By Father Andrew Young
Holy Week provides us with a marvelous opportunity to reflect on the unfathomable depths of God’s mercy. The events of this single week changed the course of human history and unleashed the floodgates of mercy on a world that was crying out for God. Allowing ourselves to recognize the abundant graces available to us in Holy Week can help us to more fully understand the lengths to which God will go to extend to us the absolutely priceless gift of being restored to his life of grace and peace.
Holy Week begins with the celebration of Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, in which we commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem just a few days before he would lay down his life for our salvation. In the “Prayer Over the Offerings” from the Palm Sunday Mass, we are reminded of the fact that our reconciliation with God, even though it is not something that we deserve, is freely given to us through the passion of Christ.
Likewise, at the Chrism Mass, we hear the beautiful words, “May the power of this sacrifice, O Lord, we pray, mercifully wipe away what is old in us, and increase in us grace of salvation and newness of life.” God wants to give us new life and all that is required of us is to simply allow him to work in our lives. If we pay attention to the many occasions in which God is prompting us to embrace his life-changing mercy and allow him to take those burdens away from us in the sacrament of penance, we will have “what is old in us” wiped away and experience the joy of the new person in Christ that each of us is called to be.
At the end of the week, we experience the holiest days of the year, the sacred Triduum. These days commemorate the final days of Jesus’ earthly mission and his bestowing upon us the greatest gifts imaginable: namely, two of our sacraments (the Eucharist and Holy Orders) and the gift of his life on the Cross to save us from our sins. On Holy Thursday, we remember the institution of the priesthood and the celebration of the first Eucharist. During this Mass, we pray that we may always worthily participate in the Eucharist because every time it is celebrated, our redemption is accomplished. That sentence alone should stop us in our tracks. Our God loves us so much that he doesn’t brood over our sins but instead gives us the means to be forgiven daily, even multiple times per day, in every corner of the world. The Mass is offered all across the world every day (except Good Friday), and at every Mass, our redemption is accomplished through the mystical power of God that unites us to the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.
Good Friday brings us the opportunity to very solemnly remember Christ’s death for each of us. While there is no Mass celebrated that day, we do have a very beautiful Good Friday liturgy that is meant to take us back to that day that was both the saddest day in human history but also the day that set us free from the power of sin and death. At the end of this liturgy, we are sent forth with these words, “Almighty, ever-living God, who has restored us to life by the blessed death and resurrection of your Christ, preserve in us the work of your mercy, that by partaking in this mystery, we may have a life unceasingly devoted to you.”
On that dark day, 2000 years ago, mankind rejected, tortured and executed God. God responded to that horrific event by restoring us to life and giving us the grace of forgiveness. That fact is astounding. In the face of the worst evil mankind could produce, God reminds us that his mercy is stronger. In the face of our own periods of doubt, despair and desolation, God extends his loving hand to lift us up and send us out into the world to share the good news of his mercy with others. These are all nice words and pious thoughts, but the events that follow on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday prove to us that they are not just happy thoughts and wishful thinking — they are the profound truth of God.
Holy Saturday is that day in which we remember Christ’s time spent in the tomb. That night, we celebrate the single most solemn and beautiful liturgy of the year, the Easter Vigil. This Mass, begun in utter darkness and then powerfully overcome with the light of Christ, draws us into the very mystery of how God has constantly worked in human history to bestow his mercy and return us to his life of grace. In the prayer after the final Old Testament reading we ask God to “grant that we may comprehend your mercy, so that the gifts we receive from you this night may confirm our hope of your gifts to come.” The Easter Vigil and the subsequent Masses of Easter Sunday show us the depths of God’s mercy, a mercy that transcends time and space, a mercy that can only come from God.
Holy Week is truly a week of mercy. The events of the week and the liturgies that tie us to those events are majestic displays of God’s unfathomable kindness and generosity to us — his children. May we all make the most of the mercy that God extends to us through this most sacred week and may each of us know the peace and joy that can only come from God, a mercy he manifests through the holiest days of the year!
Father Andrew Young is the vocations promoter for the Diocese of Covington, Ky.