Holy Wednesday is the last day of the Lenten Season. We will then find ourselves in the midst of the holiest and most important days of the Church year. The liturgy of these days, the sacred items and devotions, all center our attention on the great mystery we celebrate and draw grace from: the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus our Savior. Take the time to better acquaint yourself with what you will be encountering so that you can more fully appreciate the fact that our sacred celebrations involve our whole person – body and soul – in the praise and worship of God. Remember too that God desires the salvation of our whole person, not just parts of us, and God extends His invitation of love and grace through the use of signs perceptible to our senses.
David J. Conrad
The celebration of salvation as it has unfolded in history on three days, namely, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Paschal Vigil. Holy Thursday marks Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood. Good Friday focuses on the Passion and Death of Jesus. The Paschal Vigil, held either late on Saturday evening or in the pre-dawn hours of Easter Sunday, initiates the joyful celebration of Christ’s resurrection. The Triduum is the focal point of the Church year.
Stations of the Cross
A series of 14 meditations on Christ’s journey from His condemnation by Pilate to His burial in the tomb. They can be prayed individually or as a group. It is thought that the Stations originated as a way for those unable to visit Jerusalem to walk the path to Jesus’ crucifixion in a journey of prayer. Our parish will pray the Stations together at Noon on Good Friday in the church.
Used in the Old Testament to anoint priests, prophets and kings and in the time of Jesus to anoint the sick, holy oils have been consistently used by the Church in the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick. There are three oils that are blessed on Holy Thursday morning by the bishop at the cathedral and presented to each parish that evening at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper: the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick, and the Sacred Chrism. The first two are made of pure olive oil; the last has a perfume, balsam, added to it. When not in use, the oils are kept in the ambry, located on the back wall of our church near the Baptistery.
Lit from the new fire and blessed at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, it is an ancient symbol of our risen Savior. Fire is an image of the love and power of God’s Spirit. The candle, lit from this fire, tells us that Jesus is the presence of God’s love in the world. At the Vigil, it is carried through the church by a deacon or priest, who solemnly stops three times before reaching the altar – each time singing, “Light of Christ” (because of the current situation, we will forgo this). Five grains of incense, encased within five wax nails – representing Christ’s wounds – are placed on the cross of the candle. The year the candle was blessed for use is noted, as well as the two Greek letters – Α (Alpha), and Ω (Omega) – the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. All creation finds its beginning and end in Christ (cf. John 1:3, Revelation 22:13).
Water which is blessed by a priest and used for various blessings, the Rite of Sprinkling at Sunday Mass, and for Baptismal renewal (by dipping one’s fingers in the holy water and making the sign of the cross) upon entering church. New holy water is blessed at the Paschal Vigil for use during the Easter season. Water is a sign of life and cleanliness; its use in Baptism and the renewal of our Baptismal vows remind us of the vital nature of our Christian calling and responsibilities. (Because of the current situation, holy water is not yet available.)
The celebrant of the Liturgies of Holy Week wears vestments of various colors. On Passion (Palm) Sunday and Good Friday, red vestments are worn to remind us of the blood Christ shed for our salvation. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week purple will be worn as a reminder of the final days of penitence available to us before we enter the Triduum celebrations. White will be worn on Holy Thursday, the Paschal Vigil Saturday evening, and then during the entire Easter season, for white is the color of festivity and joy.
Aromatic gum or resin, in granulated or powdered form, which gives off a fragrant smoke when it is burned. The oldest liturgical use of incense was at the reading of the Gospel, first as an honor to Christ the Lord, and then as an image of the fragrance of His teaching. Later the altar and the Eucharist were honored through the smoke of incense, for these too are signs of the Lord’s presence in the Mass. The incensing of the gifts on the altar, and after, the priest and congregation, reminds us that we are offering ourselves to God in sacrificial self-surrender. Also this smoke symbolizes our prayers rising to God.
Every time I think about Palm Sunday, I think of a story I heard about Mother Teresa. She was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for the years of sacrificial love and mercy given to the poor of India. She was interviewed on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson who was very respectful of Mother Teresa, but at one point he asked her if the cash money she received as a part of the prize or the notoriety of the moment would “go to her head.” Mother Teresa's answer was not unexpected, (being one of the most humble people in the world), but it did throw Mr. Carson for a loop—as well as the rest who happened to be watching! She reminded Mr. Carson of the day when Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on that little donkey. Of course, Carson remembered the story. She then asked, “Do you think, Mr. Carson, for one moment, that that little donkey thought the crowd was giving him the praise and glory instead of Jesus?” For Carson it was a lesson in true humility.
Humility is a virtue we often undervalue in this world. We are taught that all that counts is to win—to be Number One—no matter the cost. Every day we see some “winners” who have “won” through intimidation, cheating, conniving, and climbing success ladders on the shoulders and backs of others. (Just think about those recent news reports about the mom and daughter who cheated in the voting for homecoming court so the daughter could “win”!) We are encouraged by society to “blow our own horns” (music reference) and to be our own public relations agent. Often pride may mask itself as a false humility, and you know it and see it—someone who denigrates themselves after doing well while just fishing for compliments.
True humility is knowing the truth about yourself—it is what reconciliation calls us to in our faith. The key to true humility lies in knowing and understanding the source of our worthiness and our wins. True humility is honest: no false fronts (pretending we are something we are not—so no self-deception). True humility is telling the truth (but not tactless savagery), it is acting with integrity (by honoring our promises and commitments), it is admitting faults (telling ourselves the truth), it is giving credit where credit is due, and it is not making excuses or casting blame regarding our failures. We are called in humility and truth as believers to allow the Holy Spirit to enter and penetrate our hearts, minds and souls in order to live in the awareness of our need for God’s grace.
The spiritual writer Andrew Murray (1828-1917) in his book “Humility: The Beauty of Holiness” (1895) wrote: “Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with other virtues as it is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God, and allows God to do all.” This idea is deeply challenging to us all in today’s social media, self-image branding world we live in. The “casting of the self” became Murray's life theme. He served sixty years of ministry in the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, wrote more than 200 books and tracts on Christian spirituality and ministry, he did extensive social work and founded educational institutions—all outward signs of the inward grace that Murray experienced by continually “casting himself” on Christ He imitated Christ in his life and work and actions—as we are all called to do as believers.
Today, Palm Sunday, we hear how Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death.” Palm Sunday is about His Passion, Death and Resurrection (as is every other Sunday). We can shout and cheer and lay down palm branches all we want, but if we miss the fact that we do so because Jesus is God and we are saved forever by God’s grace, then we miss the point. Palm (Passion) Sunday is a good time to truly humble ourself and reflect on the mystery of our salvation work in us, and for others.
With Palm/Passion Sunday we enter into this Holiest Week as a Community to share all the great symbols and rituals of our Catholic belief. Have a “Great Week”—as this week is called in the liturgy of ancient Jerusalem. God bless you and keep singing in your hearts!
Just a Note: Here is a lovely song about being humble—enjoy!
John O'Donohue (1956-2008) was an Irish poet, author, priest, and Hegelian philosopher. He was a native Irish speaker, and as an author is best known for popularizing “Celtic spirituality.” (Celtic Christian spirituality refers to a set of practices and beliefs in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales that developed in the early fifth century during the development of the monastic tradition. Many of these practices have roots in desert spirituality; Celtic monks considered the teachings of the desert mothers and fathers essential wisdom. Celtic pre-Christian culture, dating back to 500 B.C.E., permeated the land, and these beliefs also strongly influenced Celtic spiritual practices. As a result, much of Celtic Christianity can be characterized by a strongly incarnational theology: The natural world reveals the sacramentality of all creation. Matter is infused with the divine presence and offers glimpses of the world behind the surface of things. This spirituality celebrates the human imagination, cultivating creativity through various art forms such as manuscript illumination and vibrant metalwork. (from: The U.S. Catholic).
I love O’Donohue’s writing—being of Irish descent myself (don’t be fooled by the “Dyc” in my name as my husband is Ukranian). O’Donohue’s work appeals to me in many and varied ways. The Irish have always had a close relationship with “death and heaven” (having lived through “the troubles”), weaving together opposites in life. They even have a saying about singing their sorrows and crying their joys. I think that is why most people love their music. As I write this St. Patrick’s Day is in the future—although as you read this, it has passed. The Irish would have appreciated the juxtaposition of yet to come and already gone… So, what does this have to do with the two Gospels (A and B) for the Fifth Sunday of Lent?
In today's Gospel from St. John (Cycle B Readings), Jesus reminds us that the wheat grain must die to produce fruit. Jesus himself, is the grain of wheat that falls to the ground. He surrenders to death in order to bring us new life. His surrender produces fruit: salvation for us! We receive new life after death! And when in our own daily lives we imitate this grain of wheat, God is also glorified. This is a parable for all of us—Irish or not—death and life intertwined in our every day. Think of the deaths we face: dying to ourselves to serve others, the always ending of one thing and the start of another. This is the fruit of which the Gospels speak. And in time the knowledge of impending death will come upon those we love and upon us all—just look at the story of Lazarus in the Gospel A readings! Whichever Mass you attend this weekend you have the opportunity to be drawn into the Paschal Mystery and life after death—this is why we gather in praise and thanksgiving—to try and live holy lives in the midst of this mystery and be comforted by the salvation we have been offered. By our Baptism we are called to imitate the grain of wheat: to die to self and produce fruit for the Kingdom. The Mass this Fifth Sunday of Lent brings us directly into the Paschal Mystery: Jesus must suffer and die in order to draw all people to Himself (Year B), and He raises Lazarus from the dead (Year A).
John O’Donohue in “Benedictus” (A Book of Blessings) writes that from the moment we are born our death walks beside us; that the silent presence of our deaths call our lives to attention—to wake us up to how scarce our time is and that we should gather ourselves and decide carefully whether we are now living lives we would love from our deathbeds. So Irish, this Celtic Spirituality, and such good life (beyond Lent) advice: to live daily with the knowledge of our deaths in order to live in holiness and in productive spiritually ways. We are all called to be “Irish”—and not just on St. Patrick’s Day.
Keep singing in your hearts!
Just a Note: Here is a lovely piece of music that sings of being called home at the end of our lives, “The Road Home” by Stephen Paulus—a very Celtic sound, enjoy. Also: a contemporary piece by the Getty’s and Matt Papa (from Ireland).
David J. Conrad, M.A. Theology. Our Director of Faith Formation.