Holy Week – have you tried it?

I have been a Catholic all my life, and yet somehow Holy Week was not part of the landscape of my Catholicism growing up. Years later as an adult I was living in Northern Virginia and worshipping at a church out in a rural town northwest of Washington D.C. The town was in the rolling hills of the Catoctin – the first ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I have to admit I was probably tired from traveling, wanted a break from work, and enjoying a beautiful spring, so I took a week off for a “staycation.”  I had always heard about the Holy Week celebrations and I thought “why not?”  Perhaps not the most inspiring of stories to this point, but the Holy Spirit can work with the smallest and weakest of our responses.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday) was very moving.  The priest’s homily focused on the model that Jesus gave us: humble service – and then it all came alive in the footwashing ceremony. Jesus’ words echoed in my mind: “Do you realize what I have done for you?” That memory has stayed with me all these years.

Another memory that has stayed with me is that the Holy Thursday Mass doesn’t end. There is no final blessing. Here at Sacred Heart there is a Eucharistic procession through downtown prior to “reserving” the Eucharist at the Altar of Repose.  In the meantime, the altar has been stripped.  It is as though you’ve left the last supper, walked to the Garden of Gethsemane, and now are waiting in the betwixt-and-between. I remember a feeling of being a little lost. What should we do?

I came to the Good Friday celebration of the Lord’s Passion and felt like the Apostles.  I wasn’t at the foot of the Cross, I observed from afar, not sure of what this moment meant, of what came next.  I remember being struck with the sense of not just being lost, but that “we lost.”  I wonder if that is what the Apostles thought: “He was the Messiah, the one to set us free – and now he had been crucified and has died…. we lost and we are lost.”

Saturday brings its own rhythms. It is a day to shop, mow the lawn, and take care of all manner of normal things.  And even in the midst of that busyness, the “lost” feeling lingered. But it changes at the Easter Vigil. If you never have to an Easter Vigil celebration, what are you waiting for? The Easter Vigil is the liturgical celebration of the year. The new Easter candle processed into the darkened church: “The Light of Christ has come into the world.” Following that light are all the folks who are being received into the Church. Some through the waters of Baptism – all through Confirmation and their First Communion. It is an evening of light, life and joy.

And in the Vigil’s celebration, the somber Lenten days are past. He is risen! We are lost no longer.

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