If You Skip Holy Week Liturgies, You’re Truly Missing Out
For a long time I referred to Easter Monday (the day after Easter) as my favorite day of the whole year. When asked why, my tongue-in-cheek answer was always, “Because it is the farthest away from Holy Week.”
At the risk of sound scandalous I used to say that all the time because I was so stressed by the Holy Week schedule. The Catholic liturgy for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil is a very different animal from all the other liturgies of the year, and for a long time I really had to re-learn what the heck I was doing for these important days of commemoration.
Now that I have several years under my belt, I have gotten to the point where I really get into Holy Week and the Triduum celebrations. They really are the most beautiful thing the Catholic Church does in its liturgy, and if you don’t normally make it a habit to go to your parish for these days, you are truly missing out.
Holy Week has been known by other names throughout history. It has been called “Major Week,” “Greater Week,” “Passion Week,” “Paschal Week,” “Authentic Week” and also “Painful Week.” All of them are accurate titles, but “Holy Week” captures them all.
As can be figured by the name, it is the holiest time of the year for all Christians, and for the Catholic Church the three days of the Triduum (which literally means “three days”) act as one single liturgy.
This is why at the end of the Holy Thursday Mass there is no final blessing and dismissal and why Good Friday is technically not a Mass but a threefold liturgy of the Word, Adoration of the Cross and Eucharist, again with no dismissal.
And then of course the supreme day and liturgy is the Easter Vigil, taking place after dark, the day on which new members are added to the church by baptism and confirmations.
Interestingly the early church believed that the second coming of Christ would happen on the evening of the Easter Vigil, and who knows? It could still happen.
One of the “apologetics”-type questions I have been asked over the years has to do with the three days Christ was in the tomb.
The questioner will ask, “How do we figure it to be three days when we commemorate his death on Friday and then on Saturday night we celebrate his resurrection? It seems more like 30 hours than it does three days.”
Liturgically speaking, the Catholic Church has adopted the ancient Jewish concept of the day. According to the Jewish concept, a day does not start at midnight, it starts at sundown. This is why since the second Vatican Council we have had vigil Masses on Saturday evenings that count for the Sunday Mass. Ask any old-timers and they will tell you there was no such thing as a Saturday evening Mass when they were growing up.
So going back to the three days Christ spent in the tomb, he was buried on Good Friday soon after he died, he remained in the tomb Saturday, and after sundown on Saturday it was officially Sunday, the first day of the week. This accounts for the three days and for why the Easter Vigil starts late, to make time for the third day and allow for the darkness, which is washed away by the light of the Paschal Candle and individual candles that we each hold during this most solemn celebration.
Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday, which is April 9th this year. I always try to cajole you, my parishioners, to go to as many of the Holy Week liturgies as possible.
As I mentioned above, if you don’t traditionally make it a habit of taking advantage of Holy Week, you really do not know what you are missing. Easter has so much greater meaning for us personally when we do Holy Week right.
Come to our parishes and enter into these beautiful celebrations that have no parallel. I do not think you will regret it. —Father Rich
A Commentary about the Relic of the True Cross, from the Papal Artifacts’ Collection:
The spirituality of the Popes, just like the rest of us, will take different forms. And some Popes have been really engrossed in things, such as relics. And this artifact is a relic of the True Cross of Christ owned by Pope Clement XI. He was Pope from 1700-1721, just to give you an idea of the time we are referring to.
Of course there are a lot of spurious relics of the True Cross out there. But I’m totally convinced that St. Helena brought back the original true cross. The mother of Constantine traveled to the Holy Land and found the True Cross, and she brought it back to Rome. However, over time, a lot of people have produced fake relics of the cross and pawned them off as real.
The best bet we have of authenticating this one, as a relic of the true cross, is that it was actually owned by the Pope, and he actually prayed with it.
And so what we have here is a relic of the true cross. It’s in a silver case, a very nice silver case. On one side it says, in Latin, “Lignum S. S. Crucis”, meaning it is a portion of the True Cross.
On the other side it has an image of the Pope’s coat of arms, and the date, 1703. And then when you open it up, there is a beautiful crystal cross that is sewn together with gold threading and small slivers of the cross are on the inside.
It’s just a beautiful item. And the fact that it was owned by one of the Holy Fathers makes it quite unique as well.
The fact is that this relic is so sacred and important to our spirituality and to who we are as Christians. It makes me not want to leave it in a box somewhere, so I have often used it for catechesis.
I keep this close to myself to use for my own prayer life. It’s a way of having that connection to Christ crucified. Obviously, but also, it’s another way of being connected to a pope who was also praying with it.
So it’s a very unique piece that I personally used in my own spirituality, and it is one of these humbling things to have one of these.
If there’s a relic of the True Cross that’s authentic, then this one is with the highest level of certitude, because the Pope owned it. It’s a very beautiful item and very precious.
The Vatican is the organization that has the care of the true cross that came from St. Helen, mother of Constantine, in the 4th century. So the Vatican always had a portion of the true cross.
The fact that this was owned by the Pope with the reliquary in his own personal possession lends credence to the authenticity of this item. — Father Rich