I confess that I still get excited and inspired by Holy Week, and I hope I always will. This experience goes back to my days as a grammar school student. I do not know whether I should be most grateful to my family, the sisters who taught me in grammar school, or parish priests. Probably to all of them, for communicating that Holy Week is a special week for Catholics and indeed for all Christians.
I recall that I kept the three hours silence for a few years in grammar school during Good Friday. I kept the silence alone, walking around my neighborhood, probably visiting church, reading Scripture. There may have been more than a small dose of pride in my observance of the silence since I was the only one of my contemporaries who did it.
When I was in the major seminary, my theological understanding of the church’s liturgy took a quantum leap that has lasted until today.
All of salvation history is reviewed in the Holy Week ceremonies but not how we might recall other histories. Holy Week celebrations are not academic exercises but rather actions we perform as the Body of Christ.
The primary celebrant at any liturgical function is the Risen Lord, and we, as His Mystical Body, join with Christ in the celebration. As I reflected on Holy Week 2021, I came upon an excellent essay I had read several years ago. I was not searching for it. I came upon it by chance. Or was finding it due to Divine Providence? The essay by Paul J. Wadell appeared in the Nov. 21st, 2016 issue of the Jesuit magazine America. Its title is “Not Settling for Less.” In just a few pages, Wadell offers some wonderful insights into the virtue of hope. He writes the following:
“Hope is inescapably a gift. Hope is the gift God bestows on us so that we can turn our lives to God, seek God, grow in the love and goodness of God, and someday know the unbroken beatitude that comes from living in perfect communion with God. If hope arises from the desire for something good, then Christian hope is naturally audacious because Christian hope reaches for an unsurpassable good we already, if imperfectly, possess: the very life, love, goodness, and joy of God …
“… Hope is nurtured and strengthened through the Eucharist because every time we gather for worship, we are reminded of who we are, what we are about, and where we are going. At the Eucharist, we remember that we, thanks to our baptism, have been incorporated into the story of God, a story that is much more promising and blessed than anything we could offer ourselves …
“… The Eucharist is crucial for nurturing hope because the Eucharist forms us into a people of gratitude, people whose stance toward life is marked by thanksgiving and praise.” (pp.20, 22)
I suspect that not everyone who reads this column will be able to attend the Holy Week Services. I urge those who cannot, to celebrate Holy Week in some other way. One possible way that comes to my mind is reading the services’ texts and reflecting on them — perhaps using them as private prayers on the days that the liturgical celebrations take place or watching the services on television. In some way, we should avoid allowing Holy Week to be for us just like every other week, “nothing but business as usual.”
We live in a society that does not often celebrate publicly what we believe as Catholic Christians. I think that today, in several ways, we are called to be counter-cultural. Not easy to do. Not easy to allow our Christian identity to deepen and broaden. We are involved in God’s story, but the church’s voice is one of the few voices that remind us of this. All sorts of other stories are thrust at us, and we need help to allow our faith, hope, and love not to diminish or weaken but to broaden and deepen.
In some ways, Holy Week is the most important week of the year for us. In any way we can, we should allow ourselves to be deeply touched and influenced by this week.
By a Christocentric conscience, I mean a conscience centered on the Risen Christ, shaped by His teachings and presence in our lives, and a will strengthened by His grace and blessings. There are many ways that this can happen in our lives. I think Holy Week is one of them. There is no story equal to the story into which God has invited us. Holy Week can help us to deepen our involvement in that story.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.