Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, March 16, 2008 (Mt. 21: 1-11 / Mt. 26: 14 – 27:66)
With today’s Sunday Liturgy of Palm Sunday we begin the sacred time of Holy Week as we prepare to enter into the Paschal Mystery. The Liturgy for Palm Sunday gives us two Gospels. Both are from St. Matthew. The first one is read during the procession with the palms, the second is commonly referred to as the Passion of Our Lord according to Matthew. These two Gospels lead us to the opposite ends of the feelings chart. The first one lifts us to euphoria as we recall the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem and sing, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.” The second reading, the Passion of the Lord, carries us to the depths of sadness as we recall the bitter sufferings and death of our Lord for our many sins.
What is our part in this drama? If we look at this Sunday’s Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours, we find the second reading taken from a sermon by one St. Andrew of Crete (d. 740). He answers the question of our part in this drama. He writes: “Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met 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 gets right to the heart of things.
Today, Jesus enters into the Paschal Mystery to suffer, die, and to rise again. We are to follow him. Few of us will be called to suffer persecution and death in acclaiming Jesus as Son of God. No less demanding, however, is the daily choice to live the Gospel’s requirement that we die to ourselves for the sake of others; that we humble ourselves, deflate ourselves, let the air out of our selfishness to serve others and to carry daily our cross. We are to pass from self-serving to other-serving. Then we will rise above the human tendency we have to selfishness and lift our level of human consciousness to rise with Jesus on Easter morning.
Monday of Holy Week, March 17, 2008 (John 12: 1-11)
Today’s Gospel from St. John gives us a few more details of the dinner served to Jesus and his followers at Lazarus’ house in Bethany with Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. We recall from Luke’s Gospel (ch. 10) that Martha was doing all the work of preparing for the meal while Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet listening intently to every word he said. Today’s Gospel expands this a bit.
Jesus had returned to Bethany from the safe side of the Jordan River where he fled when the Jews threatened to kill him. He returned despite these threats to his life that had been made just a few days earlier. Yet, he returned to his friends to help them in their difficult time of grieving when he heard that Lazarus had died. Mary, seated at the Lord’s feet and listening to him became aware of his pending death and in her great love anointed him in preparation for it. Mary was loved by Jesus and returned his love the best way she knew how – by pouring some very expensive oil on his feet. It was the best gift she had to give to the Lord.
So it should be with us this Holy Week. Let us listen to the story of Christ’s Passion and death and realize the depth of the love of Christ for all of us. “Greater love than this no one has than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Love begets love. Let us allow Jesus’ love for us to increase our love for him. Let us give him the best we have to offer during this Holy Week.
Tuesday of Holy Week, March 18, 2008 (John 13: 21-33, 36-38)
Today’s Gospel continues the theme of yesterday’s. Peter also perceived that Jesus was going to die for them and also wanted to give to Jesus the best he had to offer in return: his own life. “Master, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” And Peter meant what he said. Despite all his human failings, Peter really did love Jesus. In fact, it was the great love he had for Jesus that set up many of his failures. And we know that Peter
was to fail once more when push came to shove during the Passion of the Lord, that he would end up by denying three times that he ever knew Jesus at all. And when he realized what he had done, he went out and wept bitterly.
I sincerely hope that your love for Jesus, like mine, has grown and continues to grow over the years. He is my dear friend now and I really do love him very much. And yet, like Peter, I continue to fail him. I continue all too often to do things my way and to reject the faith and trust I should have in allowing him to lead the way in my life. Jesus, please continue to show your great love for us despite our human weaknesses. Help us to keep on growing in our love for you during this Holy Week.
Wednesday of Holy Week, March 19, 2008 (Mt. 26: 14-25)
Now the time has come for the greatest act of love the world has ever seen to be set in motion. Today’s Gospel switches from that of St. John to the Gospel of St. Matthew and tells of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus with a kiss.
Judas had been with Jesus for three years as a disciple. He had heard him teach and preach. He had witnessed the many miracles of Jesus. He had seen the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead come to live again. And we wonder, after all of this, how he could ever have done what he did: to betray Jesus for but a few dollars. The whole idea seems totally incomprehensible.
But, even reading where Judas’ betrayal with a kiss really did happen, I cannot bring it to my heart to condemn Judas. I do not point the finger, I do not judge him. When I think of Judas, it causes me to think of my own many betrayals of the one I love so much. I was his follower and priest for seventeen years when I decided to choose my own selfish ways over him. I was my own way, truth and life. And I betrayed my love for Jesus and his for me many times. I too finally learned the truth and wept for my many mistakes and rejecting my relationship with him. But, deep in my heart, I know he has forgiven me totally. My many sins cease to have existence because of his forgiveness and I feel totally reconciled with him today. I am once again his son and his priest.
And somehow, in my heart, I feel that Jesus forgave Judas his sins as he forgave me mine. I just know it. Of all the Apostles, I think I can identify most with Peter and Judas. It is also good to remember the power of Jesus in being able to bring strength from our many weaknesses. Judas, pray for all of us as we continue on our way to the forgiving and loving Father who has restored us to being his sons and daughters many, many times.
Thursday of Holy Week, March 20, 2008, The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (John 13: 1-15)
The Liturgy for Holy Thursday is divided into three parts:
The Chrism Mass. This Mass is celebrated at different times in different dioceses but is part of the Holy Thursday Liturgy. I used to love to attend it when I was able. My health prevents me from doing this now. Chrism is one of the three kinds of oil used by the Church in the administration of the various Sacraments. All three are confected by the Bishop in this particular Liturgy. Oil is oil is oil, like a rose is a rose is a rose. But they are each consecrated, set aside, for a particular use. The Oil of Catechumens is used in Baptism, The Oil of the Sick is used in the Sacrament of the Sick. And Chrism is used for Baptisms, in Confirmation, and in the Sacrament of Orders for the ordination of priests and bishops.
The Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service. Following the homily, the Bishop speaks warmly to his priests gathered with him for the celebration of the Chrism Mass. He blesses them and the priests renew their promise of commitment to their priestly services. It is a time when all the priests there feel proud of their priesthood. During the ceremony the Bishop prays the following prayer: My brothers and sisters, pray for your priests. Ask the Lord to bless them with the fullness of his love, to help them be faithful ministers of Christ, the High Priest, so that they will be able to lead you to him, the fountain of your salvation. Please remember today to pray for all priests.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper Today’s Liturgy is also a memorial of Jesus’ gift of the Eucharist to his Church. The first reading from 1 Corinthians tells of Jesus giving us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. This is my Body, This is the cup of my Blood. The Eucharist is the greatest gift Jesus could give us; he gave us himself. How grateful we should be for this tremendous gift available to us daily.
Today’s Liturgy is also a memorial of the commission given to Christ’s disciples to serve others. During the Mass is the ceremony of the washing of the feet, commemorating Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples. “As I have done for you, so you should also do.” Service is the very essence of discipleship. Service is love and we are all to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The celebration of Holy Thursday, then, is about the consecration of the Holy Oils, the commemoration of the Sacrament of Orders, and the commemoration of the gift of the Eucharist to the Church by Christ. Let us give thanks to Jesus for these and his many other gifts and resolve once again to try and progress in following him in our daily lives.
Friday of Holy Week, Good Friday, March 21, 2008, (The Passion of Our Lord according to John)
According to the ancient tradition of the Church, the Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday. The whole Christian world pauses today to recall the death of Jesus. The Liturgy of Good Friday begins with prayers and Scripture readings with the spotlight on the Passion of Jesus according to St. John. The Liturgy of the Word ends with the General Intercessions read or sung by the Celebrant. Then follows the Veneration of the Cross when the faithful approach the cross and venerate it by kissing it or touching it. This is followed by a brief communion service in which the faithful receive the body and blood of Jesus which was consecrated yesterday at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
The story of Good Friday begins in the Garden of Eden. If you recall the story, God took the man he had created and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate it and care for it. And God gave man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees in the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die. Then God created the woman and gave her to the man.
It happened that later on the cunning serpent tempted the woman to eat from the tree of knowledge. She told the serpent they would die if they ate from this tree. And the serpent told her: You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad. The woman then ate from the tree and also gave some of the fruit to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Then their eyes were opened and they hid from the Lord.
And so sin entered the world. The inclination to evil became our lot. The finite had offended the infinite and reconciliation was out of the question. Humankind was doomed to bring forth their children in pain, to toil all the days of their lives, and to return in death to the dirt from which they were made. The beautiful creation of God was now tainted by sin.
Hundreds of years later, a man named Paul wrote a letter to the Romans. And in this letter (ch. 7) he told them: What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Miserable one that I am! Who is going to get me out of this predicament? Thanks be to God, it has been done by Christ the Lord. He has set me free.
This is why Good Friday is called Good. Christ was to become man and would come to reconcile us to the Father by dying on the cross on the first Good Friday. We became his children and he led us back to our Father. A profound story. A simple story. A story that demands our giving thanks to God for his goodness and kindness to us. Good Friday is the revelation of God’s love for us in the sufferings and death of Jesus.
Crucified Lord, we thank you with all our hearts.
The Easter Vigil, The Holy Night of Easter, March 22, 2008 (Mt. 28: 1-10)
The Easter Vigil (the Liturgy for Saturday of Holy Week) is a multifaceted Liturgy, to say the least. This Liturgy is divided into four major parts:
The Service of Light. In this part of the Liturgy, we hear the story of salvation history in the context of the Light of Christ. It begins with the blessing of the new fire and the lighting of the Paschal Candle, the procession into the church and the singing of the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet).
The Liturgy of the Word. There are seven readings; three historical readings and four prophetic readings. These readings tell us of God’s fidelity to us and his constant care for us. God does not abandon his people. “You shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
The Liturgy of Baptism. Here any candidates for Baptism and reception into the Church of Christ are baptized. At the end of this part of the Liturgy, all the faithful make a renewal of their own baptismal promises.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is the third day of the Triduum. Today Jesus rises from the dead. Let us all cry out in our hearts: Alleluia, Alleluia!!
As a brief reflection on this holy night, let us recall that we are the light of the world. Let us pray that the Holy Week just past has reminded us of the obligation we have to take the Lord of Happiness and Joy who has suffered and died for us and given us the wherewithal to rise, and pass all of this on to others. This is what it means to be the Light of the World, the Light of Christ. It lights up the darkness of the world and the path of all back to the Creating Father. Indeed, the world needs this light. Let us continue to do our very best in sharing the peace, serenity and happiness we have been given with others. HAPPY EASTER!!!