I REMEMBER THE first time I attended the liturgies of Holy Week and what a profound impact they had on my faith life. I was in high school just starting to take responsibility for my faith journey. Until then, I had attended Mass sporadically and didn’t appreciate the richness of Christianity or the value of its consistent practice. I was fortunate to meet several people who positively influenced me during high school and helped me to practice my faith more consistently.
I looked forward to going to Mass and began to seek ways to more actively participate in my faith.
I had always gone to church on Palm Sunday primarily because even the most nominal Christian seems to attend that service and because you got free palm for your house from the church. I understand that palm is an important sacramental for many people and it serves as a reminder of their connection to the church, but for years I didn’t see the fuller picture.
When I finally attended the liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, I gained a whole new understanding of the Christian faith. Everything about them was new for me. I witnessed special events that don’t happen at the regular Sunday Masses, such as the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday and the veneration of the cross on Good Friday. The Easter Vigil was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Who could imagine a dark church filled with people holding candles to welcome the new light of Easter?
Each service is so different, but combined they reflect the paschal mystery of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, which is why it’s important to attend all three. They are like a three-act play that loses some of its meaning if not seen in its entirety.
Holy Thursday has a special community feeling as we remember the institution of the Eucharist. Though the Last Supper was certainly not a lively celebration it seems to have a tenderness about it. That is clearly reflected in the re-enactment of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet. I also loved experiencing the local custom of visiting several churches after the Holy Thursday Mass.
Good Friday is probably my favorite of the liturgies because of its simplicity. It’s the one day of the year when Catholics do not celebrate the Eucharist but focus on Jesus’ crucifixion.
Good Friday is such a somber, thoughtful day it captivates the soul.
The Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday are the culmination of the whole religious experience. If not for the resurrection, Jesus Christ’s story would have been long forgotten. For the believer, Easter is the ultimate day of faith.
I’ve been writing this column for nine years now, and, as I reflected on what it’s all about for me, I see it as one way for me to help people interested in deepening their faith life. If you haven’t experienced the full richness of Holy Week in your church, may this be the year you do. If Holy Week is already a part of your faith life, enjoy it once again.