By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published April 1, 2016 | En Español
Most of us may have several notable personal memories of Holy Weeks from our past. They might be from our own family traditions where we visited several local neighborhood churches on Holy Thursday evening to pray at their Eucharistic reservation shrines, or those special food baskets that were prepared, chock-full with many of the delights relinquished during the season of Lent, to be blessed on Holy Saturday mornings, or perhaps serving as altar boys at some of the intricate liturgies that only took place during that one week of the church year.
Since becoming the Archbishop of Atlanta, one of my very favorite Holy Week activities begins with the Palm Sunday “donkey procession.” Each year, our Cathedral rents a donkey or two to lead the Palm Sunday procession around the property before we begin Mass. The sheer delight of the little ones at the sight of a real live donkey is a memory that fills me with much enjoyment. They come up to pet the donkey, perhaps even to ask their parents if they can bring it home, and then they follow the donkey procession offering comments that might not be particularly religious, but are always unforgettable. This year one little girl in a stage whisper loud enough to be heard by most others asked: “Is the Archbishop going to ride the donkey?” Fortunately for the donkey, that’s not part of the procession tradition! That little animal adds a visible—and occasionally an audible—image to the Gospel story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The donkey helps to make Scripture come alive.
During the Palm Sunday Mass, at the Gospel, other youngsters enact the Passion narrative in church. Their parents and grandparents listen to the words of Scripture watching their youngsters give a dramatic rendition to this cherished episode of our salvation. The people of Oberammergau in Germany have a nearly 400-year-old tradition of producing an elaborate rendition of the Passion of the Lord every 10 years. The reenactment is an outstanding rendition of the mystery of the Lord’s offering of Himself. We find such dramatic interpretations of the religious themes of Holy Week both inspiring and fascinating because they make Scripture come alive for us.
The Church’s liturgy is always intended to provide many other such opportunities during Holy Week to make Scripture come alive—with the washing of feet on Holy Thursday and other such moments when actions give a visible encounter with biblical words.
For the past 36 years, there has been an ecumenical ceremony that brings Catholics and Christians from other traditions together to walk through the streets of Atlanta as a Via Dolorosa—representing the Way of the Cross pilgrims have followed in Jerusalem for centuries. This modern tradition helps us to recall that Christ still suffers, especially among the poor of this most blessed city that we call our home. Christ himself now lives under the viaducts and on the streets of our city. Christ is hungry, homeless, thirsty and cold on the very same avenues and boulevards that we all use each day. While Christ does not wear the customary apparel of his era, he usually is poorly dressed and often unshaven and unkempt. But fortunately we have many people who generously take the part of Simon of Cyrene and help Christ to bear his cross. They do so as St. Vincent de Paul members, Catholic Charities workers and volunteers, parish food pantry organizers, supporters of the St. Francis Table outreach ministry or the Atlanta Food Bank agency and countless other ways that we encounter and care for the Christ who daily walks our streets in poverty. While these activities do not garner a lot of attention, they do enact the story of Christ enduring his Passion every day in Atlanta and hopefully finding some of us who enter the drama and comfort Him—even when it’s not Holy Week.
Happy Easter, dear brothers and sisters.