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  • Fr. Daniel Okafor

Fr. Daniel's Corner / April 10, 2022

Jesus' Last Week

At the heart of our faith is the Paschal mystery: The Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. All of salvation history leads up to and goes forth from these saving events. Jesus’ final week, also called “Holy Week” culminates his public ministry with the special liturgies of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. By celebrating them in community, we make them present today and we learn again, in a new way, the reality of our Risen Lord alive in our midst.

PALM SUNDAY – Our celebration of Holy Week begins today as we remember and make present the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem to begin His final week and initiate His Passion. All four Gospels recount this triumphant entry on that Sunday morning so long ago but made present to us today. As you receive your palms, consider that you are part of that vast crowd. How will you journey with Jesus this week? Let the palms remind you to praise Him with your prayerful presence during the sacred Triduum. According to Mark 11:11, Jesus returned that evening to Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. Perhaps He stayed with his friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.

HOLY THURSDAY marks the beginning of the sacred Triduum, or “three days.” Earlier in the day, Jesus had given instructions to the disciples on how to prepare for this most holy meal, which would be His last supper. Throughout the day they made these preparations (cf Mt 26:17). In the Mass of the Lord’s Supper conducted at our parishes, we remember and make present that Last Supper which Jesus shared with His disciples. We are in the upper room with Jesus and the apostles, and we do what they did. Through the ritual of washing the feet (Jn 13:1) of twelve parishioners, we unite in service to one another. Through our celebration of this First Mass and Holy Eucharist (Mt 26:26), we unite ourselves to Jesus and we receive His Body and Blood as if for the first time. At this Eucharist, we especially thank God for His gift of the ministerial priesthood. After the Last Supper (First Mass), Jesus and the apostles made a short journey across the Kidron Valley to the Garden, where He asked them to pray while He experienced His agony (cf Mt 26:30). We will process in Church with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to a garden (the altar of repose) that has been prepared. The liturgy ends in silence. It is an ancient custom to spend an hour before the reposed Blessed Sacrament this night. We are with Jesus in the Garden and we pray as He goes through His agony.

GOOD FRIDAY – All through the previous night, Jesus had been locked in the dungeon of the high priest’s house. Early in the morning He was brought before Pontius Pilate, who transferred the case to Herod. Herod promptly sent Him back to Pilate who, sometime in mid-morning, bowed to the pressure of the Temple leadership and the crowds and condemned Jesus to a horrible death by crucifixion. In the late morning, Jesus was taken by soldiers through the city and up the hillside of Golgotha. By noon He had been nailed to the Cross, where He hung in agony for some three hours. Jesus died at around three in the afternoon. He was taken down from the Cross and hastily placed in the tomb before sundown. Today is a day of prayer, fasting, and abstinence. To the extent possible, Christians are urged to keep today free of work, social engagements, and entertainment, devoting themselves to communal prayer and worship. At noon many parishes gather for Stations of the Cross and for recollections of the seven last words of Jesus. Many parishes also offer Stations of the Cross at 3:00 PM, the hour of Jesus’ death. In the evening, we gather quietly in our parish Churches to enter into a time of prayer, as we reflect on Jesus’ death on the Cross. We also pray for the needs of the world. To acknowledge the power of the Cross in our lives today, each of us in turn comes forward to venerate the Cross with a kiss. Our hunger from this day of fasting is satisfied with Holy Communion distributed at the end of this liturgy.

HOLY SATURDAY – The body of Jesus was in the tomb, but His soul was among the dead, announcing the Kingdom. The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it will Live (John 5:25). Consider what it must have been like for the dead in Sheol to awaken to the voice of Jesus! Meanwhile, the disciples, heartbroken at the death of Jesus, observed the Jewish Sabbath in sorrow. They had forgotten Jesus’ promise that He would rise. We cannot forget His promise. We cannot forget it. Tonight, in our parishes, after sundown, we gather for the Great Easter Vigil, where we will experience Jesus’ rising from the dead. We gather in darkness and light the Easter fire, which reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world. We enter the church and listen attentively to Bible stories describing God’s saving work of the past. Suddenly, the church lights are lit, and the Gloria is sung as we celebrate the moment of Christ’s resurrection. He lives! In the joy of the resurrection, we then celebrate the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist for our catechumens and candidates, who have prepared for many weeks for this night. As a Church, we sing Alleluia for the first time in forty days. Our Easter Vigil ushers in an Easter joy that never ends!

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