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Bishop's Column

Bishop Barbarito Column

March 22, 2024

Holy Week – A Time of Grace

We began Lent on Ash Wednesday by being signed with the Cross on our foreheads. That sign was placed before us to signify that the Cross of Christ was to be uppermost on our minds during this season of Lent. Since Ash Wednesday was on Valentine’s Day this year, it was appropriate to reflect upon the Cross as the sign of God’s loving heart for each of us. As we now come to Holy Week, we reflect upon the Cross in a most concentrated manner, and we likewise experience the heart of God in a more concentrated manner. Each day during Holy Week, we enter more deeply into the mystery of the Cross, for by it we come to know the Resurrection, which we will celebrate at Easter. Pope Francis recently referred to Holy Week as “a time of grace” to be dedicated to prayer. 

Palm Sunday recounts the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The crowds enthusiastically greet Jesus by waving palm branches before Him, treating Him as royalty. However, we know that that same crowd, who so triumphantly greeted Him, will be the same crowd who will crucify Him. Palms remind us that Jesus is the King, but Holy Week reminds us that He reigns as King upon the Cross, where He pours out His love for us. In many cultures it is customary to bring a piece of palm to someone’s house as a sign of peace. Truly, the peace we bring is that of Christ Himself.

The Tuesday of Holy Week within our Diocese brings the celebration of the Chrism Mass to which all the faithful are invited. This Mass is a celebration of the call to all in the Church to holiness. The holy oils and chrism which are blessed and consecrated will be used around the Diocese to celebrate the Sacraments. They also will be used at the Easter Vigil to welcome new members into the Church. We are all called to a real relationship with God, and growing in that relationship is what holiness is all about. The Chrism Mass has a special significance for priests, as at the celebration priests renew their commitment to their call to be ministers of holiness to all the People of God. The Chrism Mass is a vivid reminder that the Cross of Christ is the means by which He shows us how much He wants to enter into a real relationship with us. It is also a reminder of how priests carry out their ministry from the heart of Christ. 

The Wednesday of Holy Week is popularly called “Spy Wednesday.” This day we reflect upon the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. It reminds us that all of us, in some way or another, betray the Lord and are not faithful to Him. However, these betrayals never stop the Lord from loving us. He went to His Cross for us and took our sins upon Himself. Jesus went to the Cross even for Judas and would have forgiven Judas from His heart had he but turned back to the Lord. Even Peter betrayed Christ, but he was willing to seek His forgiveness.

Holy Thursday is the beginning of the great Easter Triduum. On this day, we celebrate the great gift of the Eucharist which Jesus instituted at the Last Supper. The Eucharist is the most sublime of gifts which God has given to us. In this great Sacrament, we transcend time and space and literally enter into the saving action of Jesus through which He again gives Himself to the Father on the Cross. He also gives to us the gift of Himself in the Eucharist as food for our journey during this life. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening is the last one that is celebrated before the Easter Vigil. After the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is reposed for adoration in which we give thanks to God for this great gift and prepare ourselves to enter into the Easter mystery.

Good Friday places before us the Cross and the Sacred Heart of Christ in its most vivid manner. It is the day on which opinion turns against Christ and He is crucified between two thieves for the crime of claiming to be a king. All of the physical suffering, humiliation and abandonment that the Lord endured, He accepted for us. His sacrifice on the Cross replaces the symbolic lamb of sacrifice in the Old Testament. The many offerings of the past give way to the single sacrifice of Christ. By His suffering and death, the depth of God’s love is revealed for each and every one of us. There are no words that can express the love of God for us revealed in the sign of the Cross. On Good Friday, we venerate that sacred Cross on which hung the Savior of the world, whose Sacred Heart was pierced for each of us. 

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.

In the evening of Holy Saturday, the Church will begin to celebrate its most solemn liturgy, the Easter Vigil. We will celebrate the new covenant that God has entered into with us and the fullness of life in Christ’s Resurrection. The 40 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.

As we together celebrate this Holy Week, I pray that it will be “a time of grace” and renewed insight into our faith. May the week lead to a joyous Easter for each of you and your families. During this week, we will all be united in the deepest way possible, in the Heart of Christ. May His peace be with you!

Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito