By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
How is it possible to give form to the unfathomable riches of God’s saving love for us in Jesus Christ? Our best efforts are merely to grasp at it, as Saint Paul writes on behalf of the early church in his letter to the Philippians: “Although he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God, but rather took the form of a slave, something to be grasped.”
This great mystery takes shape in the Body of Christ, the Church, through Worship and Word, in Community and Service, in our efforts on behalf of justice and peace in our world.
The dimension of worship is most sublime during these days of Holy Week and with celebration of Easter as we strive to know the Lord in the cross and resurrection. The season of Lent, begun with ashes, gathers itself nearly forty days later around the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
We know this as Palm Sunday, a feast near and dear to many Catholics, and rightly so. Holding our palms, we stand as sentries, faithful witnesses to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, professing that we have already died with him through our baptism into his death and resurrection.
This year the Gospel of Matthew is proclaimed, the one who has priority of place as the first among the four Gospels, and the 27 books in the New Testament. The reading of the Lord’s Passion is the defining moment of the Word of God on Palm Sunday, oh that long Gospel passage, as we relive and reimagine the height and depth, length and breath of God’s passionate love for us.
We are grasped by God in the compelling narrative of the Last Supper, the foundation of the Eucharist, the agony in the garden, the trial and torture, the denial and betrayal, the death on the Cross, and the faithful disciples at the foot of the Cross, witnessing the final agonizing breath, and the blood poured out for the salvation of all, indeed something to be grasped.
On Holy Thursday morning Lent officially ends, and the Church prepares to give form to God’s undying love for us in the most inspiring liturgies of the Church year which we call the Sacred Triduum. The Holy Oils that were blessed earlier in Holy Week at the Chrism Mass by the bishop of each diocese are featured in procession during the Holy Thursday Liturgy. The Oil of Catechumens, or the Salvation, marks the heart of every person to be baptized.
The Oil of Chrism which seals our life in Jesus Christ after Baptism, confirms us in the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, sets apart a newly ordained priest and bishop, and blesses the altar of sacrifice, is distributed to all parishes to sanctify the faithful. Lastly, the Oil of the Sick is carried forward which the Church will use during the Sacrament of Anointing as a sign of hope and healing for those suffering from illness of body, mind, and spirit.
At the heart of the Holy Thursday Liturgy are the Lord’s words of institution “take and eat for this is my body; take and drink for this is my blood; do this in memory of me.” In John’s gospel these words of the Lord are inextricably linked with his actions in the washing of the Apostles’ feet.
As he poured out his love for us in his passion and death, the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharist, so we too are called to loving service, and to know the inseparable bond that our service, suffering and sacrifice have with His. This is distinctly true for priests and bishops who have been set apart to serve the Lord at the altar, and the Body of Christ daily in the Church for the salvation of all.
After the majestic Eucharistic procession at the end of the Holy Thursday Liturgy, the Church enters into adoration in preparation for the stark commemoration of the Lord’s passion and death. Scripture, Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion mark the Good Friday Liturgy with the cross as the centerpiece of a bare sanctuary.
Embellishment of the liturgical space has no place when grasping at the death of the Son of God. At the end of the Good Friday service the ministers of the Liturgy strip bare the sanctuary, and the Church enters into a somber silence in the face of death. The Mass, the great Eucharistic prayer, cannot be celebrated prior to the Easter Vigil of the Lord’s resurrection.
Grasping at the power of the Lord’s resurrection, the Easter Vigil Liturgy, affectionately known as “that really long Mass,” breaks upon the scene. Fire, candles illuminating the darkness, a bold proclamation of the Exultet, all combine to scatter the darkness of gloom and death.
God’s saving Word is proclaimed, and alleluias shatter the silence of the tomb. Catechumens come forward to be baptized, and they and the candidates receive full initiation through Confirmation and Eucharist. All renew their promises of baptism and the church rejoices in communion with Jesus Christ, something to be grasped.
Easter Sunday is a day of great joy in light of the Lord’s resurrection, and all the faithful renew their promises of baptism, the culmination of the Lenten journey. It is the beginning of the Easter Octave and Season.
The Octave will be eight days, a veritable Easter Day to savor this moment, and the season will be fifty, a time to marvel at the power and presence of the risen Lord in our lives, and his call in our lives to be witnesses to the unfathomable riches of God’s undying love for us, something to be grasped.
May you and your family enjoy a joyful and happy Easter season.