QUESTION: Archbishop, what is the significance of Holy Week?
In the life of the Church, Holy Week is our most important week. We celebrate the central mystery of faith—Christ lived, Christ died and Christ rose from the dead. To enter into this week understanding its significance is to plumb the depths of our Catholic tradition and to enter into the mystery of what God did to bring us salvation.
Unfortunately, many people enter into the week at the various points of the liturgy without living the week. Others use the time for a holiday and do not participate in the liturgy.
Palm Sunday opens the Holy Week celebrations, with the procession of palms and the reading of the Passion narrative. This year we read from St Mark’s Gospel.
It is important to situate the week in its context. This is what the Gospel does. By reading the whole Passion narrative we enter into the events leading to Jesus’ Crucifixion, so reliving the first Holy Week.
Holy Week is special. It has its own rhythm. It is stark and austere. It is rich in symbol and deep in content. We are invited to enter into the core and centre of mystery and, if we do, we will not be disappointed.
On Palm Sunday when you read the whole Passion pick a character and, then, each day spend a little time meditating on where your character will be and what he or she will be doing that day. Enter into the events and the emotions of the figure. Try to see the Passion from that vantage point and allow this perspective to shape your experience of the week.
Entering into the Week
Last year, I journeyed with Judas. It was a powerful experience. On the one hand there was the confusion, disillusionment, self-deceit and the betrayal of the innocent One, and Love itself. But then there was the whole belief system that was so vital to Judas. Jesus kept shattering that belief system, challenging it and stripping it bare.
Jesus was Son of God and yet he would suffer in humility. Judas was not ready for the humility of God and the vulnerability of the suffering servant. He convinced himself he was helping, working for the greater good. He blinded himself to the consequence of his actions and his culpability. Judas is such a modern character; he betrays Christ for 30 pieces of silver.
During Holy Week I would often listen to one of the operas of the Passion. This allows you to enter through the beauty of the music and lyrics that transport you in a novel way. Or, sometimes I would look at one of the movies of the Passion of Christ. There are several that really speak to people in different ways.
This is the Lent of Lents. Take the noise down to a minimum. Live with greater austerity. Give us something else that is significant. If you have not yet done so, give up meat or fish, or both. Alcohol and desserts must go. Take the pace of your life down; doing only what is absolutely required. Read the Passion of Mark every day and enter into the events of your day through your character.
On Tuesday priests and parish representatives will journey to the Cathedral for the Chrism Mass. It is a manifestation of the priests’ communion with their bishop, when they renew their priestly promises. Also, at the Mass sacred oils for use during the year will be blessed.
On Holy Thursday, enter into the day with special reverence and anticipation. The drama is unfolding and now you are an actor in the unfolding events: the Washing of the Feet, the Eucharist, the Garden, the Way of the Cross. These are the moments: they are the invitation.
Memoria is the key to understanding the Triduum. For the Jews celebrating the Passover, a key idea is that they celebrate as if they were there in Egypt physically and literally. This is much more than recollection. This concept is central to understanding Eucharist—“Do this in memory of me.” This is memoria.
After the Holy Thursday celebrations stay near the Altar of Repose and wait a while. Hear Jesus say to you—‘Could you not wait with me one hour’? Sit, Wait, Pray. These are the actions for Holy Thursday. If we sit, wait and pray, we will enter into the depth of the mystery and will experience the renewal that comes from this depth.
On Good Friday walk the Stations that are enacted all over our country, on the streets and in our churches. This gives one more access to the Passion. Then, at 3 p.m. or whatever time your parish has the liturgy, participate in the Service of the Passion. This is an amazing liturgy. It is funeral and the grief can be cut with a knife. It is sombre and silent. We listen to the reading of the Passion once more, this time from the Gospel of St John. Enter in and see where it takes you. Journey with your character and let him or her guide you.
If you can, attend the Easter Vigil. This is the mother of all liturgies, reliving the journey of salvation. We light the sacred fire from which the Paschal candle is lit. We initiate people into our Church and sing the Gloria again. It is the great climax of the week and the fitting end for our celebrations.
Key Message: Enter into the Holy Week as deeply as you can, accepting the invitation to deeper discipleship with Christ.
Action Step: Choose a character from the Passion according to St Mark and journey with this character for the Holy Week.
Scripture reading: Mark 14:1–15:47