Fr Billy Swan
During the recent celebration of St Patrick’s Day, all of us remarked how joyful it was to gather publicly again to celebrate our national apostle for the first time since 2019. As we enter Holy Week 2022 and prepare to celebrate publicly the Easter Triduum for the first time in three years, it ought to be an even more joyful gathering and privilege to celebrate Easter again. On this Palm Sunday weekend, our parish invites you to celebrate Easter with us again with faith and hope. It is the highlight of the Church’s year when we recall and represent the great mysteries of the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Your presence is important to our parish. You are missed when you are absent and our community is weaker without you. This week, let our participation in the reconciliation services and the Easter Triduum be an expression of our commitment as disciples of Jesus in modern Ireland. Together let us listen again to the story of how one man’s love and fidelity to the truth changed the world and continues to change millions of lives today. Let us see how his cross and resurrection are well-springs of hope for all humanity and speak to every life in need of hope and healing.
A few words on each day of the Easter Triduum. The first major event of the Triduum is Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday night. It saddens me to see the numbers participating in this Mass fall each year. It is the night when we recall the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood by Jesus on the eve of his execution. Jesus was a Jew and had deliberately chosen to bequeath the gift of the Mass to his people on the night before he died so that the meaning of his death and its saving power would be re-presented in every place and every time when the Eucharist is celebrated. It was the night of the Passover meal when the Jewish people gathered to pray in thanksgiving for their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. However, it was much more than a recollection of the past. For the Jews, recalling the saving acts of God in the past had an effective power in the present with the saving power of God was still at work among them today.
Furthermore, a central part of the Passover meal was the paschal lamb. These were the innocent lambs of sacrifice that were offered by each family to God as a peace offering for their sins. At the Last Supper, none of the Gospels mention the presence of the paschal lamb at the Passover meal of the Last Supper. That’s because, the paschal lamb was Jesus himself – the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The washing of the feet takes us back to Jesus’ identity as a God who serves our good and only wants what is best for us. He shows us that this is what we, his disciples, must be about too – to lead lives of service, willing the good of others.
At the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist is removed from the tabernacle and brought to the altar of repose. This gesture mimics the arrest of Jesus that took place after the Last Supper in the garden of Gethsemane. Yet again, it is much more than mimicry or symbolism. It is also an invitation to us his disciples to watch with him for an hour of prayer; to enjoy his company and to journey with him into his passion. This is a time to recall when and how Jesus walked into the experience of human suffering of the mind when we are told that his soul became ‘sorrowful even on to death’.
Then on Good Friday, we commemorate the Lord’s passion and death. We have come to domesticate the cross and Jesus’ death that often, the full horror of what he endured is lost on us. The truth is that Jesus died the most cruel and brutal death imaginable. His soul was emptied and crushed to such an extent that he felt abandoned by his Father. Here is the death that plummeted the depths of despair in order to give hope to others who find themselves in that dark place too. To those condemned by a terminal illness, to the people of Ukraine, to prisoners and those on death row, to people who hunger and thirst – these are the people that God descends to and reaches out with his love. This is why Good Friday remains the best attended of the Triduum ceremonies because so many of us can identify our suffering with that of Christ. It is why we kiss the cross as a gesture of love and reverence for what Christ suffered on our behalf.
We might be tempted to rush ahead then to the Easter vigil but before we do, we must not forget Holy Saturday and the spirituality of silence and waiting. I have dedicated a separate article to Holy Saturday below.
At nightfall on holy Saturday, the faithful gather for the Easter vigil. It is the night of hope and joy when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the dead. We bless the Easter fire, light the paschal candle which pierces the dark night of sin and despair, sing the exultet, the gloria and listen to several texts from the Scriptures that recall God’s saving work through history. It is also the night when many catechumens are received into the Church after months and even years of preparation and formation – not just for an occasion but for a way of life. For us wo are baptised already, it is a time to renew our commitment by renewing our baptismal promises. I am always struck at this point of the vigil by what and who we reject before we say what and who we believe in. Life requires us to make choices – to say no to everything that is false, dark, selfish, sinful, addictive. It is a call ultimately to reject the Evil One and all his ‘empty promises’. And as we reject the Evil One, we accept and believe in God and his kingdom – his peace, his love, his mercy, his justice and everything that is good, true and beautiful. We bless the Easter water that is fertile with the new life that God grants us because of the resurrection of Jesus. Finally, we celebrate the Eucharist once again after the events of Good Friday and the silence of holy Saturday when the risen Lord unites himself to us again in a bond of intimacy and love.
Friends, there is so much more depth, meaning and rich symbolism in the Easter Triduum that is impossible to capture in this short article that has tried to prepare us to celebrate the Easter with anticipation and joy. The Scripture readings and the liturgy capture the dysfunction of human sin that is on display in the passion narratives but also the power of God’s love at work that overcame the worst that could have happened with the best of what did happen. Here is Christ’s victory that is not just a historical memory but a living power among all who accept and believe.
Wishing you a very happy and prayerful holy week.