Why should I go to Holy Week services?
By Father Raymond Tyohemba
I started out at a parish as an associate pastor in my first year of priesthood. We went to great lengths to prepare for Holy Week liturgies, especially the three last days of Jesus’ life (Holy Triduum-Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday). However, only a few people showed up for liturgies. If you’ve ever planned an event and people didn’t show up, you know what it’s like, but this was no ordinary event. It was an entry into the heart of our Christian faith.
As I shared this experience with a student, he asked me, “Father, why do we have to attend the triduum liturgies?” I figured I’d answer the student’s question in case someone else had the same question.
We often say that Lent is a journey, and so it is. It is like the travel through various lands before we reach the Holy Land. On Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, we finally arrive and enter Jerusalem with Our Lord. The next few days, in the services of Holy Week, we experience the Gospel account of our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection.
Palm Sunday: Our Lord enters Jerusalem
Palm Sunday begins Holy Week with the remembrance of the triumphant entrance of the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey as the crowds hailed Him with acclamations. “Hosanna to the Son of David.” On Palm Sunday, like those who witnessed the Lord resolutely enter Jerusalem, we praise God, who has given us our Savior, who intentionally entered Jerusalem to accomplish the Paschal Mystery for us. In emulation of the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday’s procession celebrates God’s determination to save humanity from sin.
At the conclusion of Mass, we take palm branches as a reminder that we are a people whom God has saved by the death and resurrection of the Lord. By faith, we walk with Christ, who goes into Jerusalem to battle for us.
The Sacred Triduum
On the Thursday of Holy Week, we enter into the sacred Triduum. The Sacred Triduum, a three-day liturgy, takes place on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. Three days that celebrate the Paschal Mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ, the culmination of what makes us Christians.
Holy Thursday: The Institution of the Holy Eucharist & Sacred Priesthood
With the Mass of the Supper of the Lord on Holy Thursday, we remember what Jesus did at the Last Supper. He gave Himself, His Body and Blood, His Real Presence as an everlasting covenant, and He gave an example to His followers, to us, by washing the feet of His disciples. As part of this celebration, we also commemorate the Institution of the Sacred Priesthood. Holy Thursday concludes with a procession carrying the Blessed Sacrament to an Altar of Repose for Adoration.
Good Friday celebrates the passion and death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. This is not a Mass (it is the one-day Mass is not celebrated). The ancient prophecies from the Jewish Bible that refer to a suffering servant Savior are proclaimed, as is the passion according to Saint John. The assembled faithful adore the Wood of the Cross – the cherished sign of salvation and Holy Communion is received. On this day, we pause at the suffering and death of the Lord on the Cross and His burial in the tomb.
Holy Saturday is a day of silent waiting and accompanying the Lord, who lies in death. Mass is not offered until the Easter Vigil, which begins after sundown in the darkness.
The Easter fire is lit; from its flame, a Paschal Candle is kindled. Scriptures from the Jewish Bible are proclaimed as is the Gospel account of the first Easter. Catechumens are fully initiated into Christ and His Church through the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism and Confirmation) and Holy Eucharist; the renewal of the Baptism promises for all is celebrated. Candidates complete their reception of the Sacraments, and the Holy Eucharist is offered. This most holy night remembers that Christ rose to life after His Death and burial and that He shares with us His victory of passing over death to life. This is the night when the song of that victory of Christ over sin, Alleluia, is sung after a 40-day pause. It should joyfully ring out with the greatest of enthusiasm by those present.
Holy Week opens us to intense spiritual experiences and opportunities for grace. When we miss Holy Week services, we lose a lot of spiritual benefits. Make sure you don’t miss out on this year’s holy week, and be sure not to deprive your children or grandchildren as well.
May our participation in the powerful liturgies of Holy Week draw us into deeper union with the Lord, who gave His life for us so that we might share in the glory of His divine life. Let the worship of God that takes place at each Holy Week celebration intimately connect you to the Lord.
Via Christi Society priest Raymond Tyohemba serves as the pastor of St. Finn Barr Parish in San Francisco.