Pope Francis recently cautioned against empty ritual that is performed without any understanding of its meaning. In other words, we know what to do (orthopraxis) but do not understand why we do it (orthodoxy).
With this in mind let’s consider why we celebrate the events of Holy Week.
It has been said that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. I would suggest that it is more correct to say that the Church is born during the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week and was first proclaimed at Pentecost.
Holy Thursday (Vigil of Good Friday) Mass of the Lord’s Supper
- On Holy Thursday we celebrate the gift of the Holy Eucharist, the center and the summit of the Sacraments, and the sacred liturgy that represents the Paschal Mystery.
- In instituting the Eucharist, Jesus also instituted the sacramental priesthood with his charge to the Apostles to “Do this in commemoration of me.” We also celebrate the priesthood at the Chrism Mass where priestly vows are renewed.
- When Jesus, taking the role of a slave, began to wash the Apostles’ feet with the charge, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you must also do.” With that he instituted a poor church for the poor.
- After Jesus and his Apostles had supper, he led them across the valley to the Mount of Olives to a garden where he would go to pray. There he surrendered himself to the Father, “…if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:39)
Friday of the Passion of the Lord – Good Friday
- On Good Friday we celebrate Jesus freely giving himself over to the sufferings of the passion and the crucifixion, from his betrayal to his death.
- Jesus’ suffering and death was not for him, but for us, to reconcile us to the Father by a perfect response to the Father’s love…obedience. “For you so loved the world that in your mercy you sent us the Redeemer, to live like us in all things but sin, so that you might love in us what you loved in your Son, by whose obedience we have been restored to those gifts of yours that, by sinning, we had lost in disobedience.” (Roman Missal, Preface VII in Ordinary time)
- In the words of the Prophet Isaiah we hear on Good Friday, “But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 – the Suffering Servant)
Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil
- A barren altar and an empty tabernacle remind us that Jesus lies in the tomb awaiting the moment of his resurrection.
- The Easter Exsultet gloriously proclaims that, “This is the night when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld….the sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
- Baptism is always celebrated at the Easter Vigil, for as St. Paul wrote, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. (Rom 6:4). Not only are catechumens baptized but we renew our own baptismal vows to remind us that we too are sharers in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.
And so the Church is born during the Sacred Triduum, but its proclamation awaits Pentecost and the power of the Holy Spirit sent by the Father and the Son.
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