By Fr. Joseph DeFrancisco
Holy Week for Christians begins on Palm Sunday, the memorial celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in anticipation of the Jewish feast of Passover. The season of Lent officially ends on Wednesday of Holy Week.
Christians are then invited to celebrate the “triduum,” meaning, three days, our solemn holy days, not only to memorialize Jesus’ last days of living, suffering, dying and rising, but to relive and celebrate the core paschal or Easter mysteries in our own daily lives.
Jesus calls out to us the same invitation given to his disciples before his final days, “We must now go up to Jerusalem as was written by the prophets. The Son of Man will be delivered up, mocked, outraged, scourged, spat upon, and put to death. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31ff).
The season of Lent has been our opportunity to recommit ourselves to a new metanoia, or change of heart. This challenging and difficult conversion process takes most of us a lifetime. The grace-filled process of “dying” is our way of embracing the cross of Christ. Easter offers us the gift of new life. It is time to celebrate a life of resurrected love.
The Holy Week Triduum is the summit to which the entire Christian liturgical year is ordered. It is somewhat perplexing to note that only 23 percent of Christians actually celebrate these three days. Yet, the whole of our Christian spiritual journey is revealed and celebrated for us as one cohesive celebration of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
On Holy Thursday we are reminded and challenged to be first and foremost a community of giving and service, “as I have done, so you are to do to each other,” a familiar Gospel excerpt proclaimed just before the “foot-washing” rite within the memorial meal of the Last Supper. Our life of service flows from the moments both within the liturgy and outside, when Christians hear God’s Word, break bread, and through this spiritual renewal, share bread, “for the Life of the World.”
On Good Friday we enter into the pain, suffering and death of our crucified Savior, the pre-eminent example of Jesus promised in John’s Gospel, “No greater love can you have than to lay down your life for others.” (John 15)
Christians must learn and exemplify the meaning and reality of sharing in a life of letting go and self-sacrifice. This became the spiritual mission of John the Baptist, “I must decrease, he must increase.” (John 3:30).
On Holy Saturday we identify, pray and celebrate all the most meaningful symbols of our faith: new fire, new light, new water, new birth, new community. We literally ritualize a passing from darkness to light, from old clothes to new baptismal garments, from the proclamations of God’s Word in the Old Testament, to a proclamation of new Life in the Good News (Gospels) of Jesus Christ. “Go baptize all nations for the remission of sin. Know that I am with you until the end of time.”
All the beautiful symbols of Holy Saturday are a powerful means of reconnecting with the full meaning of our own baptismal calling, to be priest-servants, to be kingly apostles in bringing the message of true peace, justice and charity into the world, and to be prophetic presences in our everyday homes and workplaces, witnessing in every way possible: Jesus Christ alone is Lord and Savior.
The first joyful singing of our Alleluia’s at the Easter Saturday Vigil is our personal affirmation of having joined Christ in his body, the church, affirming the meaning and power of his death and resurrection. “He lives!”
(Fr. Joseph DeFrancisco is a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)