Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Meaning of Holy Week....

Just a little note Dear Reader: expect the posts this week to be heavy on that Old Time Religion, as we enter the most profound week of the Liturgical year.

I have always loved Palm Sunday. You get to hold a branch and wave it around as you sing Hosanna to the Son of David. You process from outside the church into it, imagining what it must have been like to see Jesus riding on an ass as he entered the holy city. It always had a little more audience participation and excitement to it. Plus when I was younger I knew Palm Sunday meant one last week of my Lenten Sacrifice.

The events that the day celebrates resound even today. Jesus, the Son of the Father, is entering to a chorus of cheers and adulation that within the week turn to mockery, scorn and hatred. He comes willingly knowing what he must do. But first he has much to accomplish.

Before His death, he knows he must teach the apostles what it means to be great. He must give them the New Covenant in His blood. He must be betrayed by one of his own, and see another deny knowing him. He must lay down His life, "For Many. (Matt 26:28)" I won't delve into the argument here about "many vs. all," except to address it as such, Jesus in fact died for all, but some would not accept his sacrifice, so the blood is shed for many but not all.

Returning to the depot of my original train of thought.....

I always like attending all three parts of the Triduum. Holy Thursday is a beautiful Mass which is marked by the washing of feet and the Gospel story of the Last Supper, the institution of the Mass. As we close Holy Thursday we go into a night of Eucharistic Adoration, full of prayer and wonder. Sitting with the Lord in the small hours as Holy Thursday becomes Good Friday is amazingly spiritual.

Ah Good Friday the only day in which Catholics don't celebrate Mass. As part of the Ritual of Holy Thursday a significant amount of Hosts are consecrated so we can have communion, but without consecration there is no Mass.

Good Friday is when the Church really goes dark, the Lord is dead in the tomb, the Apostles are still scattered, probably slowly coming back together, the world groans on Good Friday. The Gospels tell us of earthquakes, eclipses, dead folks returning from their graves. But most significantly the veil of the Temple is rent asunder.

The time is now to worship in Spirit and Truth (John 4:24).

From there we return to the "new fire," and the light of the Easter Vigil. Christ has broken death, defeated sin and risen again to fulfill the stories we hear on this night of Salvation History. From the "Happy fault" of Adam to the flood, to the Passover.

The Passover is now perfected Jesus has Passed Over death and returns in glory. In his book Jesus of Nazareth vol.2, which covers Holy Week, Pope Benedict sheds light on the likely historical accuracy of the timeline in St. John's Gospel rather than the Synoptics.

It was en vogue to denigrate the historical accuracy of St. John for quite some time. Pope Benedict says that even with the heavy theological aspect to his Gospel, John's timeline reveals something startling.

Essentially the Synoptic Gospels all have the Passover Feast moved ahead a day to make the Last Supper a true Seder meal. St. John's Gospel makes Good Friday the preparation day for the feast. A seemingly minor detail until you realize one thing.

When Jesus gives up His spirit it is 3 o'clock. As he dies on the hill outside Jerusalem, the lambs for the Passover feast are being slain in the temple (Matt 27:46).

In His final human act, Jesus replaces the original Passover lamb, with the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the World. (John 1:29)

There's something about that moment during Palm Sunday and Good Friday when we read the Passion Story and we kneel silently as we come to the part where our Lord dies. It hits me every time, I always stare at the Crucifix and think to myself, he knew all about me as He hung on that cross, dying. Knew and willingly accepted punishment for every sin that I would commit. Indeed by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

"Hosanna to the Son of David. (Matt 21:9)"


Joe Heschmeyer said...

Good post! A couple of areas you might think about:

(1) "Many" v. "All": I'm hesitant to say that Christ's Blood was shed "for many but not all." We can certainly affirm the first half, but the idea that "many" means "many, but not all" is specific to English, not Greek. As I understand it, in Greek, "many" just means more than a "few." It'd be like if Jesus said that His Blood will be shed "for the masses," in English. Maybe that's everyone, maybe not.

There's also the added theological twist you highlight: Christ died for all, and desires all to be saved. Hebrews 2:9, 1 John 2:2, John 3:16, and 1 Timothy 2:16 are quite clear on this. Calvinism introduces the false notion that Christ only died for the elect. And since He "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4), this Salvific Will of God would seem to be false if He made it materially impossible for the damned to have be saved.

So, for example, I don't think that the switch in the Mass from "for all" to "for many" means that "for all" is false. Just that it wasn't what He said.

(2) On Pope Benedict's theory on the timeline of Holy Week. It's possible, but I'm partial to the views I discussed here and here. Namely, that when the Passover fell on a Saturday, some Jews observed it a day early out of respect for the Sabbath. I don't know, though -- either way seems quite possible. What say you?

Finally, I agree with you about the wonders of Triduum specifically, and Holy Week generally. I thought you did a good job capturing the excitement that this week holds, with everything from Palm Sunday to the washing of feet, the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, the Agony in the Garden, the Crucifixion, Holy Saturday, and of course, Easter!

Good post, like I said. Keep up the good work!


Michael said...

Joe to be honest as far as the time line thing works out, I didn't even realize it was an issue until reading the Holy Father's book. I kinda like the idea that the Passover lambs were being slaughtered as He died sorta fits, seems right to me.

Guess I have some Shameless Popery archive digging to do to read those posts you highlighted...

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Anonymous said...

Work is the meat of life. Pleasure the dessert.