Holy Week is upon us. Beginning with Palm Sunday and concluding on Holy Saturday, Holy Week includes the Paschal Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, which immediately prepare us for the celebration of Easter. Holy Week also includes the celebration of the Chrism Mass which takes place in our Diocese on Tuesday, March 31, at 11:00 a.m., to which all the faithful are invited. Holy Week truly is the week of God's mercy which is revealed to us in the fullest manner on the Cross as Christ gave His life for us. It is also revealed in the celebration of the Mass of the Lord's Supper in which Christ gave us the gift of the Eucharist by which He continues to give Himself to us in His Body and in His Blood.
Pope Francis has announced an Extraordinary Jubilee Year for the Church which will begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015, and conclude on the solemnity of Christ the King, November 20, 2016. An Extraordinary Jubilee Year is one in which the doors of St. Peter's Basilica are opened to remind all of us of the call of Christ to accept His love in our lives. A Jubilee Year is generally celebrated every 25 years and the last one was called for by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000 to celebrate the new millennium. Pope Francis announced the Jubilee Year on March 13th, 2015, the second anniversary of his election as Pope. The theme for this Extraordinary Year will be that of mercy which has been A constant emphasis of Pope Francis' ministry.
How appropriate that the announcement of this special year of mercy comes in relation to our celebration of Holy Week this year. Again, Holy Week truly is the week of mercy as God reveals the depth of His love for us in His Son giving His life on the Cross. During this week we are reminded in a most vivid manner that "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not die but may have eternal life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him" (Jn 3: 16 – 17). This week of mercy celebrates most intently what we heard in the word of God at the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, "For our sakes God made Him who do not know sin to be sin, so that in Him we might become the very holiness of God" (2 Cor 5:21).
Pope Francis has a tremendous devotion to Mary, our Blessed Mother. He emphasized this on the occasion of his second anniversary and his devotion to her is quite evident in his spirituality. So deep is this devotion to Mary, that, he chose to open the Jubilee Year on the Feast of her Immaculate Conception as a sign of the mercy of God extended to us through the intercession of Mary. As we celebrate Holy Week, it is well for us to realize what a significant role Mary played during this week as well as the expression of God's mercy that she is to us.
Mary's role during Holy Week is most evident on Good Friday as she stood beneath the Cross of her Son and participated in His suffering in a most intense and unique manner. We cannot begin to imagine the suffering she felt as she experienced her Son falsely condemned as a criminal and crucified as one in a most agonizing manner. She experienced His closest followers abandoning Him and had to have felt the words proclaimed by Simeon when she presented Christ in the Temple shortly after His birth, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Lk 2: 34 – 35). It is on the Cross that Jesus gives Mary to us as our Mother who will always be the one to reveal His mercy to us from that Cross in which she participated in an intimate manner.
Mary is also present to us in an extraordinary manner at the Last Supper. She was not with the Apostles who celebrated that meal with Jesus. However, as Jesus gives us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, she is present to us as it was from her body and blood that Jesus came into the world. St. Pope John Paul II constantly emphasized this reality and the close proximity that Mary had to the Last Supper and to the Eucharist. It is a reality which emphasizes her special role in the life of the Lord as well as the mystery of the Incarnation by which Christ came and continues to come to us.
Mercy is a reminder of the depth of God's love for us. God created us out of love but redeemed us out of mercy. Mercy is truly the expression of forgiveness and God's forgiveness is unlimited. Mercy is the aspect of God's love which reveals how much our love for God means to Him. He gave His Son in order that we might turn to Him in a real and loving relationship. In His extraordinary encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, which is on the mercy of God, St. Pope John Paul II expressed how God cannot reveal Himself in any other manner but mercy. He wrote, "For mercy is an indispensable dimension of love; it is as if it were love’s second name and at the same time, the specific manner in which love is revealed and affected vis-à-vis the reality of evil that is in the world.”
In Dives in Misericordia, St. Pope John Paul II reflected upon another extraordinary revelation of mercy in the life of Mary. He expressed that "Mary is also the one who obtained mercy in a particular and exceptional way, as no other person has." At first this seems surprising since Mary was completely free from sin. We might wonder how she could obtain mercy when she was one who did not need it. However, St. Pope John Paul II explained that Mary allowed herself to receive the free gifts of God which she knew she did not deserve. In accepting these gifts she accepted the mercy of God in a manner that not only acknowledged God's abundance but her limitations. In this she reveals to us how God desires to share His love in a lavish way with all of us no matter what our limitations may be.
As Holy Week, the week of mercy, is upon us, it is a good time for us to reflect upon God's infinite mercy shown to each of us. As we participate in the celebrations of the week, let us not be hesitant to be open to God's mercy and to realize how much He wants to bestow it upon us. Let us in a special way look to our Mother, Mary, given to us on Good Friday as one who reveals God's mercy and also shows us how to accept it in our lives.
A blessed Holy Week and Easter to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
March 27, 2015