By FATHER GAURAV SHROFF, Commentary | Published April 16, 2014
At some point on the Fifth Sunday of Lent I noticed that the statues were veiled. This customary detail, which points to the hiddenness of the divinity of Christ especially in the cruelty and brutality of his Passion, signals to the faithful the transition to Passiontide, the final two weeks of Lent.
The Preface changes to the Passion of the Lord, proclaiming the power of Christ crucified. The readings at daily Mass highlight the dramatic last weeks of Jesus’ life and his conflict with the Pharisees. The Church invites the faithful to contemplate Christ crucified in their hearts. Just as the Israelites in the desert were saved by gazing on the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:9), so are we, when we look upon the Son of Man, who draws all things to himself when he is raised up (John 3:14, 12:32).
I have at least four additional homilies to prepare for Holy Week! I surely hope there isn’t a repeat of my first Christmas Mass as a priest, when the thurible set off the fire alarm at the gym (talk about memorable). The altar society is getting ready for the liturgical transitions of the week. The programs are being put together. The choirs are busy rehearsing. This Friday, for the last time this season, the crowd kneels, young and old, on the asphalt of the parking lot, following in soul and body, the last earthly walk of their Lord and Savior. “Te adoramos oh Cristo, y te bendecimos, porque por tu santa cruz, redimiste al mundo.” My first Lent as a priest is drawing to a close.
Holy Week! With all its silence and its drama! The triumphant entry into Jerusalem of our King, riding on a humble donkey. Hosannas ring out from eager throats, which only too soon will be crying, “Crucify him!”
On Tuesday, renewing my “yes” to the Lord and his Church, with all my brother priests, the Archbishop who ordained me only 10 months ago and our auxiliary bishops at the Chrism Mass, as the oils that will bear Christ’s healing to his people are consecrated and blessed.
On Thursday, the commemoration of the Last Supper, with the institution of the Eucharist, and the ministerial priesthood, intimately linked together, and inseparable from the Mandatum, the command to love one another, to serve, to wash feet, in a bilingual Mass in our parish.
The Eucharist, Christ’s enduring Presence, the pledge of our future glory, is reserved and adored through the evening.
On Good Friday, several young folks who have been assiduously practicing for hours every week through Lent will dramatize the events of the Passion, as we recall the Lord’s sacrifice, his “yes” to the will of the Father, his self-emptying, and the seeming triumph of evil, as the curtain of the temple is rent, on the one day when the Sacrifice of the Mass is not offered.
On Holy Saturday, silence. The silence of the tomb. The silent, quiet faith of the Blessed Mother, who alone believed, while all fled in terror and confusion. Some 40 folks in our parish will be making their final preparations to receive the holy sacraments of initiation, to be baptized, welcomed joyfully into the Church, a culmination of so many unique journeys, the mysterious drama of grace played out, foreseen from all eternity.
Also on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Holy Week missions, our parish missionary outreach. The faithful of different backgrounds and ages, visiting neighborhoods, trailer parks, nursing homes and businesses, walking with the cross, singing hymns, praying. Inviting prayer intentions, visiting the homes of our brothers and sisters who have been away from Mass, inviting all to come celebrate the triumph of Life, sharing the joy of the Gospel.
And then, a small light in the evening gloom, a single tall flame, spreading like wildfire, as the song of exultation rises in the darkened church. Exult, exult! Let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph! This is the night when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose triumphant from the underworld. O happy fault, that earned so great, so glorious a redeemer.
The story of salvation is read, the Gloria resounds to the rafters, the long muted Alleluia bursts forth as the Church, with unrestrained joy, sings the triumph of her Bridegroom. Christ has risen from the dead, trampling death by his death, and to those in tombs bringing life. Life will flow from the Christ’s pierced side, and Holy Mother Church will bring forth new children, washed in the waters of baptism, sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and fed with his Body and Blood.
Long after the stores have sold their discounted Easter bunnies and peeps and moved on to the next thing, the Church will be singing her amazement at the empty tomb and her Savior, her hope, who now goes before her in triumph.
For seven of us, ordained last year in the Cathedral of Christ the King as priests of Jesus Christ, this Holy Week and Easter will be particularly memorable. The invitation, however, is for all of us, during this holy season.
Join your whole heart, your whole self, to the drama of our salvation. Surrender to Christ. Commit yourself once more to him, trust him, and follow him in his Church, as you renew your baptismal promises, your “yes” to Christ this Easter.
Father Gaurav Shroff is a parochial vicar at St. Joseph Church in Athens. He blogs (occasionally), at http://gashwingomes.blogspot.com/.