“Let us run to accompany Him as He hastens toward his passion” From a sermon by St. Andrew of Crete, Bishop
With the Palm Sunday Liturgy, the Catholic Church throughout the world begins the holiest week of the Church’s Liturgical Year. Today we commemorate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as the Messiah come to save His people, to lay down his life for us, each of us. The event was not noticed by many then, and perhaps not by many today, in terms of the world’s total population. Jesus chose to enter the holy city Jerusalem in great humility, on the foal of a donkey, and that kind of entrance will not be earth shaking. But his closest friends and his worst enemies took note of what all this might mean, and so the die was cast.
Many may have greeted and cheered Him that day, but only a few would stick by him through the Passion. He would see the crowds ,elt away and become hostile and even all but one of his Apostles would abandom him after His arrest. Even after His resurection, the masses would not return, and scepticism and unbelief was present not only among the leaders, but among much of the population. The Church would not hav an easy path in converting th world, any more than did her Master.
The events of Holy Week drew a line in the path humanity would travel from that time forward. For those who would come to believe in Him, there would be the unquenchable joy of Easter and the firm hope for Eternal Life. For those who woud refuse to believe there would be only the tragedy of Eternal loss. Then as today everyone must choose – either we believe in Jesus and submit ourselves to his reign, or we refuse to believe and separate ourselves from Him and His Father, perhaps forever.
Our celebration of Holy week culminates in the sacred Paschal Triduum, the three holiest days of the Christian liturgical year.
It begins with the celebration fo the last Supper on Holy Thursday evening, which commemorates Jesus’ institution of the Most Important sacrament and sacred liturgy that he left as a gift to His Church. He had told the crowds not long before that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they were to have Eternal Life in them and so many no longer followed him. But on Holy Thursday evening, during the Jewish Passover meal, Jesus chose to institute a new sacrificial meal, consisting of both a new and eternal sacrifice and a new sacred banquet tied to the new and eternal Covenant. On that night Jesus personally celebrated the first Mass with His Church, represented by the apostles. Indeed, he would also ordain his first priests that night as priests of this New and Final Covenant with God, which He would consummate the next day on Calvary. Once again, there is no middle ground here; we must choose: either to believe that the Eucharist is exactly what Jesus says it is, His sacrificial Body and Blood, the food of of His children for Eternal Life and the basis of our resurrection, or we must disbelieve this. Belief will bring us supernatural nourishment, the food of Angels; or disbelief will deny us the food of immortality prepared for God’s children.
Then comes Good Friday when we commemorate the singular and stupendous event that established the New Covenant itself and brought redemption to the whole human race. The atoning sacrifice which Jesus offered on Calvary, the sacrifice of his Body and Blood, his very life, is the focal point of all human history, the event that determines the ultimate meaning of all the rest of man’s personal and corporate history. He poured out his blood for each of us, and so once again we must choose: either to believe in that sacrifice and its infinite efficacy, a belief which leads us to Christ and ultimate victory over sin and death, or we must refuse to believe, which leaves us in the darkness forever and in eternal despair.
How, then, can Christians be so indifferent as not to honor this day of man’s redemption. We Americans celebrate the 4th of July which gave us political freedom, and we do it with great fanfare. How can it be that so many Christians will not take the time to honor with prayer and solemnity the day that brought us freedom from sin and eternal damnation?
And finally, on Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil, and on Easter Sunday, the Church celebrates the glorious triumph of Jesus over death by His resurrection. The Church proclaims and celebrates on this great and solemn feast our belief that Jesus Christ truly rose bodily from the grave, and that He is but the firstborn from the dead, the beginning of a new world, a new creation, which we are made part of by our Baptism. Easter, then, is the great feast of Hope, the Beacon of heavenly Light calling man to Eternal Life in the glory of the risen body. And finally, once again, we must choose. Belief in the Resurrection of Christ leads to the firmest hope and trust in God’s Providence and His plan for our future. We have been created to possess God in our flesh and soul, and the power of Christ’s resurrection makes that destiny a real possibility. Unbelief, on the other hand, leaves one without any firm hope in a life beyond death that is truly a union between God and man, as true man, as a creature of flesh and spirit, the man we are now, but raised to an infinitely higher form of existence.
Holy week, then, is a time of tremendous graces for the faithful, and it is a time for renewingour choices regarding what is most important in our lives, the world or our eternal salvation. It is a great gift for those who choose to be faithful to their Lord, who accompany their Divine Master along the way of Holy Week when he suffered, died and rose again, for us, for our salvation. How blessed we are to be able to accompany Him once more, as he always accompanies us.