A blessed Holy Week

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - April 1, 2021 - 12:00am

Thirteen years ago, I wrote a column about Holy Week in the Philippines where I said that these four days had become more a holiday than a period of “holy days.” Metro Manila was almost a deserted place due to people going to resorts or home to their provinces. I had a few friends who were complaining that they could not travel to Hong Kong or Singapore because of the SARS epidemic and the local resorts were full and they would have to stay home doing “nothing.” Even the government was trying to encourage Filipinos to go to local resorts during the “Holy Week vacation” as a means of bolstering the local tourism industry.

I wondered if the time would ever come when people would stay home and properly observe these “holy days.” The time finally happened, but people are staying home due, in large part, to the lockdown. I wonder if God decided that this was the only way to make people remember that the real purpose of Holy Week is to reenact, relive and participate in the passion of Christ. This is the time to commemorate and enact the suffering and death of Jesus through various observances and services of worship such as the Stations of the Cross.

The culmination of the Holy Week is Easter Sunday, the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus. For many Christians, especially the Orthodox Churches, this is the most important Christian holiday – more important than Christmas Day.

It has been said: “It is important to place the hope of the Resurrection, the promise of newness and life, against the background of death endings. It is only in realizing the horror and magnitude of sin and its consequences in the world incarnated in the dying Jesus on the cross, only in contemplating the ending and despair felt on Holy Saturday that we can truly understand the light and hope of Sunday morning.

For many theologians, except for the resurrection on Easter Sunday, Maundy or Holy Thursday is possibly one of the most important, complex and profound days of celebration in the Catholic Church. It celebrates two of seven Sacred Sacraments of the Church. During the Last Supper Jesus offers Himself as the sacrificial lamb and institutes the sacrament  of the Holy Eucharist. He also teaches that the apostles and their successors must follow the same sacrifice in exactly the same way, and here he institutes the sacrament of Holy Order or the priesthood.

At this first mass, Christ washes the feet of the apostles to stress the importance of the humility of service. This concept of “servant leadership” is celebrated every year with the ceremonial washing of the feet of 12 priests. Every priest, in turn, is supposed to also wash the feet of 12 parishioners.

“Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum” or commandment, reflecting Jesus’ word: “I give you a new commandment.” This day initiates the Easter Triduum, the period which commemorates the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus; this period includes Good Friday and Holy Saturday and ends on the evening of Easter.

In the Catholic Church, the name “Holy Thursday” is used in most of the official English liturgical books. Last year, in his Holy Thursday homily, Pope Francis devoted most of his time to addressing the more than 400,000 priests in the Catholic Church. Here are excerpts from his homily:

“And so with the awareness of the need to be washed, to be great forgivers. Forgive. A great heart has generosity in forgiveness. It is the measure by which we will be measured. As you have forgiven, you will be forgiven: the same measure. Do not be afraid to forgive. Sometimes there are doubts… Look at Christ, look at the crucifix. There is everyone’s forgiveness.

“Be brave, also in taking risks, in forgiving in order to console. And if you cannot give sacramental forgiveness at that moment, at least give the consolation of a brother who accompanies and leaves the door open for that person to return.

“I thank God for the grace of the priesthood. We all thank you. I thank God for you priests... Jesus loves you! He only asks that you allow him to wash our feet.”

Most Christians also think that Holy Week ends on Good Friday without understanding the importance of Holy Saturday. For the majority, the important days are Good Friday and Easter Sunday with Holy Saturday serving only as the middle or connecting day. Holy Saturday is the time of transformation. It is the day of reflection and sorrow, the long day while awaiting the Resurrection.

It is a good time to remember all those relatives and friends who have passed away and are awaiting the day of the final resurrection for all of us.

During the four days of the Holy Week, I have a simple suggestion for those who are willing to stop watching Netflix or television for a while – find a book that will help a person meditate on their life and motivate them to strengthen their faith and to reach out and share their talents and blessings that God gave them with the poorest of the poor.

Have a blessed Holy Week and pray for our people, especially those who are suffering, physically and emotionally, during this pandemic.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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