Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today we begin Holy Week, the most sacred days in the liturgical year. With these celebrations, the whole Church is invited to participate in the Lord’s final days of ministry, to enter into His sufferings, and to experience more personally the profound gift of salvation the Lord Jesus wins for us in His Passion. Of highest importance is the observance of the Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday). The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday invites us to receive anew the gift of the Eucharist and to celebrate the institution of the priesthood. On that night, we are invited to keep watch in the Garden of Gethsemane. Good Friday, a day of fasting and abstinence (no meat, and only one main meal) turns our attention to a profound meditation on the Crucifixion, to grief for our sins, and to the depth of God’s mercy and love extended to sinful humanity. Holy Saturday dawns as a time of silence and anticipation, awaiting the Resurrection and the Light of Christ’s life that will blaze anew at the Easter Vigil. The Solemn Easter Vigil is the most important Mass that the Church celebrates all year. If you have never experienced the Triduum, and especially the Easter Vigil, I want to warmly encourage you to participate in these sacred celebrations this year.
For our prayer during this Holy Week, I would like to propose two movements for us to recognize. First, let us recognize the movement of the Heart of Jesus toward us. Second, the movement of our own hearts toward our merciful Savior. From the first pages of the Gospels, we see the movement of Jesus toward us evidenced. The story of the Annunciation shows us the Incarnate love of God for us, as our humanity is united to the divinity of Jesus. His birth in Bethlehem, His poverty, the flight into Egypt, and all the other hidden moments of His life testify to the ways in which Jesus, in word and action, cries out to His people with love. Throughout our Lord’s public ministry, we have seen in His teaching and miracles that the desire of God is always for union with fallen humanity. God will not allow the sin that separates us from Him to be the final obstacle. When we read the Passion, when we look at the Crucifix, when we meditate on the agony in the garden, the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, and the wounds in the hands, feet, and side of Jesus, we see a God who has intimate knowledge and experience of the ways in which humans suffer and cause suffering. Through it all, we hear echoing the tender words of our Lord: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do;” “Today, you will be with me in Paradise;” “Behold, I make all things new;” “This is my body, given for you.” As we participate in the liturgies of the Triduum, may we recognize how powerfully God desires to move toward us today, in our circumstances now. Let us have a deeper awareness of the presence of Jesus in every moment, especially our moments of suffering and despair.
The purpose of liturgy, by definition, is to publicly, communally, perform that work which binds us more closely to God. When we worship together, we move together toward greater union with the God who loves us. The Mass is simultaneously a re-presentation of Jesus’ greatest movement of love for us (in the Eucharist and on the Cross), and our response to the depth of love we have received. And so in Holy Week, our hearts ought to move toward Jesus. In these days, we are called to accompany Him, to be a source of compassion during His Passion, to love Him in the moment of greatest abandonment and abasement. On Holy Thursday night, we are called to keep watch with Him, to stay close to Him in prayer, to comfort and accompany Him. On Good Friday, we are invited to weep with Peter over our denials of our Lord and over our sins. We meet Jesus on the via crucis with His Blessed Mother, and are called to love Him in His suffering and humiliation. We are invited to be Veronica, who wiped His face, to be Simon of Cyrene, who helped carry the Cross, to stand with the weeping women of Jerusalem whose tears over Him were such a source of comfort. We are called to stand courageously with Mary, Mary Magdalene, and St. John at the foot of the Cross and to be united with Jesus as a source of comfot in suffering. This movement of our hearts toward Jesus during Holy Week teaches us how to remain oriented toward Him throughout the year. For in countless ways, we are invited to accompany those who suffer, those who are poor, those who are alone. We are called to recognize the face of Jesus in the disguise of the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, the orphan, the abandoned – and not only to recognize His face, but to offer ourselves as comfort for Jesus who is so close to the least among us.
I hope that this Holy Week will be a time of great grace for you, and a real experience of the power of God in your life. I encourage you to participate in everything you can. The schedule of our Holy Week observances is included in the bulletin, and I look forward to observing these sacred days with all of you.