Reflections for the sacred days Holy Week by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
As the Holy Season of Lent draws to a close and Holy Week begins, it is time for all Catholics to prepare deeply for the Church’s annual commemoration of the Lord Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection.
The Fifth Sunday in Lent which we have just celebrated was referred to as “Passion Sunday” before the reform of the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar in 1969. It marked the beginning of a two-week period before Easter formerly known as “Passiontide” when the Gospel account of the Passion of the Lord was first read and emphasis was placed in the liturgy and prayers of the Catholic Church upon Jesus’ betrayal, condemnation, suffering and death. Crosses and statues in churches were covered in purple or scarlet on “Passion Sunday” and remained covered until the end of Holy Week.
Except in Catholic communities that maintain the 1962 liturgical calendar and celebrate the rituals of the extraordinary form, the Church no longer calls the Fifth Sunday of Lent “Passion Sunday” nor does it use the expression “Passiontide” to refer to the two weeks preceding Easter. The custom of draping crosses and statues, however, has continued with the approval of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with crosses unveiled after Good Friday services.
Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, is now referred to as “Passion Sunday,” with the Gospel accounts of the Passion of the Lord proclaimed.
As the Catholic Church moves closer to Holy Week, Pope Francis has reminded us:
“Holy Week is a privileged time when we are called to draw near Jesus: friendship with him is shown in times of difficulty. … To experience Holy Week is to enter more and more into God’s logic of love and self-giving” (March 30, 2015).
“Living Holy Week following the Lord Jesus means learning how to come out of ourselves to reach out to others, to go to the outskirts of existence, to be the first to move toward our brothers and sisters, especially those who are most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, consolation and help. There is so much need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love” (March 27, 2013).
“When we have our back to the wall, when we find ourselves at a dead end, with no light and no way of escape, when it seems that God himself is not responding, we should remember that we are not alone … That is the extent to which Jesus served us: he descended into the abyss of our most bitter sufferings, culminating in betrayal … We were put in this world to love him and our neighbors. Everything else passes away, only this remains … to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. (Pray) for the grace to live in order to serve. May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others” (April 5, 2020).
Here are some special thoughts and liturgical prayers for your Holy Week meditations.
GOSPEL: When the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him and cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel” (John 12:13).
“Palm Sunday is the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way toward the culmination of his earthly existence. … May Palm Sunday be a day of decision for you, the decision to say yes to the Lord and to follow him all the way, the decision to make his Passover, his death and resurrection the very focus of your Christian lives. It is the decision that leads to true joy … As the people of Jerusalem spread their coats before the Lord, we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration before Christ” (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, April 1, 2012).
“Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who meet him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us” (St. Andrew of Crete, Sermon).
Let us pray. Almighty ever-living God, who as an example of humility for the human race to follow caused our Savior to take on flesh and submit to the Cross, graciously grant that we may heed his lesson of patient suffering and so merit a share in his Resurrection. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.
GOSPEL: So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do (John 13:13-15).
Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise, the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you (Luke 22:19-20).
“The washing of the feet and the sacrament of the Eucharist: two expressions of one and the same mystery of love entrusted to the disciples, so that, Jesus says, ‘as I have done … so also you must do’” (Pope St. John Paul II, Homily, April 17, 2003).
“What does Jesus Christ do in the Eucharist? It is God, who, as our savior, offers himself each day for us to his Father’s justice. If you are in difficulties and sorrows, he will comfort and relieve you. If you are sick, he will either cure you or give you strength to suffer so as to merit Heaven. If the devil, the world, and the flesh are making war on you, he will give you the weapons with which to fight, to resist, and to win victory. If you are poor, he will enrich you with all sorts of riches for time and eternity. Let us open the door to his sacred and adorable Heart and be wrapped about for an instant by the flames of his love, and we shall see what a God who loves us can do” (St. John Vianney).
Let us pray. O God who have called us to participate in this most Sacred Supper in which your Only-begotten Son, when about to hand himself over to death, entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of his love, grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity and of life. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.
GOSPEL: It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit;” and when he had said this he breathed his last (Luke 23:44-46).
“As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs. We see his blood as he dies. We see the price offered by the redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection. He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were, in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you. His whole body is displayed for your redemption. Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind: as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you, so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul” (St. Augustine, Commentary on Scriptures).
“Behold, Jesus Christ crucified, who is the only foundation of our hope; He is our mediator and advocate; the victim and sacrifice for our sins. He is goodness and patience itself; His mercy is moved by the tears of sinners, and he never refuses pardon and grace to those who ask it with a truly contrite and humbled heart” (St. Charles Borromeo).
Let us pray. O god, who by the passion of Christ your Son, our Lord, abolished the death inherited from ancient sin by every succeeding generation, grant that, just as being conformed to him, we have borne by the law of nature the image of the man of earth, so by the sanctification of grace we may bear the image of the Man of Heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
HOLY SATURDAY MORNING
GOSPEL: They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by (John 19:40-42).
“His Cross stands empty in a world grown silent. Through hours of anguish and of dread, in stillness, earth awaits the Resurrection while Christ goes down to wake the dead” (Anonymous).
“Even on the Cross, He did not hide himself from sight; rather, He made all creation witness to the presence of its maker. Then, having once left it be seen that is was truly dead, He did not allow that temple of his body to linger long, but forthwith on third day raised it up, impassible and incorrupt, the pledge and token of his victory” (St. Athanasius of Alexandria).
Let us pray. All-powerful and ever-living God, your only Son went down among the dead and rose again in glory. In your goodness raise up your faithful people, buried with him in baptism, to be one with him in the eternal life of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.
In faith, now, we watch and wait.