Holy Week: Prayer, reflection, traditions mark the pinnacle of the Church

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In Holy Week, we honor the pinnacle of the Catholic faith, when Jesus rose from the dead as part of God's salvific plan for humanity. This is bigger than Christmas. It's a reminder of His infinite mercy for us, and a time in which we grow closer to Him in love.

Read more about the Holy Week traditions at www.stlouisreview.com/holy-week

Palm Sunday

The week begins with Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the beginning of His journey to the cross and a fulfillment of the prophet Zacharias. The tradition of blessing palms at Mass stems from the New Testament account of people placing palms in Jesus' path as He arrived in Jerusalem. They sang hosannas as they expected Him as a great military leader who would conquer the Romans.

Father Francis X. Weiser wrote in "The Easter Book" that different terms for Palm Sunday are used around the world, including Branch Sunday and Domingo de Ramos, depending on the types of branches used there. In most European countries, real palms are unobtainable, so other types of branches are used including olive branches (Italy), yew (Ireland) and willow (England).

• A common tradition on Palm Sunday is to make crosses from palm fronds we receive at church. These palms should be saved until next year and given back to your church to be burned and made into ashes for Ash Wednesday. (Here's how to make a cross from a palm frond, via the Catholic Icing Blog: www.stlouisreview.com/bAc)

• Father Philip Sosa, provincial superior of the North American Province of the Missionaries of the Holy Family, reflected on the celebrations of Holy week, "each with their own unique character and special points of emphasis." For Palm Sunday, he reflected: "Remembering the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, humbling Himself out of love for us, Jesus did not shield His face from buffets and spitting, but offered His life on the cross. He relied on His Father's love."

• Visit the U.S. bishops' site for the Palm Sunday readings: www.stlouisreview.com/bAO.

Holy Thursday

The season of Lent ends on Holy Thursday, when we enter into the Triduum, the three days in which we relive Christ's Paschal Mystery — His suffering, death and resurrection. In a sense, we die to ourselves in order to be reborn again. "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." (Jesus to Nicodemus; John 3:03) Though chronologically three days, they're liturgically one day unfolding the unity of Christ's Paschal Mystery.

• These three days should be a time set apart. Consider setting aside time in your schedule for prayer and reflection, perhaps going to confession, or sharing family traditions, such as decorating eggs — a symbol of the resurrection.

• Newly ordained priests Fathers Michael Rennier, Scott Scheiderer and Kent Pollman will concelebrate the Chrism Mass with Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Also known colloquially as the Mass for Priests, the Chrism Mass includes archdiocesan priests vesting, processing into the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and sitting at the front of the congregation.

"The Chrism Mass manifests the unity of the priests with our bishop, so for me, it is a great moment of solidarity and an honor to know that in ministry I'm never alone," Father Rennier stated. "This is my first one as a Catholic priest, so I'm looking forward to it."

• Loyola Press has a host of activities, devotions and guided three-minute retreats, with themes including the Lord's Supper, the Passion of the Lord and the Easter Vigil. To learn more, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bAx

• On Holy Thursday, we also remember the institution of the Eucharist. We get a first-hand look at Jesus' service of His Disciples, through the tradition of washing of feet at the Last Supper. Earlier in the day, the Chrism Mass is celebrated, in which the holy chrism — oils used for baptism, confirmation, holy orders and anointing of the sick — is blessed and shared with parishes.

• Father Sosa: "Institution of the Eucharist and the teaching and example of Jesus call us to pour ourselves out in humble love and service to others."

• Holy Thursday readings for Chrism Mass and Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper: www.stlouisreview.com/bAa

Good Friday

• Good Friday, the commemoration of Jesus' passion and death, provides inspiration for reflections on themes of faith, suffering, loss, compassion and unconditional love. In his column in the St. Louis Review, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson explained that Jesus' prayer of loving surrender on the cross transformed His suffering and death into an act of love and worship. By His wounds, we're healed. By His cruel death, we're set free. Archbishop Carlson asks us to stand before the cross on Good Friday and thank our Father for the wondrous gift of love that His Son gave to us this day.

• Donate at services in your parish on Good Friday to support Christians and holy places in the Holy Land.

• Father Sosa: "We solemnly reflect on the passion and death of Our Lord. In perfect obedience to the Father's will and out of love for us, He freely chose to die upon the cross to win forgiveness for our sins and to defeat the power of sin and evil."

• Good Friday readings: www.stlouisreview.com/bAC

Holy Saturday

• Christians are called to live Holy Saturday as a day of silence, "like it was that very day, which was the day of God's silence," Pope Francis said last year. The joyful songs of the Easter Vigil — the Exultet and the Great Alleluia — proclaim Christ's victory over sin and death. The Easter Vigil marks the culmination of RCIA, a process of conversion and study in the Catholic faith for catechumens, those who have never been baptized, and for candidates, who were baptized in another Christian denomination and want to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. The paschal candle is blessed at the Easter Vigil and serves as a symbol of Christ, light of the world.

• Father Sosa: "Alleluia! Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, has risen, let us rejoice and be glad! The resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ is not some past event in history, but the very heart of our Christian faith. We celebrate what He has done for us, and it is a time to renew our sacred commitment to Our Risen Lord. Let us be attentive to the invitation of each celebration to open ourselves more fully to God and experience the mysteries by which we have been redeemed and saved by Jesus Christ."

• Holy Saturday Easter Vigil readings: www.stlouisreview.com/bA1

Divine Mercy Sunday

While not a part of Holy Week, Divine Mercy Sunday (April 23 this year) celebrates the octave of Easter.

Father Sosa also reflected on Divine Mercy Sunday: "This is a special day for us to reflect and rejoice in the merciful love God has for us. Our Lord injects His mercy, His love, and His compassion into our lives to sustain us in the face of all that concerns and troubles us. Showing love and mercy to one another is a way of showing gratitude to God for His mercy toward us."

• Next week's issue will include a list of Divine Mercy celebrations in the archdiocese. 

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