Some Insights on Holy Week Ceremonies
Easter is around the corner. From Ash Wednesday when we received ashes to remind us about our immortal nature, the need for humility and repentance, we have been journeying with Christ through the traditional Lenten observances of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. What is more, by following Jesus in the Via Dolorosa, (Stations of the Cross), the Church expects us to reflect on the lessons of this Holy Season. Ash Wednesday was principally supposed to prepare us spiritually for the Holy Week Ceremonies. I am, therefore, delighted to share some insights on holy week ceremonies with you.
If we must reflect on the length of Lent, it is imperative to understand that this sublime and awesome season have irresistible spiritual meals for both private and public upliftment. While we try to understand the message of this season, we must also appreciate the fact that its lessons are inexhaustive and mystery unexplainable. To attempt a full grasp of what the Lenten and Easter season puts before us is to be eternal like God.
Indeed, for serious-minded Christians, the forty days fasting has been engaging. They must have also worn the breastplate of sanctity through prayer and almsgiving. This privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ is a sweet yoke which has further increased our chances of growing in holiness and charity. These days are meant to prepare us for the Holy Week in which Christ would face his passion.
Palm or Passion Sunday sets the tone for the Holy Week Celebrations. It begins with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Cf. Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19) to face his passion. Liturgically, Christians process with palms as a sign of hope that his passion would lead to his resurrection. The celebration is an admixture of joy and sadness. Joy because Christ is publicly proclaimed as King from the Davidic dynasty and sadness because would die for the sins of the world.
The re-enactment of the paschal mystery in a real and profound way (anamnesis) gives us an opportunity to share in his passion and grow in holiness. Holy Week ceremonies recall the desolate state of man before redemption occasioned by the first fall from the original state of blessedness; it then projects the restoration of fallen-humanity through Christ’s self-abnegation and supreme sacrifice on Calvary. In biblical typology, Christ became the new Adam and Mary his Mother, the new Eve so that what was lost by the old Adam and Eve respectively, are restored by the new.
Chrism Mass/Holy Thursday & Mass Lord’s Supper
The Sacred Paschal Triduum which “begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday.’ This forms the crescendo of the paschal mystery. Chrism Mass through which sacramental oils of chrism (for baptism, ordination, consecration and dedication), catechumens (those preparing for baptism) and the sick, are blessed by the bishop for the Church’s use throughout the year, becomes the occasion where priests renew their priestly commitment before their bishop ‘to signify the unity of the presbyterate of the diocese…”
Most dioceses have their respective Chrism Masses on Tuesday of the Holy Week. This is to give priests ample opportunity to travel back to their parishes and prepare for the Triduum. It is the case of pastoral exigencies. Equally important is the cathedradicum (derived from the Latin cathedra, which stands for the bishop’s seat/chair in the cathedral from where he shepherd’s over the diocese) – The custom of parishes bringing gifts to the bishop for the poor and building of the diocese. As earlier stated, this takes place on the Tuesday of the Holy Week, Holy Thursday or as the local ordinary (bishop) deems fit.
At the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s super, Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet remains the paragon of servant leadership. On the night before he suffered, Christ instituted the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders. A sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace ordained by Christ. By saying: “Do this in memory of me,” he leaves us with an ageless mandate for the strengthening and spiritual renewal of the Church. Ordination becomes the prerequisite for a valid celebration of the sacraments.
Good Friday is so named because Christ died on this day to redeem humanity. The Church mourns him from Friday (when the last Stations of the Cross is observed or passion play is dramatised), through Holy Saturday to his triumphant resurrection. This is the only day in the life of the Church that Mass is not celebrated; this is because, Jesus’ bloody sacrifice at Calvary is one and the same with the bloodless sacrifice of the Mass. Rather, the veneration of the cross takes place. This symbolic gesture must not be associated with idolatry. Rather, it is akin to laying-in-state that takes place in most cultures when someone dies.
Where do we come in as individuals and members of a larger society? Well, the crowd at Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem rolled out the drums for him in a red carpet fashion. But what happened next? Your guess is as good as mine. In like manner, many will happily grace your child’s naming ceremony or your wedding, ordination, graduation, birthday party or even swearing-in as a newly elected leader. They will sing your praises like Simeon the devout or Anna the prophetess. They will celebrate you. They will decree you to prosperity. Will you be cowed by those? Well, ask Jesus – the mammoth crowed at Jerusalem gave him a red-carpet treatment only to roll it off his feet.
Remember, Judas’ kiss was a shave with death. Have you ever been betrayed by the cheerful countenance, meek smile and innocent hug of friends or family? How about the politician’s alluring and electrifying campaign manifesto? What does wanting to be noticed, celebrated or being in the spotlight say to you? Well, it is up to us – to either beware or be cowed by the VIP treatment.
On Holy Saturday, the world is in total darkness as the Son of Justice lay in the tomb. The world is in total disarray. The sin of Adam tied man to abysmal realties. The scars of fallen humanity became pronounced. What was to be the place of the prophecies of world? Seemingly, Holy Saturday presents a hopeless case. It also paints a picture of the enemies’ victory. The disciples are in fear, the Scribes and Pharisees, elders of the people and indeed, the soldiers were celebrating.
The disciples were afraid and in confusion. They thought it has ended. How would he who fed the hungry, walked on water, changed water into wine and raised Lazarus from the dead be killed like a chicken? They could not connect his earlier statements that “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19) with his death. They could not fathom the whole drama. They were pained, aghast and timid because they felt the Roman soldiers would come for them. It is in these unclear circumstances that the whole Church waits the miracle of Easter.
St. Paul’s timeless remark that “if Christ has not being raised, our faith would have been in vain” (1 Cor. 15:17) aptly captures the sentiments of the Easter celebration. It is a statement of fact that the historical Jesus broke history as the only person who foresaw his death but willingly died and rose again. Therefore, the Easter celebration is the focal point of the Christian faith. This is why in keeping with apostolic tradition, Christians go to Church every Sunday, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7) to celebrate the little-Easter.
Easter gives us hope about eschatological realities and the second coming of Christ in glory. It sets the militant Church on course towards its eventual reunion with the Church triumphant. What is more, Easter gives us confidence that we shall be dignified at the end of time with eternal glory. The celebration of Easter places before us opportunities to raise others just as Christ, who opened the graves of the dead upon his resurrection.
The Season of Easter challenges us to reform our lives and the larger society in the way of sacrificial-love and peaceful coexistence. The sentries’ watch could not keep him; the campaign of calumny could not hold sway and the grave could not hold him. The resurrected Christ lives and he alone can push us to action. Therefore, our eyes must look yonder rather than pry on inconsequentialities occasioned by the red-carpet metaphor. Unless we connect in a deep and personal way with the over two thousand years old event, the activities surrounding Jesus’ resurrection would only remain a distant occurrence from us. Always remember: “We are an Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” Have a fabulous Easter celebration!