When I was in the process of becoming Catholic, Holy Week stood out as a uniquely beautiful time. I remember sitting in the basement of a church on Holy Saturday, waiting in eager anticipation for the Easter Vigil later that day. My journey, with all its ups and downs, was headed toward its completion. The desires of my heart were about to be realized: I was being received into the Church.
As I look forward to Holy Week this year, those desires are still with me. I understand more; I’ve grown (a lot!). But I still hunger for more. I still desire nearness to God, personal healing, justice in the world and meaning.
We all desire these things. The drama of life continues to elicit within us longings for more: knowing God’s love and closeness, finding healing for our brokenness, seeking justice for the world and discovering a sense of meaning in our lives. Holy Week is a time when these desires are met in a powerful way.
The dramatic events recounted during this time contain God’s answers to our most fundamental questions. When we enter into Holy Week, we find more of what we are looking for. It may not be a simple answer or even one that we fully understand, but God’s answer will be there. Jesus crucified and risen is God’s response to our misery, and during Holy Week we can come one step closer to allowing God’s answer to penetrate our hearts.
So, here are some tips for entering into each of the specific moments of Holy Week and allowing Jesus to satisfy your longings:
On this day, we are like the people who welcome Jesus into Jerusalem. Our first inclination is to welcome Jesus with open arms. We hope for a Messiah who will solve all our problems.
Yet, when push comes to shove, we are confronted with a tragic reality: We are often unwilling to pay the price for intimacy with Jesus, and we are fickle when He doesn’t act as we think He should.
Where in your heart are you a “fair weather fan” instead of a committed disciple of Jesus?
On this day, we celebrate the priesthood and the Eucharist. If you have never been, I’d encourage you to attend the Chrism Mass at your local cathedral. This Mass can also happen earlier in the week, so check your diocesan calendar. Usually, all the priests of the diocese attend. Take a moment and be grateful for their service, recognizing how much God has done through them. Despite all the struggles and failings of these men, we are incredibly indebted.
What would it be like if priests weren’t there? How can you support them?
Then, later that evening, attend the Holy Thursday Mass. It is the premier opportunity to reflect on the gift of the Eucharist. Just like the disciples, Jesus invites us, as friends, to draw close to Him in a way that is deeper and more intimate than what we often expect or comprehend.
Jesus is giving Himself fully to you; give yourself back in return!
Additionally, there is often a period of adoration after the Holy Thursday Mass. The Eucharist is removed from its normal location and placed on a temporary altar. Visiting this altar of repose is like visiting Jesus in prison. After the Last Supper, Jesus was arrested and all His disciples fled; this time of adoration is an opportunity for us to visit Him, so to speak, when no one else did. We can meet Jesus in His moment of loneliness. Some parish congregations even travel to multiple churches to more appropriately represent how Jesus traveled to the prison.
Will you visit Jesus when He is alone? Will you remain faithful, even when no one else does?
On Good Friday, we meet the love and mercy of our God. In Jesus’ suffering for our sake, we find the love we all long for. He went to every length. He held nothing back. He did it for you. If you are looking for love, Jesus on the cross is the place to find it, and Good Friday is the day to meet Him there.
Do you still think He withholds His love? Can He offer you anything more?
This day, for me, is also a reminder of God’s plan for saving the world. Whether it be famine in Sudan or politics in the U.S., there is so much injustice that cries out to heaven for a response. Jesus on the cross is heaven’s response. All the sin and suffering of the world is met by God, Who endures that same injustice and transforms it. The mystery of evil and suffering is not easily understood, but by meditating on Jesus crucified, we can come closer to understanding.
Why did God respond in this way to world’s suffering?
Good Friday is the only day of the year with no Mass, but there is still the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, where we venerate the cross and receive communion. This is a day of prayer and fasting, so try and avoid work and play. Take some extra time for prayer and consider participating in the Stations of the Cross or meditating on the Reproaches of Good Friday.
This is a day of waiting. God’s final victory is coming, but on Holy Saturday, we must patiently wait. Spend a little time meditating on the experience of the first Apostles: Jesus told them he would rise, but were they really expecting it? Had they really understood?
Are we like the Apostles? Have we given up hope that God can really transform us or the world?
During Holy Saturday, it is appropriate (though not required) to continue to fast. It is still a time of mourning. I’d encourage you to avoid technology and social media. Embrace the silence and stillness. I’ve even heard of a tradition of not turning on the lights and only using candles. On Holy Saturday, Jesus is in the darkness of the tomb. We are in darkness, too. The Light of the World has gone out.
Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday
At last, there is the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. What else can I say? Jesus conquers; He saves. All will be well, for us and for the world. Death is not the end. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor 15:55). Rejoice!
Reflect on your Lenten journey. Did you die with Christ so as to rise with Him? Have your Lenten disciplines brought new life? Where is the power of the Resurrection most needed?