This Sunday is Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. It is the beginning of Holy Week and the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem to accomplish His Paschal Mystery. For the Catholic Church it is the week of ceremonies and rituals that recall the last days in the life of the Savior. Small changes occur in the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist…most clearly the color of the vestments, red becomes the norm on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. White becomes the standard at the celebration of the ancient Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday morning, and white again is the color at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
The change in colors represents a transitional phase for the Church in the celebration of Holy Week. During this week we are keenly reminded of the Passion in the readings, especially when the Gospel is proclaimed and the actual events of Holy Week are recalled in the narrative reading of the Passion.
Throughout the week the theme of the suffering servant becomes all the more poignant, and the deep realization of Christ’s suffering and death becomes acutely apparent. The red vestments, the starkness of the stripped Church and Altar loudly speaks through the silence and emptiness that we have lost the Messiah to the sinister triumph of darkness. However, the eclipse of evil is short lived. The Father will raise Jesus from the dead, and our understanding of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament will be consummated in new life.
This is a magnificent week of remembrance and celebration. Holy Week for the Catholic Church is a mini-theological retreat, divided by days and events that herald the Paschal Mystery. During the week our ancient roots in the Jewish faith are entwined with the events of Jesus’ life. We are reminded that Our Lord gathered with his Apostles to celebrate the Passover. It is precisely here in the Passover celebration Jesus provided us with a new Passover, a new Covenant, a new Church.
Palm Sunday will mark the triumphant Jesus entering into Jerusalem. Holy Thursday evening will signal the spiraling events that lead Jesus to the Cross and Holy Saturday will prepare us for the power of the Resurrection. All of these events show us clearly how we as believers profess our faith, fall into temptation, stumble and hope for forgiveness. Easter Sunday will manifest the greatest example of the Father’s love…new life. Once again our liturgical celebrations reflect our beliefs and prayer.
In a reflection of the ancient practices of the Church, Holy Thursday morning will cast off the purple of Lent and white vestments will signify celebration. The Church will renew the Sacred Oils that are used in the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick.
Solemn celebration will accompany the blessing of the Sacred Chrism, the Olea Sancta and the Olea Infirmandi. These oils will supply the Church’s sacraments throughout the next year and will convey the power of the Spirit through their applications. The Chrism Mass will witness the renewal of priestly promises, recall the institution of Holy Orders. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper will recall the institution of the Holy Eucharist and recount the events that will lead to Calvary.
Throughout the entire week, the Church reminds its followers that there is a journey taking place. We are participating with Jesus in the Paschal Mystery. This participation not only recalls the historical events of Holy Week, it recounts the journey of Catholic sacramental and theological life. Our progression as a Church towards the Easter celebration, throughout the ages and ultimately union with the Father, is the destination of our journey. The stigma of the cross is transcended by resurrection and the power of the Father. It is precisely through the cross that the love of the Father manifests itself through the Resurrection.
We uniquely participate in our sacramental lives with Jesus in this mystery through the Sacraments of Initiation and Eucharist. We need to remember always that we are an Easter People…called from the darkness of sin into new light and life through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Holy Week permits us to appreciate the rich theological history of all of the signs and symbols of our faith. It allows us a “breathing-space” in which we might participate in our liturgical high holy days.
We recall our ancestry with the Children of Israel and our close relationship with them. We commemorate and celebrate our Sacraments, and we participate in a restored confidence in the power of the Father over all creation. What a week. What a journey. What an experience.
Catholics throughout the world should savor this time, use Holy Week as a means of retreat, restoration and renewal of personal faith, as well as a time to participate most fully in the Church’s sacramental life.
After all, Holy Week is the manifestation of our destiny as believers; that is eternal life with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.