For about a week now I have been humming, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” – the traditional hymn associated with Palm Sunday. The hymn is usually sung after the distribution of palms and as the congregation enters into the church calling to mind our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem.
Since Ash Wednesday we as the Church have been preparing for the celebrations of the upcoming week.
I do not preach on Palm Sunday (which is an option for the priest and deacon). I believe that the reading of our Lord’s passion and death says it all and sometimes the best thing that a preacher of the word can do is know when to remain silent.
At the end of the Mass though I do share some words regarding what we as Church will be about this next week.
In our diocese, the Tuesday of Holy Week is when we celebrate the Chrism Mass at the cathedral in Knoxville. At the Mass the whole diocese comes together under the unity of our bishop and the oils to be used in sacramental celebrations throughout the next year are blessed and distributed – the oil of the sick, the oil of the catechumens and the sacred chrism. Also, at this Mass, both the priests of the diocese and the bishop recommit ourselves to service within the Church.
I also note that the season of Lent ends with the beginning of the celebration of the Lord’s supper on Holy Thursday. (We fast and abstain on Good Friday because it is “Good Friday” not be because it is another Friday in Lent.) Actually, with the beginning of the Holy Thursday Mass we enter not only into the shortest season of the year – Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil – but also one celebration. This is testified to by the fact that we as a community make the sign of the cross at the beginning of the Holy Thursday celebration and do not make it again until the conclusion of the Easter Vigil Mass. As Catholics, we begin and end prayer with the sign of the cross. The fact that we do not make the sign of the cross as church again until the end of the vigil demonstrates that these three days are to be seen as one celebration marking the life, suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord.
On Holy Thursday we remember and reflect upon the institution of the Eucharist. “This is my body … This is my blood … Do this in remembrance of me,” says our Lord. The centrality of the eucharist to the life of christian discipleship is witnessed to by the fact that our Lord’s instituting of the eucharist is found in each of the three synoptic gospels (Mt. 26:26-30, Mk. 14:22-25, Lk. 22:14-23) and where John in his account of the Last Supper chooses to focus on the washing of feet (also remembered in the Holy Thursday celebration) he elsewhere reminds us of the specific instruction of our Lord, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors at the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48-51)
At the conclusion of the Holy Thurday celebration the sanctuary of the church is made bare and the Blessed Sacrament is removed in preparation for Good Friday when all creation is in hushed silence in remembrance of our Lord’s suffering, death and three days in the tomb.
On the evening of Good Friday, the community gathers to pray for the Church and our world and to reverence the wood of the Cross by which we all are set free. At this service we also share communion reserved since the Holy Thursday celebration.
Holy Saturday we remain with Christ in the tomb.
At sundown on Holy Saturday, the Easter fire is lit and the Easter Vigil begins. The Church throughout the world gathers to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection! The paschal candle (representing the light of Christ) is blessed and processed into a darkened church and as the procession makes it way along; all those who are present light their own candles from that of the paschal candle (the light of the resurrection grows). Once gathered in the church the community of the faithful hear readings from all of Sacred Scripture, reflecting the whole scope of salvation history which proclaims God’s goodness and works; culminating in the resurrection of Christ by which death itself is vanquished! Men and women who have been preparing for months to receive the sacraments and enter into the Catholic Church are welcomed into the fullness of the Body of Christ through sacramental ritual following the homily. Communion is shared and the church once darkened is now fully lit, reflecting the splendor of the risen Christ in the lives of his people – the church gathered in worship!
At the conclusion of the Easter Vigil the community once again marks itself with the sign of the cross bringing an end to the celebration of the Triduum and a beginning to the celebration of the Easter season!