Most college students at WCU are likely thinking of this week as "Spring Break." It certainly is that, but it's also Holy Week, a time of very special celebration for Catholics all over the world.
So while we are taking a break from our regular schedule of activities at the Catholic Student Center this week, I'd like to let you know what all the Church has up her sleeve this Holy Week. There is a bit more to it than simply being the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.
This past Sunday is called Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday. Many Catholics know it as "that Sunday with the really long Gospel reading." (And if you don't know what I am talking about, shame on you for missing Mass last Sunday!)
So why the long reading? The Gospel on Palm Sunday tells the story of our Lord's Passion, from the Last Supper until the stone is rolled over His tomb. It encapsulates the story recounted in the Easter Triduum (more on that later). It essentially "sets the stage" for the culmination of the story the next Sunday at Easter.
Why palms? Palms traditionally are used as a symbol for two things: victory and martyrdom. The secular world may see these things as being quite different, but Christians have a different view. We know that Christ's great victory was His martyrdom. It is in dying that He conquered death. When Christ was welcomed triumphantly into Jerusalem, palms were used as symbolic of victory. But their other meaning would very quickly become appropriate, as well. (Note than in many images of the Church's early martyrs, they are shown holding palms).
Many parishes in our diocese will have their regular daily Mass cancelled today, April 3. And that is because the pastors of these churches will be down in Charlotte, gathering around their bishop to celebrate the annual Chrism Mass. "Chrism" refers to the holy oils that have many sacramental uses in the Church.
The annual Chrism Mass is an expression of unity and priestly brotherhood where priests renew their commitment to serve the faithful of the diocese. Bishop Jugis will bless the holy oils used in the anointing of the sick, as well as the sacred chrism oils used in baptisms and confirmations, and the dedication of churches and altars throughout the coming year.
It is a special Mass celebrated only once per year. And this year, for the first time ever, the Chrism Mass for the Diocese of Charlotte will be streamed live over the internet. Starting at 10am today, you can watch it live by clicking here:
The Mass is expected to last about two hours, so tune in any time between 10am and noon to watch the online broadcast.
Holy Thursday begins what is called the great Easter Triduum. The word "triduum" means "three days." Those three days are Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Together they make up one single great liturgy, the highest liturgical celebration of the Church year.
The Mass on Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, which took place the day before our Lord's crucifixion. Christ met with the Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast with them. Gathered together, this is when our Lord first took up the bread, blessed it, and spoke those words that will echo until the end of time. "This is my body, which will be given up for you."
It is on this day that the Sacrament of the Eucharist, what our Church calls "the source and summit of our faith" (Vatican II) was initiated by Christ. This day is also the birthday of the priesthood.
The Holy Thursday Mass has a strong Eucharistic theme, but the most remarkable thing about it is that it does not end. The liturgical celebration ends not with the priest saying, "the Mass is ended, go in peace," as usual. Rather, he processes out of the church with the Holy Eucharist to a garden of repose (usually a chapel, side altar, or some other room made to resemble the Garden of Gethsemane). There, Eucharistic Adoration is observed into the night, where the faithful are invited to keep vigil with the Lord on the night before His Passion, as the Apostles did two thousand years ago.
Meanwhile, inside the church, the altar and sanctuary are stripped bare. All altar linens are removed. The tabernacle door is left wide open, the candle extinguished. The sanctuary becomes a bare, desolate place, in anticipation of what is to come the following day.
Friday is the day of our Lord's Passion, His suffering and death on the cross. I saw a B.C. cartoon recently where two cavemen are sitting on a hillside. One says, "I don't like the term 'Good Friday.'"
"Why not?" the other asks.
"Because my Lord died that day," he said.
The other caveman said, "Well, if you were scheduled to die that day, and He offered to take your place, how would you feel?"
"Good," the first caveman said.
Point taken. This day is called "good" because it is this day on which our salvation was won, paid for by Christ's own blood. There is no Mass celebrated this day. It is common in many places to pray the stations of the cross (usually at 3pm, the hour of Christ's death). The Triduum liturgy continues with the Commemoration of Our Lord's Passion.
Just as the Holy Thursday liturgy never officially ends, so the Good Friday liturgy never officially begins. It starts with the priest and his servers walking into the bare, stripped church in silence. There is no entrance song. No opening prayer. When they come before the altar, they prostrate themselves, lying flat on their faces on the floor for several minutes. Once they arise, the liturgy continues. It consists of the veneration of the cross, and a communion service, where Eucharist consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass is distributed to the faithful.
Like Holy Thursday, there is no "the Mass is ended" at end of this liturgy. This is because the liturgy has not ended. It continues on into the following day.
NOTE: Good Firday is a day of fast and abstinence. This means no meat, and only one full meal may be taken this day.
HOLY SATURDAY (EASTER VIGIL)
And now we come to it - the summit of our Church's liturgical celebrations. The Easter Vigil Mass is the culmination of the great Triduum. It begins outside the church building, after dark. A fire is lit (traditionally the palms from Palm Sunday are burned in this fire, and the ashes will be used on Ash Wednesday the following year).
From this fire the great Paschal candle is lit. It is this candle which will burn by the alter all through the Easter season, and which will be lit whenever baptisms are celebrated during the year. This lit candle, symbolizing the "light of Christ," is then carried in procession into the church, which is darkened.
The people fill into the pews of the church, lit now only by candle light. Readings from the Scriptures are proclaimed - not one Old Testament reading, as is typical at Mass, but seven readings, with psalms, which recount the entire story of salvation, from Adam and Eve up to the great moment when the Resurrection of Christ from the tomb is proclaimed in the Gospel. Light returns to the church, just as light has come again into the world.
Once again, the Gloria is sung. Once again, we sing Alleluia. He is risen!
On this night, at this Mass, thousands of people across the world will be baptized into Christ. Thousands of people across the world will be Confirmed as adult Catholics. Thousands of people across the world will receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time, as they are fully initiated into the Church.
This is the high point of the Liturgical Year. Just as every Sunday is the high point of the week, Easter is the "Sunday" of the year. This is the greatest of all commemorations of our Lord's dying and rising for us. This is our moment when, as Catholics, we are asked to renew our baptismal promises, to stand up again and say, "Yes, this is the faith. This is what I believe. This is the story I am part of. This is the faith."
Two of your fellow WCU students will be initiated into the Sacramental Mysteries of the Church this night. Joseph Coca and Chesnee Hibbard will receive baptism, confirmation, and First Eucharist at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Sylva. Even if you cannot be there that night to celebrate with them, please pray for them this week, and pray for all those being brought into the Church, by God's grace.
SCHEDULE AT ST. MARY'S
The Mass schedule for St. Mary's for the Triduum and Easter Sunday is as follows.
HOLY THURSDAY: 7:00pm
GOOD FRIDAY: 6:00pm
EASTER VIGIL (SATURDAY): 8:00pm
EASTER SUNDAY: 9:00am & 11:00am
There will be no Mass on campus Easter Sunday
Everyone enjoy your Spring Break, have a blessed Holy Week, and we'll see you back on campus next week!