Q: Dear Father Joe: Why should I go to the Holy Week services at my parish? They seem so long to me.
A: I’m glad you asked that question: I know that, at first glance, the Holy Week schedule at church can seem quite intimidating and, because we aren’t sure what is happening there anyway, we may be tempted simply to skip it.
I hope that, as I share with you each step of Holy Week, you see that these services are nothing short of an invitation into the heart of our Christian faith.
There really is no way that we can go over all of the richness and depth of all the services for Holy Week, so I’ll do my best here to give you a snapshot.
On this day, the Church celebrates Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem to accomplish his paschal mystery. Most parishes celebrate with a procession at their Masses, in which we commit ourselves to “walking with Christ” through his passion, death and Resurrection.
Tuesday of Holy Week
Often, today is the day when a special Mass, called the Chrism Mass, is celebrated at the cathedral.
At the Chrism Mass, the bishop blesses the oils that every church in the diocese will use over the next year for the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, and for the anointing of the sick. Also at that Mass, all priests renew their vows.
Today, we focus on the gift of the Eucharist. In local parish churches on Holy Thursday evening, we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Here, we remember the last meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples as he anticipated his passion and death. The Blessed Sacrament is removed from the main sanctuary and taken to a place of repose for adoration.
On Good Friday, we focus on the suffering and death of Jesus. We recognize that our sins come with a terrible price and that Jesus paid that price willingly out of love for us.
As part of this focus, we observe Good Friday as a day of fasting and abstinence.
There is no Mass on Good Friday; we have a Service of the Passion of the Lord, often at 3 p.m., which is traditionally held to be the moment of Jesus’ last breath.
This service begins in silence, with the priest laying prostrate before the cross. It continues with readings from Scripture, a homily and prayers for God’s blessings and mercy. Next, we adore the cross with a sign of reverence: often a kiss or a touch. The key is for us to show our gratitude for the means that God used to save us.
Finally, we bring the Blessed Sacrament out from the place of repose and receive Communion. The service ends in silence.
Continuing our walk with Christ, we will have spent Friday and Saturday “in the tomb” with Jesus. With our service on Holy Saturday, we move from the tomb to the glory of the Resurrection.
The service contains four parts: the service of light, Liturgy of the Word, Christian initiation and renewal and holy Eucharist.
The service of light begins outside, where we bless our Easter fire and paschal candle. The Mass begins inside in darkness to remind us of Jesus in the tomb.
The darkness in church continues as we move into the Liturgy of the Word, where we read multiple readings from the Old Testament that tell the story of salvation history through the ages. Then, the lights come on as we sing the Gloria together. The lights coming on and the Gloria being sung are the sign of our movement from the darkness of the tomb into the glory of the Resurrection. We haven’t sung or said the Gloria in more than six weeks, and we rejoice at this time. Often, you can bring bells to this service and ring them as we sing. We read from the New Testament and Gospel and have a homily.
We then bring into the Church those who have been preparing to do so for many months. We remember our own baptism, and thank God that we are a part of the long chain of salvation history through our membership in the Church, and we rejoice with those who are joining us in the family of faith.
We rejoice with great joy at Jesus’ victory over sin and death. His victory is our victory. We have hope and joy in our lives because of the wonder of Christ’s love conquering our sin and his life overcoming our death.
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Enjoy another day in God’s presence.
Father Joe Krupp is a former comedy writer who is now a Catholic priest.