Our celebration of Holy Week this year will be different from last year. Last year, our churches were closed to public worship due to the shutdown of the coronavirus. While services took place and were live streamed, so many of the faithful were not able to be present for them. This year each parish will make the best determination as to how to accommodate as many as possible under the safety protocols in place. The services again will be live streamed for those not attending so that participation can take place in this manner. Pope Francis’ words during Holy Week of last year are applicable this year as well: “Even if we are isolated, thought and spirit can go far with the creativity of love. This is what we need today: the creativity of love.” Certainly, during Holy Week, God expresses to us the fullness of the creativity of love in the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.
As we move through Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum, we are almost overwhelmed by the deep meaning and beauty of the liturgical celebrations which reveal to us God’s creative love. The wealth of what we celebrate gives us much to reflect on, not only during Holy Week, but during the entire season of Easter. As we began the season of Lent, the second reading of the Ash Wednesday Mass reminded us that “For our sakes, God made Him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in Him we might become the very holiness of God” (2 Cor. 5:20). St. Pope John Paul II referred to these words as “baffling.” He said, “What do these words mean? They seem, and in effect are, a paradox. How could God, who is holiness itself ‘make’ His only begotten Son, sent into the world ‘to be sin’? Yet this is exactly what we read in the passage from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. We are in the presence of a mystery: a mystery which at first sight is baffling but is clearly written in divine revelation. … Although Christ, the holy one, was absolutely sinless, he agreed to take our sins upon Himself. He agreed in order to redeem us; he agreed to bear our sins to fulfill the mission he had received from the Father.” This certainly is the fullness of God’s creative love in action.
Holy Week is the occasion of the celebration of the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral Church at which the bishop consecrates the Holy Chrism and blesses the other oils used in liturgical celebrations. This Mass is concelebrated with the priests of the Diocese and, in a particular way, manifests the communion of the priests with the bishop. I am very much looking forward to this celebration at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola which will take place Tuesday, March 30, at 11:00 a.m. The attendance will be limited to priests, deacons and religious but will be live streamed through links on the Diocese Website.
Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper as well as of the Priesthood through which the Lord continues to carry out His sacrifice among us. On Holy Thursday, we are reminded that every time we celebrate the Eucharist, Christ offers Himself to the Father and gives us His very self under the appearance of bread and wine. As Christ sat with His apostles in the upper room at Jerusalem for the Last Supper, He enjoined them to “do this in memory of me.” The Church is most the Church at the Eucharist where we are in communion with Christ and each other through His very Body and Blood. Holy Thursday and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper help us to appreciate the great gift of the Eucharist which is a living sign of the covenant between Christ and His People.
Good Friday takes a more somber turn for the week as we recall the sacrifice by which Christ achieved our redemption. On Palm Sunday the Lord is acclaimed as messiah as He triumphantly enters Jerusalem and is greeted with palm as a king. On Good Friday the tide of opinion turns against Christ and He is crucified between two thieves for the crime of claiming to be a king.
Holy Saturday is a unique day. It is silent. There is no public liturgical celebration, and our churches and tabernacles are empty. Holy Saturday recalls the reality that Christ truly died and entered the realm of the dead where, in silence, He called forth those who died to new life. There is a mysterious silence on Holy Saturday as we recall Christ lain in the tomb and among the dead.
However, as this silence and emptiness are experienced, there is expectation. In the evening, the Church will celebrate its most solemn liturgy, the Easter Vigil. On this evening, we will celebrate the new covenant that God has entered into with us and the fullness of life in Christ’s Resurrection. The forty days of Lent are brought to their culmination as the Eucharist is celebrated and we know that not even death has a hold on us. Christ breaks through the barriers of death, as well as all of time and space, and gives us the true meaning of life.
Holy Week, from the celebration of Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday, keeps before us the depth of God’s creative love for each and every one of us as expressed in St. Paul’s words. It is a love which freely assumes our sins, the Cross and even death, so we might share the life, holiness, and joy of God. It is a love which reminds us of the dignity and holiness we possess through the sacrifice of Christ. It is a love that gives us the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist on Holy Thursday. It is a love which identifies with our deepest sorrows through Christ’s suffering on the Cross on Good Friday and His descent among the dead on Holy Saturday. It is a love that gives us the holiness of God.
As together we celebrate this Holy Week in all of our parishes, whether we can be present in our churches or participate by means of live stream, may it be a time of grace and renewed assurance of God’s creative love which has been revealed upon the Cross. During this week we will be united in the deepest way possible through Christ who became sin so that we might become the very holiness of God.
A Blessed Holy Week!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
March 26, 2021