Holy Week celebrations bring new life

The Liturgical year swung into a new cycle as the season of Easter dawned on Easter Sunday. While Catholics begin the season with a feast of great joy, first the faithful must journey through a week of sacred ritual, reflection and repentance. Holy Week gives all an opportunity to walk with Christ through the crucifixion into the new life of Easter.

On the Tuesday of Holy Week priests and parish representatives from across the diocese gathered at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle for the Mass of the Oils, also known as the Chrism Mass. This moving liturgy includes a number of practical and spiritual moments.
At the end of the homily, the priests gathered at the celebration renewed their priestly commitments made at ordination. Bishop Joseph Kopacz spoke in his homily about how much he is enjoying getting to know his brothers during the last few months. The bishop blesses and consecrates the oils which will be used throughout the year for baptisms, anointing of the sick, confirmations and at least three ordinations set for later this spring.

It takes almost six gallons of extra virgin olive oil to fill the containers needed to provide each parish and mission with its share.
Two oils are blessed, the oil of catechumens and the oil of the sick. The first has been used in the rite of baptism since the earliest days of the church. The second is used in anointing of the sick. The third oil, sacred chrism, is a mixture of olive oil and aromatic balsam. Chrism Essence, as it is known, is extracted from the same tree from which turpentine is made.

Before the prayer of consecration, the bishop leans down and breathes on the vessels of oil, signifying the coming down of the Holy Spirit. All the priests at the Mass extend their hands over the oil as the consecration prayer is invoked. The oil will be used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders. The oils were brought up this year by Deacons Binh Nguyen, José de Jesús Sánchez and Rusty Vincent, all set to be ordained the last weekend in May (see related story on page 7). The deacons also elevated each oil after it was blessed or consecrated for the congregation to see.

While the Liturgy of the Eucharist is underway a team of volunteers was at work in a room in the cathedral center, transferring the oils from the large glass containers in which they were blessed and consecrated to smaller ones which are boxed up for the parishes. By the end of Communion the volunteers began shuttling the boxes back into the sanctuary. A representative from each parish came forward before Mass was dismissed to claim a box to take home.

Candlelight illuminated the cathedral Wednesday evening for the ancient Hour of Tenebrae. The word means shadows and the service is meant to recreate some of the rising darkness Jesus faced in his last days. One candle at a time is extinguished as lectors shared a series of readings about suffering from the lamentations of Jeremiah. At the end a single candle remained lit and was removed for a brief time of darkness in the sanctuary. Then after a loud sound, symbolizing the earthquake and breaking open of tombs, shook the congregation out of its socks, the candle returned and the ministers and congregation left in silence.

The Last Supper, the Mass of the Institution of the Eucharist, is the center of Holy Thursday. Lent officially ends with the beginning of this liturgy, which starts the three most holy of days in the church’s liturgical calendar – the Sacred Triduum.
The Mass begins with an empty tabernacle and an altar of repose decorated as a garden for adoration after the Mass. Parishioners across the diocese gathered on this night to share Eucharist together by hearing the scriptures of the Last Supper and then stripping their altars bare, taking Christ in the Eucharist to the altar of repose.

Pastors follow Christ’s example on Holy Thursday by washing the feet of members of their congregations, a reminder of the gospel call to service. This liturgy, which does not have a formal ending, invites Catholics to enter into Christ’s suffering.
At Jackson St. Richard, pastor Father Mike O’Brien told the congregation the altar of repose is the garden at Gethsemene and invited everyone to spend some time in prayer with Jesus there.

Good Friday is the only day of the year when no Mass is celebrated. Catholics gathered to hear the passion story, reflecting on the Way of the Cross and Christ’s last words before his death.
This is one of the most ancient liturgies of the church and has three parts – the Liturgy of the Word, which includes the reading of the passion and the universal prayer; veneration of the Cross and distribution of Communion.

In the cathedral, after the Passion and Universal Prayer, the congregation was invited to venerate a large crucifix. Distribution of Communion, which was consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass, followed veneration.
“It is a poignant moment when all come forward to kiss the cross and leave their hurts and pains at the feet of Jesus,” said Mary Woodward, director of the diocesan liturgy office.
“It is difficult not to experience strong emotions when watching parishioners and friends who have endured much suffering this past year come forward to kneel and kiss the cross. The Good Friday liturgy finds its beauty in the starkness and reality of the Cross,” Woodward added.

On Holy Saturday employees and volunteers were hard at work in every sanctuary, cleaning and decorating, and setting up fire pits outside their churches in anticipation of the Easter Vigil.
Bishop Kopacz commented at the vigil at the cathedral that the requirements for the liturgy are that it must start after dark and can go on until the morning light. It is at this liturgy the church welcomes new members every year.

The Easter Vigil started, as it does every year, outside a darkened church with a new fire. The bishop blessed the fire on the steps of the cathedral and then blessed the Paschal candle and placed five gold nails in it in the sign of a cross to represent the wounds of Christ.

The candle will be used throughout the year for Liturgical celebrations, most notably baptisms and funerals, and represents the light of the risen Lord. A flame from the new fire was used to light the candle, which led the procession into the sanctuary.
Candidates for reception into the church lit small candles from the flame as they followed into the church. The congregation came in after the candidates as the cathedral was soon awash with the light of hundreds of small tapers. The lights came up after the Paschal candle was incensed by cathedral rector Father Anthony Quyet.Father Quyet then intoned the Exultet, an ancient hymn in praise of the candle and inviting the people to remember and celebrate Easter.

The Liturgy of the Word told the salvation story from the story of creation, through the salvation of Israel from Egypt up to the coming of Christ to bring a new creation.
In his homily, Bishop Kopacz spoke about selecting “Fiat Lux,” or “let there be light,” as his motto. He pointed out that there are more than 2,000 references to light in the scripture, from the creation story read at the vigil to the beginning of John’s gospel which refers to Jesus as the light coming into the world.

“The beginning of light was the beginning of our universe and our world and it is the beginning of our life of faith,” said the bishop. He also called on the flock to look to Paul as an example of faith. “Paul did not know Jesus in his earthly life, he only met our crucified and risen Lord,” This, said the bishop is exactly what we are called to do.
The bishop then blessed the newly poured water in the baptismal font, immersing the Paschal candle into it, and called forth those seeking new life through baptism.

Nineteen people entered the church at the vigil at the cathedral, four of them started with baptism. The tradition of bringing people into the church at the Easter vigil comes from the earliest Christian communities. The catechumens and candidates prepared for this night for months, studying the faith with help from sponsors and catechists and undergoing a series of scrutinies to be sure they were ready.

After each catechumen was baptized, the four and their godparents took their lighted candles, presented to them as part of the baptism ritual, throughout the cathedral to relight the congregations’ candles for  the renewal of baptismal promises. The bishop then sprinkled the congregation with water from the baptismal font.
After the renewal of baptismal promises by all, candidates for reception into the church are called forward to make a profession of faith and receive the sacrament of confirmation. The newly baptized were also confirmed.

The vigil then transitioned to the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the entire congregation is invited to receive the Body and Blood of Christ thus fulfilling the covenant begun at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday.

Through the Sacred Triduum, the church journeys with Jesus to the Cross and Resurrection. These ancient liturgies bind Catholics together intimately as the Body of Christ. It is often said to get to Easter Sunday, one must go through Good Friday. The Sacred Triduum allows the faithful to be consumed by these most holy moments in the life of Christ.