Friends, today we begin the most sacred time in the Church’s year—Holy Week. During these days we recall and celebrate the great events of what is called the Paschal Mystery. These include the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through these events, Christ has won salvation for all of us. We want to reflect briefly on each of these events and on the special liturgies of this week.
The COVID pandemic has altered many things over this past year, and that includes how we celebrate this special Sunday and the other liturgies of this week. We cannot have a procession with palms, so we will do a blessing of the palm inside of church. This represents the so-called triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem when the crowd welcomed him in glory.
The Gospel for this Sunday is the reading of the Passion of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. Unlike other years, when we read the Passion with parts played by various people and the congregation, this year the Passion reading will be broken into a number of parts, which will be read by three readers.
The Chrism Mass
The most significant of all diocesan liturgies is the Chrism Mass. It will take place on Tuesday at the Cathedral. Bishop Foys will bless the sacred oils which will be used over the coming year—the Oil of the Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick, and the Sacred Chrism.
Also, the priests of the diocese gather that night with the bishop for the renewing of their priestly promises. For me, this is one of the most moving moments of each year.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper
On Thursday night we begin the Sacred Triduum (Three Days), which plunges us into the saving events of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. The night before he died, Jesus gathered with the Apostles in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover supper, which commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and the gift of the Promised Land. It was in the midst of this meal that Jesus changed the ceremony and took bread and wine, and gave them to the Twelve, saying, “Take and eat. This is my Body. Take and drink. This is my Blood.”
This Mass, which will be held at 7 pm, celebrates the institution of the Eucharist. We also celebrate that night, the institution of the priesthood, which is so intimately united with the Eucharist.
Because of COVID restrictions, the washing of feet and the procession with the Blessed Sacrament will not take place this year.
There is no final dismissal at the end of Mass, as the Church sees the services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday as one continuous liturgy.
The Passion of theLord
On Friday, at 12:05 pm, we will recall the events of Good Friday. The priest and ministers enter the church in silence. The church is stripped of all ornamentation. The tabernacle is empty. I will prostrate myself before the altar, and then we will move directly into the Liturgy of the Word. This will include the reading of the Passion of Jesus Christ according to Saint John. Like on Sunday, this will be broken into parts, which will be read by three lectors. There are a series of special Prayers of the Faithful that are led by the priest.
The Veneration of the Cross, which follows, is changed this year. The relic of the True Cross will be held, and the congregation is invited to come forward and bow or genuflect to the relic. Because of COVID, we cannot invite you to touch or kiss the relic.
Communion will be distributed, and the ministers will process out in silence. Again, there is no dismissal at the end of this service.
There is no special ceremony for Holy Saturday itself. The Easter Vigil anticipates Easter Sunday, like Saturday night Masses do for Sunday. But the readings for the Liturgy of the Hours for that day tell us of the time between the death of Jesus on Friday afternoon and his resurrection on Easter. Saint Peter tells us that Jesus went to the realm of the dead to preach to the poor souls there. These are those just men and women who died before Jesus’ saving actions, including our first parents, Adam and Eve. He led them from this place to Heaven, for he died for those who came before him, as well as those who came after.
The Easter Vigil
On Saturday night, beginning at 8:30 pm, we will celebrate the Easter Vigil, which is the greatest and most solemn Mass of the Church year. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the dead, defeating both sin and death, and winning salvation for all of us.
The traditional lighting of the Easter candle and the procession with individual candles is different. The Easter Fire will be lit inside the church, as will the lighting of the candle. Individual candles will not be used.
The vigil, which means to keep watch, involves the readings of Old Testament Scriptures, which tell the story of salvation history, leading up to the Paschal Mystery of Christ. The Gospel will be that of the resurrection.
The Liturgy of the Word is followed by the Liturgy of Initiation. During this part of the Mass, those prepared to enter into the Church will receive the Easter sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. All of us, with them, will renew our own baptismal promises, rededicating our lives to following Christ as his disciples.
The Easter morning Masses will take place at the regular Mass times of 9:30 am and 11:30 am. At these Masses, like at the Easter Vigil, we will all renew our baptismal promises.
Our Sunday Masses have been very full for the past few weeks, as those who have been vaccinated are returning. I am very happy that people are coming back, and it is good to see a full church. But I am concerned about how we will handle the larger crowds that we always see at Easter. We have set up the hall for overflow, with the Mass to be live-streamed there. Working together, we will do our best. Please be patient with us as we seek to accommodate everyone as best as we can.
—Fr. Mike Comer