During Holy Week we encounter the Lord as he stands before us in a personal manner as the one who came to redeem us by giving His life, unjustly condemned as a criminal, upon the cross. As the Lord encounters us this week in this most intimate manner, it is well for us to consider carefully our response to him. During Holy Week, many are before us in the Gospels who encounter Jesus and respond to him in the most extreme manners. From his disciples and apostles to Pontius Pilate, the crowd and the soldiers who crucify him, the Lord’s response is always one of love and mercy.
Seemingly almost absent from the events of Holy Week, except for Good Friday, is Mary, the Mother of the Lord. Yet she is present to the Lord in so many ways. She is the model of our proper response to the encounter that Christ personally makes with us this week. As Pope Francis reflected after the Angelus on Palm Sunday just last year, “May Mary help us all to live Holy Week well. From her, we learn inner silence, the gaze of the heart, the loving faith to follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross, which leads to the joyful light of the Resurrection.”
We begin Holy Week on Palm Sunday when we receive the palm branches as a sign of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem before his passion and death. He was greeted as a king with the waving of palm branches before him. Before the end of the week, he was crucified between two thieves for the crime of claiming to be a king. While the presence of Mary is not recounted in the Gospels at the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, it is no exaggeration to reflect that she was present especially as the one who always recognized the identity of her son. Mary’s presence in the Gospels is always a quiet one as it was most likely on the first Palm Sunday. Mary understood where the week was to lead.
Holy Week brings with it the occasion of the celebration of the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral Church at which the bishop consecrates the holy chrism and blesses the other oils used throughout the year in liturgical celebrations. This Mass is concelebrated with the priests of the Diocese to manifest the particular communion of the priests with the bishop. I am very much looking forward to this celebration which will take place on Tuesday, April 16 at 11 a.m., at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola. All of the faithful of our diocese are invited to it.
The Chrism Mass is a wonderful occasion that celebrates the unity of the mission of the entire Church. The Mass is an expression of the unity of the priesthood and the sacrifice of Christ. However, the consecration and blessing of the chrism and oils by the bishop reminds all within the Church of that which has been obtained for us by the sacrifice of Christ. Chrism is used to anoint the newly baptized, to seal candidates for Confirmation, and to anoint the hands of newly ordained priests and the heads of newly ordained bishops. Chrism is also a reminder of the sanctity of the entire Church as it is used in the rites of the dedication of Churches and altars. The oil of the catechumens is used in the preparation of those to be baptized and the oil of the sick is used to bring comfort and help to the sick and their illnesses. The Chrism Mass reminds us of the call to holiness which we have all received. Mary, the model of holiness, is present with us at the Chrism Mass as our mother and the mother of the Church. She represents the perfection of the fullness of that call to which we strive.
Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper as well as of the priesthood through which the Lord continues to carry out his sacrifice among us. The Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper carries so many moving moments, which reminds us of Christ’s gift of himself in the Eucharist through which he encounters us in the most personal and sublime manner. From the symbolic washing of feet by the priest in imitation of the Lord’s action at the Last Supper to the procession through the Church with the Blessed Sacrament, we enter into that evening before Christ’s death on the cross when he gave us the sacrament of sacraments.
On Holy Thursday we are reminded that every time we celebrate the Eucharist, Christ offers himself to the Father, giving us his very self under the appearance of bread and wine. As Christ sat with his apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem for the Last Supper, he enjoined them to “do this in memory of me.” The Church is most the Church at the Eucharist where we are in communion with Christ and each other through his very Body and Blood. St. John Paul II often reminded us that, even though Mary is not present at the Last Supper physically, she is present in the most unique manner since it was from her body and blood that the Body and Blood of the Lord came into existence in her womb. Mary truly reminds us of the power of the Eucharist which goes far beyond being a symbol and is an actual encounter with the real presence of Christ.
Good Friday is a particularly somber day in the life of the Church. While we celebrate the Passion of the Lord and receive Holy Communion on that day, the most sacred celebration of the Eucharist does not take place. The Church voluntarily gives up what makes her most the Church. We are reminded of all of the physical suffering, humiliation and abandonment that the Lord faced on Good Friday for all of us. There are no words that can express the love of God for us as revealed in the sign of the cross which we venerate on Good Friday. Mary is most present under the cross as she intimately shared in the suffering of Christ, understanding its meaning as no other person. It is from the cross that Christ gives Mary to us as our mother and the mother of the Church.
Holy Saturday is a truly unique day. It is silent. There are no public liturgical celebrations and our churches and tabernacles are empty. Holy Saturday recalls the reality that Christ truly died and entered the realm of the dead, where in silence, he called forth those who died to fullness of life. There is a mysterious silence on Holy Saturday as we recall Christ laid in the tomb and among the dead. The silence of Mary, a hallmark of her life, is present on Holy Saturday in a manner which reminds us that the only one we always turn to is her son. He alone goes among the dead to raise all to new life.
However, as the silence and emptiness are experienced, there is expectation. In the evening the Church will celebrate its most solemn liturgy, the Easter Vigil. In this evening we will celebrate the new covenant that God has entered into with us in the promise of life in Christ’s Resurrection. Here we celebrate the personal encounter that Christ has with each of us, raising us from all that holds us down to the fullness of life and hope. The 40 days of Lent are brought to their culmination as the Eucharist is celebrated. Christ breaks through the barriers of death, as well as all of time and space, and gives us the true meaning of life. While the Gospels do not recount any appearance of the risen Christ to Mary, St. John Paul II again reminded us that she had to be the first to whom he appeared. However, the appearance went beyond what could be expressed and truly was an encounter which brought the fullness of his resurrection to her as it will be held out to all of us.
As we together celebrate this Holy Week in all of our parishes here in the Diocese of Palm Beach, I pray that it will be a time of grace and renewed relationship with the Lord for all of us. As Pope Francis expressed, “May Mary help us all to live Holy Week well. From her, we learn interior silence, the gaze of the heart, the loving faith to follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross which leads to the joyful light of the resurrection.”
A blessed Holy Week to all!