The holiest time of year

| Bishop Andrew Cozzens | March 22, 2018 | 0 Comments

The celebrations of Holy Week are so important that we spend 40 days preparing for them with fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Lent is a time of preparation to allow us to fully enter into the most important time of the year: the sacred triduum, from Holy Thursday until the Easter Vigil. It is meant to be a kind of three-day retreat for the whole Church where we meditate on the profound outpouring of love that comes through the mysteries of Christ. It’s where we allow ourselves to live these three days again with Christ to experience anew the depth of love contained in each of these mysteries.

Holy Thursday

Bishop Andrew Cozzens

Bishop Andrew Cozzens

It begins with Holy Thursday, always celebrated in the evening, where we commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles when he gave us the incredible gift of the Eucharist, as well as the priesthood that makes it possible.

The washing of the feet reminds us of how the Eucharist calls us to pour out our lives in service and how Christ humbled himself to become one of us in order to wash away our sins.

It ends with the solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose, where we are invited to keep watch silently with Christ even into the night, just as he requested his apostles to stay awake and pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. You will notice that the liturgy does not have a formal dismissal, but simply ends with all of us praying silently before the altar of repose.

Our retreat has begun, and we are invited to make these three days different from the rest of the year, even keeping a more prayerful silence in our homes as the whole Church also fasts in preparation for the Easter feast.

Good Friday

We gather again on Good Friday, which also begins in silence with the prostration of the priest before the stripped altar and sanctuary. Notice there is no introduction and greeting, but simply the invocation “let us pray,” since, in a certain way, we are only continuing what we began the night before. This liturgy includes the reading of the entire Passion from St. John’s Gospel, often chanted with different parts. It also has the veneration of the cross. I still remember as a child how much of an impression it made on me to go up and kiss the cross.

This is followed by the universal petitions, often prayed while kneeling for each one. On this most solemn day when Christ gave his life for us, we beg him for grace for ourselves and for the whole world. We end this celebration by receiving holy Communion, but it is the only day of the Church year where there is no celebration of holy Mass.

Again the liturgy ends with a blessing but no dismissal. The rubric says “all depart in silence,” and we continue our retreat. This would be a great opportunity to continue prayer at home as a family as we keep a somber attitude in remembering Christ’s death.

Holy Saturday

The three-day retreat culminates with the celebration of the Lord’s victory over death in the Easter Vigil. The rubrics remind us that this “mother of all vigils” is the “greatest and most noble of all solemnities, and it is to be unique in every single Church.” The Roman Missal states, “On this holy night, the Church stays up into the night keeping watch, celebrating the resurrection of Christ in the sacraments and awaiting his return in glory.” After all, we know that Christ will return in glory some night, and it makes sense it might happen on the anniversary of his resurrection.

The Vigil is not allowed to begin before nightfall — 8 p.m. this year — so that the lighting of the holy fire for the Easter candle reveals the light of Christ’s resurrection dispelling the darkness of our world. The light spreads to each of us, and we stand in the dark with our lighted candles and sing the “Exultet.” In this profound text, we proclaim the salvation won for us in Christ’s resurrection: “O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son! O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

After this, we have up to seven readings that recount the whole history of salvation from creation until now. How important it is to spend this time once a year remembering what God has done for us. I suggest you spend some time during these days meditating on these profound readings, which can be found on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website. These readings end with a great “alleluia” — which we have not said for all of Lent — and the proclamation of the Gospel with the homily.

Then, we have the Easter sacraments. Through baptism, confirmation and first Communion, we see the gift of eternal life, which Christ won for us, implanted in the hearts of our new brothers and sisters for the first time. These new Catholics join us now in sharing the gift of eternal life through Christ’s death and resurrection. Then we celebrate in full glory, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, from which we have fasted since Thursday evening.

Part of the beauty of Easter is that the solemn celebration lasts eight days, until the following Sunday, and then continues for 50 days of rejoicing.

These three days of the triduum provide an incredible gift for us to enter more deeply into the love of Christ. I hope and pray you will be able to take full advantage of this annual retreat that the Church offers us. Through the celebration of these mysteries, we experience more deeply how much Christ loves us and how much salvation means for us, and we have the chance to grow more into living his life and love every day. Don’t miss the Easter triduum!

Solamente Jesus

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Category: Only Jesus