Peace and Good in Christ!
I extend heartfelt blessings for Easter 2016!
Easter comes at the end of Holy Week, which begins with Palm/ Passion Sunday, and concludes with Easter. It is a journey through the last weeks of the life of Christ, and all of salvation history for the people of God. It is the most solemn and Holy Week of the entire Christian liturgical year.
Liturgy literally means, "the work of the people." But, St. Benedict reminds us that it also means, "the work of God!" So, liturgy is where the work of the people, and the work of God come together in one mystical celebration. Liturgy is not simply ritual! Liturgy is a mystical celebration where God and humanity, heaven and earth meet.
We begin with Palm/Passion Sunday in which we recognize that our initial joy of welcoming Jesus into the city of our life can all too quickly end with denial of Christ when following Him requires real sacrifice and commitment. But this is just the beginning of the week.
The high point of Holy Week is the Triduum, and the high point of the Triduum is the Easter Vigil.
The Triduum begins with Maunday, or Holy Thursday. Here we celebrate the institution of the Mass with the Mass of the Lord's Supper. We also celebrate the institution of the ordained priesthood and honor our presbyteral clerical leaders. Likewise we celebrate the blessing of Chrism, or the holy oils used by the bishops and priests in the sacraments of the Anointing of the Sick, Confirmation, and Holy Orders.
After the Mass we begin the liturgical journey of the Passion with Jesus to the Agony of the Garden, the betrayal and arrest, the mock trial of injustice, and the night in prison. It's a long night for Jesus!
Good Friday is the commemoration of the Lord's Passion on the cross, and the Veneration of the Cross. We call Good Friday, "good," because we celebrate the loving sacrifice of God in Jesus for everyone, and for each one of us personally. It begins with the trial before Pilate, and ends with the crucifixion of Jesus, His death on the cross, and being laid to rest in the tomb. Here we focus on every suffering and every drop of blood Jesus shed for each of us personally. We meditate on how much God loves us, and we respond personally to his call of love on our life. We give ourselves completely to Jesus because he first gave himself completely to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit for each one of us personally.
Holy Saturday is eerily quiet and still. We try to reenact and capture something of the sense of absence that the first followers of Jesus must have felt after he died on the cross. No liturgies. No Communion. No Sacrament in the tabernacle. All church decor is gone or draped. All is empty and lifeless.
Then, after sundown and before sunrise on Sunday we celebrate the Easter Vigil. We meet in darkness before the non Christian world awakes. We go all the way through salvation history in our readings beginning with creation and the call of the chosen people. Then, in the gospel we discover the empty tomb of Jesus Christ and the sheer amazement of the first disciples! First the women, then the men. First the laity, then the clergy. We too are amazed. From death to life! From darkness to everlasting light! From humiliation to glory! From sin and sorrow to holiness and joy! All is made new in the Risen Christ!
On Easter morning we begin with joyful shouts of Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Those who do not participate in the Easter Vigil go to Easter Sunday Mass if Catholic, or other Easter services. Most all of us celebrate with a joyful Easter meal with family and friends! It is a day of unparalleled joy in Christ and the Church!
This year we especially remember that Christians are the most persecuted people on the face of the earth. This Holy Week we cannot but be poignantly reminded of the sacrifice our brothers and sisters are making for Jesus and for us all around the world. We especially remember the genocide of Christians and religious minorities under ISIS. And, we must also be vigilant at home. Persecution in the denial of religious freedom, the most fundamental human right to be born, or simply being ignored also happens here. In a special way we remember our government leaders and elections this year.
But there is also good news! Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds in places like Africa and India! There are more catechumens in Africa then members of the Catholic Church. It is reported that some 6,000,000 Muslims accepted Jesus in Africa in one year alone! Here at the Hermitage we also receive a new member into the Catholic Church this Easter. And, of course, we continue to see the beginning of authentic Catholic Revival as we travel across America in my JMT ministry. There are signs of hope everywhere!
I pray with you this Holy Week, and especially this Triduum and Easter. Make the journey personally. Don't just follow a ritual. Make a mystical liturgical journey that is personal and truly life changing! Jesus did all of this personally for all of us, and got each one of us. It is intimate. It is powerful. It is life changing. I pray you give your life fully and personally to Jesus Christ this year at this holy and special time. He has given His life for each one of us personally. That's really what we celebrate.
Happy Easter! Christ is risen! New life now begins!
John Michael Talbot