We stand on the threshold of the holiest week of the year. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday, when we recall both Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His Blessed Passion.
The week comes to its climax with the Sacred Triduum, the three holiest moments of the whole year: Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the solemn Veneration of the Cross and Liturgy of Good Friday, and the Solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection at the Great Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday.
The Last Supper
The first of these three moments, on Holy Thursday, recalls the last supper before Christ’s Death. This was Christ’s own sacred Passover, in which He gave us for the first time His own flesh to eat and blood to drink.
Here, He sacramentally offered Himself as our Paschal Lamb to atone for the sins of the world, commanding His first priests, the Apostles, to continue this offering in His memory until He comes again. Here He left us all His new commandment of love as shown by the sacred gesture of washing the disciples’ feet.
The second moment recalls the actual event of Christ’s sacrifice in history, on that first Good Friday when He was crucified. The great liturgy of that day centers on Christ’s Passion, followed by the veneration of the Cross of the Lord and Holy Communion.
No Mass is said anywhere in the world on Good Friday, but enough bread is consecrated at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday so that there will be enough to feed the faithful on Good Friday.
The Sacred Triduum
The third and greatest moment of the Sacred Triduum, the climax of the whole Church year, arrives after the sun goes down on Holy Saturday. It is the Church’s solemn vigil of the Resurrection and it continues through the Masses of Easter Sunday until Vespers or Evening Prayer.
If only we could realize the greatness of that night! Christ’s Bride, the Church, is so beside herself with joy and so transported by love of her Divine Bridegroom that she exclaims, “O felix culpa!” about the sin of our first parents. The Church cries, “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, that won for us so great a Redeemer!” because that sin brought Christ down to earth.
The Night we Live For
Last year, I was in Puerto Rico for the funeral of a fellow priest’s father, and while I was there, we made a pilgrimage to the city of Caguas, to the tomb of Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodriguez. Blessed Carlos, or “Charlie” as he was called, might well be considered the patron saint of the Easter Vigil. His well known ‘watchword’ was: “Vivimos para esa noche”—“We live for that night!”—and he truly did.
His life was illuminated by faith in the risen Christ, and he truly lived the Paschal Mystery, the mystery of Christ’s saving Death and Resurrection. In his heroic labors as a catechist, despite his chronic intestinal illness that led to his death at the age of 44, he strove to share with God’s people the profound significance of the Easter mystery. He worked tirelessly to encourage the faithful to be conscious and lively participants in the Sacred Triduum as the center and goal of Catholic faith and as an inexhaustible source of grace.
In his lifetime, Blessed Carlos witnessed the revival of the Easter Vigil and Sacred Triduum during the 1950’s under Pope Pius XII. His efforts prepared the church in Puerto Rico for a fruitful reception of the authentic teachings of the Second Vatican Council on the centrality of the Paschal Mystery in Christian faith, worship and life.
He died in the odor of sanctity on July 13, 1963, while his brother was reciting the Easter Exsultet. In the very year of his death, the Fathers of the Council brought to fruition Blessed Carlos Manuel’s vision in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001, and we now await his canonization.
Of course, the glory of the Easter vigil continues with the morning glory of Easter Sunday, and the Sacred Triduum draws to its close on Easter Sunday evening. May we all participate in these coming holy days with the same zeal and love for God manifested by Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodriguez.
Welcome to Holy Week!
Crucific photo CC Luis Fernández García