Perhaps Lent went well for us, a profound time of confronting weaknesses out of love for the Lord. Or maybe it went rather poorly, and in fact was kind of forgotten in all the busyness of life. Either way, there is still time to take advantage of the opportunity the Church gives us to grow closer to Christ.
The liturgies of the Church throughout Holy Week are the preeminent way to do so. They can provide the “meat” of Holy Week’s spiritual experience. Here are some ways to enhance what we’ll be hearing.
“Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, or ‘Passion Sunday,’ which unites the royal splendor of Christ with the proclamation of his passion,” says the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (No. 138). “Palms and olive branches are kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic King, and in his paschal victory.”
• Palm basket. One nice custom is to weave those palms into a basket — on Easter Sunday it will hold painted eggs for your table’s centerpiece.
Lent ends officially with the beginning of the Easter Triduum at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.
• Passover-style meal. Some like to have a special dinner that night to ease the transition to the fast and abstinence of Good Friday, a sort of modified Passover dinner: lamb, rice pilaf, a raw vegetable plate, matzo bread and haroset salad (9 tart apples, peeled and chopped, 3/4 cup chopped walnuts. 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 3 tablespoons honey, 1/3 cup sweet red wine. Mix well, serves six). Appropriate psalms for the occasion: Psalm 113, 114, 118.
Two things are important to note: This should be considered a way of introducing one’s family to the customs of Jesus’ time in a very general way, not as a Seder meal per se, since the Seder meal is an important and sacred Jewish ritual that we should not make light of. Second, in the Catholic Church, such a meal should not interfere with our availability for Holy Thursday Mass, which is far more important.
• Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament — available until midnight in many churches — is the best way to end Holy Thursday. “Because of a long historical process, whose origins are not entirely clear,” says the Directory of Popular Piety (No. 141), “the place of repose has traditionally been referred to as ‘a holy sepulcher.’ The faithful go there to venerate Jesus who was placed in a tomb following the crucifixion and in which he remained for some 40 hours.”
The Easter fast that many begin after Holy Thursday Mass is obligatory on Good Friday.
• Regulations for Fast and Abstinence: “Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fast and abstinence from meat. Fast binds all over the age of 21 and under the age of 59. On days of fast, one full meal is allowed. Two other meals sufficient to maintain strength may be taken according to each one’s needs, but together they should not equal another full meal. Eating in between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk and juices, are allowed. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige.”
• Church services. Mass isn’t offered on Good Friday; but a Communion service and veneration of the cross is. When possible, Catholics take a break from work between the hours of noon and 3 p.m., the time Christ spent on the cross. This is also prime time to participate in the Stations of the Cross.
• Divine Mercy Novena. Today, the special Divine Mercy novena leading up to Mercy Sunday begins. To find out how to participate, go to EWTN.com and from the menu under “Faith” choose “Devotions” then “Novenas.”
Holy Saturday is an empty time of waiting. No Mass is offered, not even a Communion service like Good Friday’s. It isn’t an official fasting day, but many Catholics eat modestly this day as we wait to celebrate the Resurrection.
• The Office of Readings offers an ancient homily called “The Lord Descends Into Hell” this day. Here is an excerpt:
“Something strange is happening — there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
“He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’”
The entire reading can be found at: catholicculture.org/docs/doc_view.cfm?recnum=6872
It’s a lovely way to prepare for Easter … the greatest feast of the Church, which we’ll write about next week.
Passion for The Passion
Hot Cross Buns
The making and eating of hot cross buns on this day of mourning is a very old tradition, dating from before 1225. The superstitions surrounding the practice aren’t helpful (like the one that causes some people to save one hot cross bun on their mantelpiece for a year’s worth of good baking), but there are some very nice legends and stories to share on this day:
Legend has it that the robin tried to remove the bloody thorns from Christ’s head at the crucifixion. Christ’s blood fell on the bird and he has worn a red breast as a badge of honor since.
An old legend has that at the time of the Crucifixion, the dogwood was comparable in size to the oak tree. Because of its firmness and strength it was selected for the cross. The crucified Jesus in his gentle pity for the sorrow and suffering of all said to it, “Because of your sorrow and pity for my sufferings, never again will the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. Henceforth it will be slender, bent and twisted, and its blossoms will be in the form of a cross, two long and two short petals. In the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints, brown with rust and stained with red, and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see this will remember.”