Christ entered in triumph into His own city to complete His work as our Messiah: to suffer, die and rise again . . . Let us remember with devotion this entry which began His saving work . . . and let us follow Him with a lively faith.
These words from the liturgy on Palm Sunday introduce not only the day, but they also provide an excellent summary of the principal themes of Holy Week.
First we are told that “Christ entered His city to suffer, die and rise again.” This draws our attention to the very core of Holy Week, the Paschal Mystery, in which Jesus suffered and died for our sins and then rose again in glory. These are the events that manifested God’s special love for us, events that accomplished our salvation. These are the events that form the heart of the Christian Faith.
Our faith is certainly founded on the great deeds of the past, but those deeds also point us inevitably to the future. The victory of Christ lifts our hearts and minds beyond the limited horizon of the present moment with all of its difficulties and problems, to the future we anticipate as followers of Christ, an ever-so-peaceful future. It seems to me that our troubled world needs that vision, that hope, now as much as ever.
The Palm Sunday introduction then invites us to “remember with devotion” Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, words that apply just as well, it seems to me, to the entire week. In other words, Palm Sunday sets the stage for the drama that would follow.
On Holy Thursday we gather with the Disciples around the Lord’s Table to celebrate the Last Supper and to thank God for the holy gifts He gave us on that occasion – the Eucharist, His own body and blood which would be sacrificed on Calvary the next day; and the Ministerial Priesthood, in which He chooses and consecrates men to be good and holy shepherds, to share in His sacrificial ministry of God’s People.
On Good Friday we enter into the Passion of the Christ who endured rejection, humiliation and intense physical pain for the forgiveness of our sins. We follow Jesus as He carries His cross and with Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, we stand at the foot of the cross to witness the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God. How can we not be moved if we recognize our responsibility for the death of Christ. “It was our infirmities that He bore, our sufferings that He endured,” The Prophet Isaiah pointedly reminds us.
During the Easter Vigil, in the darkness of the night, we await at the tomb of the Lord for His promised Resurrection. We immerse ourselves in the symbols of the liturgy – the new fire, the word, the water, the holy oils, and the bread and wine – all of which point us to Christ and help us to understand and share in the reality of His death and resurrection.
And on Easter Sunday we join with the Christian Church all over the world to proclaim and rejoice in the new life of Christ. It is the event that refreshes our spirits and gives new hope to a tattered, weary world. It is the event that speaks to us of living forever and thus makes our lives here and now more tolerable, even promising.
So, we “remember with devotion” all of these events of Holy Week. But not only do we “remember” these events as relics of the past but actually enter into them and share in their life-giving spirit once again. That’s the power and glory of Catholic liturgy.
Finally, the liturgical introduction on Palm Sunday points us to Jesus and urges us to “follow Him with a lively faith.” A “lively faith” – that’s a real challenge for us, isn’t it? Too often our Christian Faith is stagnant, boring and dead. How many baptized Christians betray the Lord with sinful, scandalous lives? How many Catholics compartmentalize their faith, leaving their public lives untouched by their commitment to Christ? How many regular church-goers deny the Lord in subtle, sometimes unintended ways, by embracing a secular, worldly mindset?
But what then does that “lively faith” entail? Well it means that it’s not enough for us to follow Jesus in the liturgy only – that’s the easy part. It means that we follow Jesus with the commitment of our daily lives! How different you and I would be if our faith came to life and took hold of us! And in turn that “lively faith” would motivate us to change the world.
At the end of his newest book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict reflects on God’s revelation to the world. These are words that can help us appreciate the significance of Holy Week as well: “It is part of the mystery of God that He acts so gently, that He only gradually builds up His history with the great history of mankind; that He continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to Him. . . . And yet – is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love.”
During the liturgies of Holy Week let us recognize the One knocking at our door, and let us open our hearts to welcome Him. After all, He comes to save us.
A reflection by Bishop Tobin for the coming week.