I HAVE ALWAYS loved Holy Week. As I anticipate the next few days, I am recalling some experiences that I have had of Holy Week in years past. All are fond memories.
For some reason, the first image that comes to mind is the procession around the parish church on Holy Thursday. Probably the image goes back to when I was in high school. I can almost smell the incense. Honoring Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament was an awesome experience on Holy Thursday. That image is followed by many memories of celebrating Holy Week in the major seminary. One of the conversion experiences I had as a major seminarian was the realization of the uniqueness of liturgical prayer, that it was Christ praying, and we, as baptized followers, were participating in Christ’s prayer. For me, that was one of the most astonishing truths, and I discovered it just a few years prior to being ordained a priest.
An example may clarify the difference between liturgical and private prayer. When I say an Our Father alone in my room, the value of that prayer depends on my relationship with the Father. When I pray an Our Father in a Eucharistic celebration, the value of that prayer depends on Christ’s relationship with the Father. The words – “through Christ Our Lord” – that end many prayers in a liturgical celebration can be taken literally. In a liturgical celebration, all prayers are made through Christ Our Lord, because it is the risen Christ who is praying.
All of the memories that are entering my consciousness are motivating me to observe Holy Week 2018 as devoutly and intelligently as I can. I must not allow any part of this week to be just routine. The possibilities of meeting God in a deeper way within the next few days are too wonderful and exciting to not be ready and willing for this encounter to take place.
In preparing for Holy Week, I re-read parts of a book that had a profound impact on me as a young priest: Benedictine Father Cyprian Vagaggini’s “Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy,” translated by Leonard J. Doyle, Vol. 1 (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1959, pp. 242). Father Vagaggini writes:
“Actually every Mass realizes in a sort of foreshortened way the whole object of the liturgy, and the other rites are only preparations for, or consequences of, this essential act; they simply bring to light one or another aspect of the unique mystery which every Mass expresses and fulfils in its entirety.
“The fullness of the Mass comes from the fact that it is a sacrament and a sacrifice at the same time.
“It is the sacrament which contains and communicates Christ in person, Author of all sanctification as God, and Mediator of all sanctification as Man.
“As a sacrifice, the Mass is Christ’s own sacrifice of Himself, source and type of all worship rendered to God by men. Christ offers this sacrifice to God through the ministry of the priest; and the Church offers this sacrifice to God through the ministry of the priest; and the Church makes it her own, as the highest expression of her worship, in as much as she offers it with the priest just as Christ does, and offers herself in sacrifice with Him.” (pp. 84-85)
There are two images going through my head as I type this column. One image is of a journey; the other is of an adventure. Holy Week is like a journey with Christ. We call to mind the week when Jesus entered Jerusalem, being cheered by crowds, and we call to mind His suffering, crucifixion, death and resurrection. But we do not merely look back. Rather, we are united with Christ as we celebrate. We participate in the journey because of the presence of the risen Christ in our lives and in the Holy Week liturgy. That liturgy is not a history lesson; it is an amazing, awesome action. It is a sacramental, liturgical celebration of the reenactment of past events, led by the risen Christ.
My image of Holy Week as an adventure fits with the view that Christian life is an adventure. In any adventure story, acts that involve risk are freely performed. Holy Week presents Jesus’ actions and His complete trust in His Father’s love.
Holy Week challenges us to imitate Jesus’ trust and to make our lives an adventure in love.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Profound Personalism and Poverty” (Resurrection Press).