Why This Week is Called Holy
The week that liturgical Christians call Holy begins when we hear the contrasting gospel readings during the Liturgy of Palm Sunday. Before we enter the church in a procession waving palm branches, we listen to the gospel and are invited to identify with the jubilant crowds welcoming the Master into Jerusalem. Then, inside the sanctuary, we shout “Crucify Him” as the Passion Gospel (Mt 26-14-27:66) is proclaimed.
The contrasting Gospel accounts draw me into an honest admission of my weakness and an ever deepening appreciation of the Amazing Grace I am given — we are all given — in and through Jesus Christ. The Passion narrative is filled with biblical characters with whom I identify. I am invited to consider who I am in those narratives. They become a gauge of who I am becoming. They are an invitation to walk in honesty and humility, in the footsteps of the One who carried that Cross.
In his 1977 film Jesus of Nazareth, Franco Zeffirelli ended the original version with words spoken by a character named Zerah not found in the biblical accounts. The name literally means Brilliance. He enters the empty crypt and seeing the burial cloth lying on the empty slab, says, “Now it begins; now it all begins.” Holy Week is an invitation to be made new again, to progress on the path that leads to fullness of life. The only question is, will I respond fully?
It Is Up to Me
It is up to me to choose to receive Jesus’s invitation or not. That is part of the mystery of human freedom. To be holy is to be set aside for God. Entering fully into the liturgical celebrations of this week can actually change me — that is what it means to be converted. “Now it begins; now it all begins.”
Holy Week invites me to participate in the timeless Paschal Mystery, the saving life, suffering and the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It invites me to let go of self and embrace the Lord anew. It holds out that wonderful promise that I can begin again! Life is a path of progress and time is a field of choice. Time is not our enemy, but our friend. It is a part of the redemptive loving plan of an eternal God who, in His Son came into time to transform it from within. He gives us time as a gift and intends it to become a field of choice and a path to holiness in this life — and the window into life eternal.
Through time the Lord offers us the privilege of discovering His plan for our own life pilgrimage. Through time He invites us to participate in His ongoing redemptive plan, through His Son Jesus Christ who has been raised, by living in the full communion of His Church. That plan will in its final fulfillment recreate the entire cosmos in Christ.
Time is the road along which this loving plan of redemption and re-creation proceeds. We who have been baptized into Christ are invited to co-operate in this divine plan. The Christian understanding of time as having a redemptive purpose is why liturgical Christians mark time by the great events of the faith in our Church calendar.
It’s common to contrast the Western “linear” view of time with an Eastern “cyclical” view. Christians certainly believe in a linear timeline in history. There is a beginning and an end, a fulfillment which is a new beginning. That is as true of the history of the world as it is our own personal histories. At the same time, liturgical Christians mark linear time with an annual cycle culminating with the great event that forever redeemed history, the saving Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As I try to live the liturgical calendar, by entering into the great celebrations of this week, I experience an ever-deepening call to conversion. By grace, I perceive more fully the deeper mystery and meaning of life and the real purpose of time. Good liturgy is not a re-enactment of something that happened 2000 years ago but is meant to be an actual participation in the events themselves, through living faith.
Realities that transcend time are made present in our liturgical celebrations and in our reception of the Sacraments. Every Liturgy is an invitation to enter into the sacrifice of Calvary which occurred, once and for all.
The Epicenter of the Calendar
At the very epicenter of that calendar are the three great days we will celebrate this Holy Week, the “Triduum” of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Resurrection of the Lord.
On Holy (or “Maundy” Thursday) I am invited to the Supper of the Lamb, Jesus, and then after that great gift I am asked, along with the disciples in the gospel accounts we hear proclaimed, to watch with the Lord. Even more deeply, I am asked to enter with him into his anguish by imitating His holy surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Through the stark and solemn liturgy of Good Friday, I stand, along with the Mother of the Lord, at the Altar of the Cross where heaven is rejoined to earth and earth to heaven. I enter into the moment that forever changed — and still changes — all human History, the great self-gift of the Son of God who did for us what we could never do for ourselves by in the words of the ancient Exultet, “trampling on death by death.”
Then, on Holy Saturday, I wait at the tomb and witness the Glory of the Resurrection and the beginning of the New Creation.
At the Great Easter Vigil late on Saturday night, I am invited to join the new members of the Body of Christ and affirm once again that we believe what we profess in that ancient Creed, the symbol of our ancient and ever new faith, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
The Christian proclamation is that every man, woman and child on the face of the earth can be made new in and through Jesus Christ. We make progress in following Him along the way and then we fall down. The important question is, do we get back up again?
We can all begin again and again and again and again and again, because Jesus died on the Cross and rose again from the dead for us. That is why this week is so holy.
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