Yes, Holy Week started today with Palm Sunday (liturgically, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion), of course, with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
In many churches the faithful met outside the church to process as the Jews did 2000 years ago, waving palm branches before a conquering hero and shouting hosanna to the Son of David, to the messianic king. But in the middle of the festival atmosphere is the promise of what is to come: the red vestments the priest wore, marked with the blood of Christ that will soon be poured out.
Not after 20 minutes we shouted “Hosanna!” we will cry “Crucify him!” It’s a jarring juxtaposition, one we so frequently experience as we sing praise to God with our lips one moment and deny him with our lives the next moment.
The reading of the Passion feels a bit pre-emptive. Besides, Jesus still has a few days left. He must be betrayed on the Spy Wednesday, and he will be handed over on Holy Thursday.
But since many of the people in the pews won’t be at Church on Friday to hear the Passion account, so we heard it on Passion Sunday. It’s better to meditate twice on the agony that saved us than to skip from the triumphal entry to the empty tomb, because, there’s no way Easter could be accomplished without the Cross, likewise the Christian life made any sense without suffering.
The Chrism Mass frequently takes place at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday which begins the Triduum, and it’s the most sacred time in all the year. That same evening, we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood. We come to remember our call to serve as Jesus did, he washed our feet and told us to do the same for others.
The alter is stripped at the end of this Mass, and the tabernacle is emptied. The Body of Christ is then removed from the church, and it’s exposed at the alter of repose for worship until late at night.
But Christ is not dead yet.
The symbolism, as he stands exposed on the altar of repose throughout the world, is an invitation to watch an hour with him in Gethsemane. As Peter, James, and John couldn’t stay awake, but you and I can choose to sit with him, thanking him and consoling him as he prepares to go to his death.
Good Friday mostly seems to dawn dreary, on this day, the world weeps in memory of the deicide so long ago committed. In some churches there’s this tradition of a Seven Last Words service, where seven homilies are preached on the seven words Jesus spoke from the Cross.
Most churches do have Stations of the Cross, even living Stations which will be the last chance to meditate on the Passion before the stone is rolled away and Easter joy destroys the sorrow of Calvary.
But every church Celebrates the Passion of the Lord, it’s the liturgy where we read the entirety of John’s Passion narrative, venerate the wood of the Cross, and mourn the death of our God. We enter the Church in silence, as we left in silence the night before, shocked again at the emptiness of a church where the tabernacle door stands ajar.
There is no Mass on Good Friday; instead, the Eucharist is brought from the alter of repose and the faithful receive their God in a spirit of somber gratitude, their hearts so sorrowful for their sins that crucified the Lord.
And then, here comes the Holy Saturday, a day of death, of silence, of waiting beside the tomb struggling to find hope, a day many of us have lived for years, wondering if Easter will ever come. But alas, death did not win. Not even 2,000 years ago and not even now.
On this Holy Saturday we gather once more, as we who have wept during this holy Triduum, have also come to stand in darkness at the Easter Vigil and watch the light triumph. On this night, we read the history of God’s work in the world through seven candlelit readings, then finally cry out, “Glory to God in the highest!” the bells ringing, the tympani pounding.
The lights would be turned on, and we dress the altar and rejoice to sing alleluia when the Gospel finally proclaims the triumph of our God over the enemy who has so long enslaved us.
We therefore, watch our new brothers and sisters get baptized by the waters of baptism and emerge as sons and daughters of God.
We then, stand at the wedding feast of the Lamb to receive the body of our risen Lord. And for those who have spent their Lent well, they will find themselves filled with joy as we undertake 50 days of feasting and celebration after our 40 days of penance.
Having journeyed with Jesus from Bethany to the temple, from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives, from the praetorium to Calvary, we will then dance before the empty tomb, remembering the love he bestowed out on us when he poured out his blood for our salvation.
Easter Sunday Mass is a wonderful liturgy, a marvelous celebration of the triumph of our God. But if you can, plan yourself well so as to celebrate the three liturgies of the Triduum this year, to enter in to these mysteries of our salvation so that you can rejoice as never before.