April 9, 2017
Looking back over more recent Church history, Pius XII - the Pope of World War II and the 1950s - seems rather a conservative figure compared to John XXIII who called the Second Vatican Council and Paul VI who presided over the Council and served through most of the 60s and 70s. However, Pius XII was himself a reformer and one of his greatest gifts to the Church was the restoration of the rites of Holy Week by the decree
Maxima Redemptionis of November 19, 1955. As the Pope noted: “Of the weeks in the Church's year Holy Week is truly singular for the fullness, majesty, and devotion of the ceremonies. From apostolic times the Church has celebrated the central mysteries of our Redemption, and in the course of time three days - Friday, Saturday, and Sunday - came to be set apart for the liturgical memory of
Christ crucified, Christ buried, Christ risen. A little later was added a fourth day, the evening of Thursday, for solemn ritual remembrance of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist. A further addition was made on the previous Sunday, to celebrate the triumphant entry into His holy city of Christ our Lord, Messiah and King”.
Originally the three days of the Sacred Triduum, between Holy Thursday evening and Easter Sunday, were holy days of obligation but by 1642 they had become ordinary workdays for most people and the Church removed them from the list of days of obligation so that they became unknown to and unappreciated by all save the clergy and a handful of the faithful. Pius XII took the bold step of restoring these ceremonies to their proper form and timing; and he stated: “The desire of the Holy See in all this is that the Holy Week Liturgy should be celebrated everywhere with the greatest solemnity possible, and that the people should in some way take an active share”. That is the desire of every pastor of souls as well. Remember that Palm Sunday is only the start of Holy Week, leading us to the Triduum, the three days when we follow Jesus moment by moment and pass with him through death into new life. Nothing that we do in our parish is more important than the celebration of those three days because we are celebrating the “mystery of faith” which is our life.
The Triduum opens with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday (April 13
th at 7 p.m.) when priests everywhere imitate the action of Jesus in washing the feet of his twelve disciples. At the end of the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is taken to a special altar (the altar of repose, in the Parish Center) where the people watch and pray until midnight, as the disciples watched with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane until the time of his arrest.
Good Friday begins with Morning Prayer (8:30 a.m.). However, the most important liturgy is the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion (3 p.m., repeated at 7 p.m.). We contemplate the Passion of God’s Son in the Scriptures, we use this privileged moment to pray for the whole world, we venerate the wood of the Cross, and we receive communion (not from a consecration of bread and wine, because there can be no Mass on this terrible day, but from hosts consecrated the night before and reserved for this moment - a reassurance that we are never separated from Christ). At the end we disperse to our homes in silence.
On Saturday morning we again have Morning Prayer and a Blessing of Food (8:30 a.m.) and volunteers will be busy decorating the church. However it is only on Holy Saturday night that we reach the culmination of the Triduum and of the whole Christian Year. This is the Easter Vigil, which really doesn’t belong to Saturday because it starts after dark (8 p.m. at Nativity) and leads into our Easter celebration. Through liturgies of Light, the Word, Baptism and the Eucharist we pass with the Lord from the darkness of death into new life. That joy is prolonged in the Masses of Easter Sunday (7, 8:30, 10 and 12 noon). The Vigil is also the end of the long journey of preparation for our many catechumens. In the middle of it they will take the definitive step of the Christian life by being baptized; immediately they will be confirmed; and then, finally, they will be able to share with all of us in the Eucharist.
Remember: Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday at 3 or 7 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m. Remember: “Nothing that we do in our parish is more important”. In these three days and three great liturgies we make our Christian Passover with Jesus Christ our Lord.