Don’t miss chance to be refreshed, renewed in faith

| Johan van Parys | March 28, 2012 | 0 Comments

Dylan Heiman venerates the corpus of Christ at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hastings during the 2011 Good Friday service — the second day of the Triduum — which is rich with symbolism leading Christians into Easter. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Growing up in Belgium, I remember that everything slowed down during Holy Week. It seemed like the whole country came to a halt. Children were off from school. There were no festivities in the city. And many people were off from work starting the evening of Holy Thursday.

For some reason the people working in my grandmother’s factory did not get Good Friday off from work, but I remember that my grandmother would gather all the workers at 3 p.m. on Good Friday and lead them in prayer before the large crucifix that hung in the main hall of the factory. In one way or another, everyone was very much aware of the liturgical time of the year and was focused on participating in the celebration of Holy Week.

It was almost as if the whole country went on a grand retreat: bars were closed; only fish was served in restaurants; Stations of the Cross were set up throughout the cities and people would walk these stations either alone or in groups.

Today, like in the United States, celebrating Holy Week in Belgium has becoming countercultural. Carnival no longer ends on Mardi Gras but rather is celebrated throughout February and March. The knowledge of what Holy week is about has been lost for many people. A Belgian friend recently asked if participating in an Easter egg toss was allowed for non-Catholics. Somehow she equated celebrating Easter with tossing colorful eggs.

Recommitting ourselves

It is against this background that we Catholics are invited to celebrate Holy Week and especially the Sacred Triduum as best as we can, both for ourselves and as a witness to society.

I always wonder what people think when, driving on the highway next to the Basilica of St. Mary, they see hundreds of people dressed in red and waving palms on Palm Sunday or standing around a huge fire on Holy Saturday. Surely, they must wonder what we Catholics are all about. This may be better advertisement than any billboard could offer.

Celebrating the holiest week of the year is done best by making a renewed commitment to the great three disciplines of Lent. We may have started Lent on Ash Wednesday with great vigor but, as the weeks went by, our commitment to these disciplines may have slacked a bit. Holy Week is the time to recommit ourselves — maybe even on a more intense level.

Here are some suggestions for a fruitful celebration of the Paschal Mystery:

• If possible, take Holy Week or at least take the Triduum off from work. This is a great way to slow down and make the celebration of the Paschal Mystery the center of these days. It may also help to turn off all electronic devices to avoid continual distractions. In order to help you slow down, you may want to carve out intentional quiet time; some people do this best in their home, others in a church or chapel or during a quiet walk.

• Make time for personal prayer. Since not everyone is comfortable with this, you may want to get a prayer book for Lent and Holy Week to assist you in your prayer. Or you may elect to pray morning prayer, midday prayer and/or evening prayer during Holy week.

• Make it a point to participate in all the liturgies of Holy Week. These liturgies are the most elaborate and most meaningful of the entire liturgical year. They are filled with beautifully rich symbols. Some of them are only used during this week — the commemoration of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday and the veneration of the cross on Good Friday.

• When you participate in the liturgies, do so with full heart, mind and soul. This is not the time to schedule something after the liturgy or even to be concerned with time. As a matter of fact, you should probably remove your watch once the liturgy begins because, as you know, the liturgy lasts as long as its needs to last.

• Bring your family to the liturgies. There are so many beautiful symbolic actions that they can speak to the symbolic and liturgical imagination even of the youngest among us.

• In all your prayers this week, make special mention of all those who will be joining the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil as they are baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Communion for the first time. They are our Easter gift to the church.

The beautiful liturgies of Holy Week are prepared with great care throughout our archdiocese. Pastors, liturgists, musicians and so many others work very hard to make sure everyone who participates has a profound experience of the mystery of our salvation as it was attained through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Be sure to participate fully in these liturgies and let yourself be refreshed and renewed in your faith.

Johan van Parys is director of liturgy and sacred arts at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. For more suggestions on observing Holy Week, read “What more can I do to deepen my Holy Week observance?” on

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Category: Holy Week/Easter