The Sorrow and Joy of Holy Week

Triduum How beautiful is this Holy Week leading up to our Easter celebrations!  (And I’m not talking about the weather!)  Holy Thursday mass is one of the most spiritually moving masses you will encounter, second only to the Easter Vigil and Easter morning.  If you haven’t ever had the chance to go, and your children are of an age that they are able to sit through mass, I encourage you to go and take your sweet kiddos!

Of the many reasons I love this mass, one is that I am always amazed as the story of the washing of feet comes to life.  As the priest passes from person to person washing their feet, you feel like Peter did – that somehow this holy man should not be doing this servant’s job.   And those who are getting their feet washed tend to be a bit uncomfortable, perhaps feeling humbled and unworthy to have their feet washed by the priest that leads us in mass every week.  I’m sure that the apostles, too, squirmed in their seats a bit as Jesus passed from one to another, demonstrating the love of a servant.

But this washing of the feet is only one part of the Holy Thursday mass.  After the Liturgy of the Eucharist, celebrating the Last Supper, and everyone has received communion, the mass doesn’t end as it usually does.  In fact it doesn’t truly end at all, as it passes to the other holy days of the Triduum, the three holy days leading up to Easter.  Instead of the closing hymn and regular blessings, the Body of Christ is placed in the monstrance and processed out of the church in a beautiful display of reverence.  In a symbolic way, it is the removal of Christ from the church as Christ himself withdrew to the Garden of Gethsemane.  After the Body of Christ leaves the church, the sanctuary undergoes a moving transformation, as all linens, plants, candles and other decorations are removed from the front of the church.  After the sanctuary has been stripped, the tabernacle door is left open and the red candle extinguished, revealing that Christ has truly left this place.  The bells of our church toll solemnly as all the people depart in silence.  I personally am tearful and emotional when experiencing this moving ritual, but a couple of years ago, I was privileged to watch my son encounter this holy mass.  We had been observing and participating in this mass that night and as the bells tolled, I turned to gather our family to leave.  I looked at my then 7-year old son, and tears were streaming down his face.  He was sobbing and I held him and I was so moved that he truly understood what Jesus did for all of us.  I was blessed to be there for him at this momentous occasion in his faith life.

ATriduum2fter Holy Thursday service, those that wish can go to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the side chapel of our church where the monstrance is displayed with candles all around.  This is intended to represent Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, in his agony as he waited for his betrayer to come to him.  Sometime in the night, the Body of Christ is removed from the chapel just as Christ was arrested and taken from the garden.

Good Friday service isn’t truly a mass, as no consecration takes place, but it does involve both the distribution of communion that was consecrated on Thursday.  It also includes the veneration of the cross.  In front of our church, a life sized rough wooden cross is placed on the floor at the front of the church along with the nails and tools and a crown of thorns.  It truly allows you to vividly envision crucifixion and death.

Holy Saturday mass is when all of the RCIA candidates enter the Church, but it is also the beautiful reentry of Christ back into the sanctuary.  First, the mass involves seven sets of readings that takes us from Creation, through Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and prophesies up to Christ.  Up to this point, throughout all the readings, the church has been rather dimly lit and the front of the church is the same as it was left on Holy Thursday.    But when the Alleluia is sung before the gospel, the lights are turned on brightly and the altar cloth is joyfully processed to the front of the church with it held high above the carriers’ heads like a flag of victory.  The front of the church is redecorated even more beautifully than before with Easter lilies everywhere.  Music is played again and upon the consecration Christ is again in the church and the red candle is relit!

Christ is victorious over sin and death!  And as you enter into the church on Easter Sunday morning, know that we share in his resurrection from death so that the gates of Heaven are opened and Christ bridges that space between Heaven and Earth!

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