“Were You There . . . ?
Those who read the Gospels carefully notice something striking about the narrative strategy of the authors. About one-third of the way through, Jesus is already entering what the Church calls Holy Week. St. Mark, for example, gives us almost the whole of Jesus' public ministry in a few pages, while the final week takes up about two-thirds of his Gospel. We find the same strategy in Matthew, Luke, and John.
As the Biblical scholars like to say, the Gospels are made up of an extended introduction followed by the Passion-Resurrection narrative—a slight exaggeration, but useful. In other words, when the Gospels’ story approaches our Lord's passion and resurrection, the story slows down, the attention to detail intensifies, the pace is more meditative, the focus is sharper.
The shape of the Gospel story determines the shape of the Holy Eucharist. No matter what the Scripture readings are on any given day of the week, no matter what liturgical season it is, every mass is a celebration of Christ's Passion and Resurrection. Every Sunday is Passion Sunday; every Sunday is a “little Easter”. This Gospel narrative strategy is especially vivid in Holy Week. The liturgical pace slows down, matching more perfectly the pace and structure of the Gospels.
There is a simple (but theologically rich) African-American spiritual that asks the question: Were you there when they crucified my Lord . . . were you there when they laid him in tomb . . . . Were you there when he rose to live again? Our faith answers “yes”. As the saving death and resurrection of Christ are made available for us in the Holy Eucharist, we are called to be available to Jesus. We are called to watch and wait with Jesus in the garden, to accompany him in his time of trial, to stand with Mary and the “beloved disciple” at the foot of the Cross—and finally to proclaim his victory over death in his
resurrection. The liturgies are long, but let's try not to complain; it was a very long week for Jesus.
Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday)
The blessing of the palms – the palm procession – the reading of the passion story by several voices – the first Eucharist of Holy Week.
The Easter Triduum (The Great Three Days)
Holy Thursday: Mass of the Lord's Supper (7:00 p.m.) With the washing of feet, the transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament, silent adoration, the stripping of the altar.
Good Friday, Adoration of the Cross (3:00 pm)
The reading of the Passion According to St. John in several voices, the solemn intercessions, the placing of the large wooden cross, the adoration of the cross, Holy Communion.
The Great Vigil of Easter (8:00 pm)
The New Fire in the front courtyard, the blessing of the Pascal Candle, the candle light procession into the dark church, the sung Easter Proclamation, the Readings of God's saving acts in history, the renewal of baptismal vows, the first Eucharist of Easter.
Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ (8:30, 10:00, 11:30)