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August 20, 2018

The Spirit of HOLY WEEK: Its Tradition and Spiritual Imports

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The last three days of the forty days spiritual journey with the Lord through fasting, prayer and almsgiving usually launch us into the solemn atmosphere of recalling the events surrounding the salvific mystery of humanity. Right from antiquity, these days were designated as “Holy” and were set-aside for the commemoration of the paschal mystery of our Lord which reached its apogee with the service of Easter vigil on Holy Saturday. It is often the long awaited moment in the spiritual life of the Church. The week reflects the tender and humble nature of our Lord and Redeemer. It always comes with mixed feelings of sorrow and joy; sorrow in the sense that we recalled the sorrowful passion of our Lord, watching him dying slowly in pains and agony for the atonement of our sins. On the other hand, we experience an aura of joy and relief as our iniquities have been expiated. The celebration of Holy week begins with Passion (Palm) Sunday of the Lord, commemorating the entrance of Christ the Lord into Jerusalem to accomplish His paschal mystery.  In the light of this celebration of memorial of our redemption, that the Church invites us to tune-in with the spirit of this season, reflecting soberly over the agony that Christ – our Redeemer went through to salvage us from the web and shackle of sins and total damnation.


It is therefore on account of this that we are going to take a cursory look into the tradition and the spiritual significance of this solemn week as well as the Church’s teaching with regards to the liturgical celebration of this season.


The Church Directives on the Celebration of the Holy Week

“Paschal Triduum” or “Triduum” of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord is the summit of the Church’s liturgical year. During this solemn period of Triduum, the Mother Church all over the world commemorates the most important events in the life of our Lord, which is the foundation of the salvation history of humankind. In the light of this moment in the Church, each celebration of the Paschal Triduum contains its particular characteristics. It all begins with service of Palm or Passion Sunday, which launches us into the Easter Triduum proper. Passion Sunday makes present the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem to begin his final week and initiate his Passion. All four Gospels recount this triumphant entry that Sunday Morning.


This followed by Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the Holy Week. But our concern here is a circumspective look into the Triduum proper which begins in strict sense with the Mass of the Holy (Maundy) Thursday which commemorates the institution of the Holy Eucharist. In the early hours of this same day, except for pastoral reason(s), the bishop blesses the Chrism oil at the Chrism Mass in the Cathedral for baptism, confirmation and ordination, the oil of the sick for anointing of the sick; the oil of catechumens for those preparing for baptism. They are used in celebrating the sacraments during the year; and then the Mass of the Last Supper later in the evening. The major features at the Mass of the Last Supper are: washing of the feet, procession to the Altar of repose and adoration until midnight with prayer remembering the Lord Jesus, whose agony, death and resurrection saves us.


On Good Friday, as the name implies, it is good for on this day  God did wonderful things for human race. A day in which His only begotten Son accepted death on the cross for the salvation of humanity. It is a day of fasting and abstinence as stipulated by the Church’s law. Following the tradition of the Church, on this day Holy Mass is not celebrated, and in the later part of the day a service of the Passion of the Lord is celebrated by 3:00 p.m. This is followed by the liturgy of the Word, veneration of the Cross and reception of the Holy Communion. The day ends with a solemn silence till the evening of the following day – Holy Saturday.


On this day there is to be only one celebration in each church.  Here the faithful gather to celebrate the Easter vigil at dusk, the vigil of all vigils. We all gather in darkness and light the Easter fire which reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world. We enter into the church and attentively listen to events describing God’s saving work of the past and his salvific plan for the humanity in the scripture. Suddenly, the church lights are lit and the Gloria is sung accompanied with the Church bell, as well as decoration of the Altars which celebrate the moment of Christ’s resurrection. As a Church we sing ‘Alleluia’ for the first time in forty days. In the joy of the resurrection we then celebrate the Sacraments of Baptism, our Catechumens who have prepared for many weeks for this night; and renewal of the baptismal vows for those who have already had baptism. At this moment we all become the “Easter People with Alleluia on our lips.” Notably, it is in this solemn Paschal vigil that we relive the glorious event of the Resurrection of our Redeemer. Due to the importance of this event, the Holy See insists on the active participation of the people in the Holy Week rites so that the whole church is drawn closer to the celebration.



The Spiritual Significance of the Celebration

The significance of this great salvific event is summarized in the ancient homily of Melito of Sardis on the Pasch. In his homily he avers: “He is the Passover of our salvation. He was present so as to endure many things. In Abel he was slain; in Isaac bound; in Jacob a stranger; in Joseph sold; in David persecuted; in the prophets dishonoured.”(cf. A Reading from the Homily of Melito of Sardis on the Pasch Nn. 65-71, The Divine Office, Vol. II Lent and Easter, p.284). In the light of this allusion made by Melito we have seen vividly that Christ has cut across all ages. He suffered all things for us to be free. Christ’s Resurrection was “miracle of miracles” as Bishop Anthony Gogo Nwedo observed. In his word he says: “The Resurrection of Christ was an incontrovertible historical event, a definite triumph over the Devil and death, the cause and model of our own resurrection.” (Nwedo, A. G., Preparation for Resurrection, Lenten Pastoral, 1980, p. 20).


Having gone through thick and thin of genesis of this great festival of our salvation, it is therefore of great importance to elucidate the spiritual imports this ancient even.

With the Resurrection of our Lord, He has left the tomb and now dwells in our heart. We are no longer lost in our iniquities the precious blood shed on the wood of the cross has purged us. Christ has fulfilled his mission among us, the Holy Week liturgy which culminated with service of the Easter vigil points to the unfathomable love of God on humanity without reservation. Now that we are the Easter people, let us live as such bearing witness and become touch bearers to all nations proclaiming the Resurrected Christ. This therefore calls for genuine display of our faith, in words and action. Since Holy Week means accompanying Christ on His final journey, bearing our own crosses.


The joy of Easter cannot be over emphasized; the pictorial presentation of Jesus as the man wrapped in grief, nailed to that barren wood and suffered bitter pains has given to the entire human race a sure hope of salvation. With His death the tree of life is made with the branches of unfailing yield. Indeed by His resurrection the chain of slavery has been broken, the gate of comfort let loosed, man regained his rightful position after the fall of the first Adam. This salvific event called us to a deeper attitude of great joy and hope as Easter people. With joy and hope in the risen Lord, we encounter a different perception of our daily troubles, hardships and sufferings we experience in our daily journey of life. It is with the spirit of this unique festival and undoubtable faith in Him, whom we live, move and have our being that we will be at peace and experience serenity because of the Risen Lord.


Finally, Easter is the primary act that fulfills the purpose of Christ’s ministry on earth, which include: to defeat death by dying on the cross and to purify and exalt humanity from the dungeon of sin and give hope for everlasting life beyond this mortal life that will one day wither off. As we will patiently wait with great anticipation of the paraclete in the next fifty days, let us be mindful of the fact that; Christ’s passion, death and resurrection have purchased for us a life devoid of pains and the present challenging situation we face in this present life. And as Easter people may Alleluia continue to be on our lips as we patiently carrying our daily cross of life through Christ our Lord, Amen.



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