Today we begin the most sacred week of the Church’s year–Holy Week. Through the liturgies of this week, especially those that make up the Sacred Triduum, we not only recall the saving events of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection—we enter into those events and become part of them. I hope that as many of you as possible will join with us in these great celebrations of our salvation.
This Sunday we begin with the blessing of palm branches and a procession into church commemorating the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem. The crowd, believing that he was perhaps the Messiah, greeted him by laying down the palm branches and calling out, “Hosanna to the son of David.” Their excitement and hope will quickly turn to disappointment and fury when they realize that he is not the kind of Messiah they had hoped.
At this Mass we will also read the story of the Passion of Jesus as told in the Gospel of Luke. It begins with Luke’s account of the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, Jesus’ arrest and trials, and finally his Way of the Cross and Crucifixion.
The Sacred Triduum
The Sacred Triduum (Three Days) are considered by the Church to be one continuous liturgy that extends over Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. As I stated above, we actually enter into and participate in the savings actions of Jesus over these three days.
Holy Thursday—On this day the Church celebrates the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, and with it, the institution of the priesthood. The Gospel for this Mass is from the Gospel of Saint John and tells the story of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles. It is followed by a ritual washing of feet by the priest and deacon.
At the end of the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is taken in procession through the church, recalling the journey of Jesus and his Apostles from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. This will be followed by one hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in honor of Jesus’ words to his Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane—“Could you not stay awake one hour with me?
Good Friday—Today our liturgy is known as the Passion of the Lord. The Blessed Sacrament is removed from the church, reminding us that he is gone. The priests and ministers enter in silence, and the priest and deacon prostrate themselves before the empty tabernacle, as a sign of grief and sadness. We will read together, the Passion from the Gospel of Saint John. This is followed by a series of special General Intercessions chanted by the priest.
Next is the Veneration of the Cross. Because we have a relic of the True Cross here at Mother of God, we will come forward to venerate the relic as a sign of our love for Christ and our appreciation for Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross for our sake.
This liturgy is not a Mass. No Mass can be celebrated anywhere in the world between the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the Easter Vigil. But hosts consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass are brought out and distributed to the congregation. After Communion, the priest and ministers process out in silence.
Holy Saturday—Holy Saturday begins as the saddest day the world has ever known. Jesus is in the tomb. God has been murdered. The Savior of the world has been killed. All hope is dead. But, though he is dead, he is busy. Jesus “descends to the dead.” He goes to the realm of the dead and leads forth all who came before him, who hoped in him, including our first parents, Adam and Eve. He leads them to heaven.
On Holy Saturday evening, we celebrate the Easter Vigil. A vigil is a watch. In the early Church, this watch would have gone all night, with readings and prayers, with the people waiting and watching for sunrise when they would have celebrated the Resurrection of the Lord. In our time, the Easter Vigil cannot begin until after sundown. This year that will be 8:30 pm.
We begin outside with the lighting and blessing of the Easter Fire and the lighting of the Paschal Candle. After we have processed into church, the deacon will proclaim the Exsultet.
Then we have a series of readings from the Old Testament, which make up the Vigil. These readings tell the story of salvation and those events leading up to the Resurrection of Christ. Finally, we will have the Gospel of the Account of the Resurrection.
After the homily, we have the Liturgy of Initiation, in which our Catechumens and Candidates will receive the Sacraments of Initiation—Baptism and Confirmation and Eucharist. We who are already baptized will stand and renew our Baptismal Promises, rededicating our lives to following Christ as his disciples.
The Easter Vigil ends with the celebration of the Eucharist and final blessing and dismissal.
The Masses on Easter Sunday can almost feel anti-climactic after the drama of the Sacred Triduum. At these Masses, the Gloria and the Alleluia return to our celebrations. Most notably, as at the Easter Vigil, we will all renew our baptismal promises together, recommitting ourselves to following Christ.
— Fr. Mike Comer