jesus finished washing the feet of the apostles, he said, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15). The priest does not just wash the feet of other priests, but of the lay faithful because all the baptized are called to serve.
On Good Friday when one walks into church the sanctuary lamp is not lit and the Tabernacle is empty. We do not genuflect because Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is not there. The Church intends for us to experience the sad coldness of death. Good Friday is the only day of the year when no Mass is celebrated, but at all our parishes there will be the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. This is a moving Liturgy where the Passion story is read and the cross is presented to the people with the words, “This is the wood of the Cross on which hung the Savior of the world.” All are invited to come forward feel the hard wood of the Cross as we make an act of veneration. Although there is no Mass, Holy Communion is distributed because the Eucharist sustains us especially in dark times.
Holy Saturday is a time of quiet reflection; but after the sun sets, we begin the Great Easter Vigil. It is the Church’s most solemn proclamation that darkness and death will never win because Jesus Christ is risen!
If you have never attended the Easter Vigil, I urge you most strongly to experience its power. It is true sensory experience of fire and water, music and majesty. This Mass dates to the earliest Church and is called the “mother of all vigils” and is a journey through the history of salvation. We light a fire to recall the light of Christ breaking into the darkness of our world. In the readings we hear the story of our salvation, beginning with the Genesis narrative of the first creation and the coming of Christ to establish the second, the new creation in grace. The church bells are rung and the “Alleluia” is sung recalling that the fulfillment of God’s promises have been realized in his Son Jesus Christ. We are sprinkled with water recalling our baptism. This saving power of God culminates for us in the present time through the initiation of those who have been preparing to be received into the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation.
Through it all I pray that you remember the end of the story, Jesus is truly risen from the dead. He is inviting us to a new life with him. Death has no power over you and me if we enter into his life in the Church. Sadly, it is possible to show up on Easter and not let Jesus into our lives and to change us. This is not because Jesus Christ is not here for us. It is because we are not present to him. This presence requires a decision to be a Christian, to follow him and to love him as he asks us to love him through regular participation in the Sacraments, especially Mass.
I invite you to find the times of services for Holy Week and set the dates in your calendar right now. This decision will change your life. Please know that as I make my journey in this next week from Palm Sunday through Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, you will be in my prayers that all of us might be strengthened in our faith and grow more deeply in our hope in the love that alone transforms the world.