Special days leading to Easter

Every year has its distinct days.  Among them we number our birthdays, anniversary of Marriage or ordination, birthdays of children and family members, etc. Certain civil and religious holidays are part of our special dates as well.

For Christians, this coming week is a special week — we call it Holy Week. For our Jewish brothers and sisters, they will be celebrating the feast of Passover beginning on Tuesday. Certain prayers and rituals assist us in remembering the past, re-living the event, and celebrating the present.

For Christians, Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. It is the day we recall the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem with great acclamations by the crowds. The Passion narrative is read and palms are distributed. In some churches, at the main mass, the congregation is invited to join in a procession commemorating that procession years ago when Jesus was greeted by throngs carrying palms. I remind my congregation that it also symbolizes our willingness to journey with the Lord in this Sacred week.

Many priests find attendance increases on Palm Sunday. People want to receive this Sacramental to place in their home, cars, work place, as a reminder of the Lord’s love for us. Unfortunately some can view this as “magical” — “got to get my palms” — and have little further connection to the Church. The same happens on Ash Wednesday. At times these people are called “A and P Catholics.” (This saying was appreciated more when, as some of you may remember, the A and P grocery stores existed).

I think, since we live in this area, we should join these Catholics — to those who attend Mass only for Easter and Christmas. They could be called CAPE (Christmas, Ashes, Palms and Easter) Catholics.

Often you hear the priest apologize to the “regular attendees” that they cannot have their “regular” seats on these special days. I cannot say I have not done that, in a joking manner of course.

However the older I get, and I am there already, I keep thinking of my mother when I tell her I saw many people I haven’t seen in a while. She would say, thank God, there is still a little spark there. And it is true. There is something in their hearts and soul that connects them to the Lord for these special moments. We can only hope and pray that the spark can be enkindled with the fire of Divine Love.

For my sacristy, also for the eighth grade classroom, I always purchase a Liturgical Calendar. While the calendar itself is square, in the center is a circle with the Sundays and days of the week numerated. Each week is portrayed in the appropriate Liturgical color of the season. Occasionally I will ask the servers where are we on the circle.

It is interesting to note that Holy Thursday afternoon until Saturday of Holy Week are marked in red. While it is not the Liturgical color for those days, it does signify the importance of those days. Those three days are called the Sacred Triduum. Different prayers and rites accompany these special days.

On Holy Thursday, we recall the Last Supper. We remember the Lord’s last meal with His disciples when He instituted a new Sacramental way to remain with them after His death. He also asked His Apostles to continue to do this in remembrance of Him. Thus we have the “twin” Sacraments commemorated that day — the Eucharist and the Priesthood.

At the Holy Thursday Mass, the Gospel reading is not about the Last Supper, but about the washing of the feet of the Apostles. This signifies that we are to care for and serve one another. In many parishes, this is symbolized by the washing of the feet of twelve parishioners.

The evening concludes with adoration of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, usually, in a side chapel of the church, until midnight. Some groups visit the “seven churches.” Various associations have been made regarding the significance of number seven, including: seven Scripture passages of Christ's arrest and trial, the seven last words, seven holy wounds (five wounds plus the scourge marks and His injured left shoulder) and in remembrance of the seven sorrows of the blessed Mother.

The revised Liturgy suggests that all adoration be concluded at midnight and Good Friday is to be reflective of the death of the Lord. I recall as a young boy, many years ago, visiting the seven churches as an act of sacrifice on Good Friday. I must say it was a sacrifice but we could walk to seven churches in New Bedford without going too far. I sort of miss that tradition.

On Good Friday, a day of fast and abstinence, we recall the death of the Lord. The Stations of the Cross are prayed during the day. The Liturgical rite consists of the reading of the Passion, the veneration of the cross and the reception of Holy Communion. It is the only day in the Church’s year that Mass is not celebrated. On that day, we recall the bloody sacrifice of the Lord on the cross. Every Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of the cross.

After the Good Friday rites, everyone leaves in silence. We begin the waiting for the Resurrection in silence. On Saturday, nothing happens until it is dark.

On Holy Saturday evening, we begin the Easter vigil with the blessing of the new fire and lighting of the Paschal Candle. As the lighted candle is carried into the church, the flame from the candle spreads to all present. It is such a beautiful moment. If you have never experienced it, try to attend the Vigil service this year. Readings and the Easter Gloria continue the Easter Mass with the renewal of our Baptismal promises and being sprinkled with the newly-blessed Holy Water.

So these are special days. I hope they will be special for each of you and that you will make this a Holy Week.

Be assured of my prayers that you might have a truly blessed and Happy Easter.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts