by Andrew Koslosky KGCHS, Contributing Writer

As challenging as it is to walk with Jesus during Holy Week, reading about these events reminds us of Christ’s unconditional love. His life, suffering, death, and ultimate victory over death was carried out all for us. Jesus did what we could not do. He paid the price for our sins.

He made a way for us to have a good relationship with the Father. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and ends at sundown on Easter Sunday. Let’s look at the road map of our journey this very special week in our faith.

Palm Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Lent, marks the beginning of Holy Week. This day is meant to commemorate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem where people waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna.”

In the Catholic Church, before Mass begins, palms are blessed, and there is a procession that symbolizes the beginning of the spiritual journey into the Paschal Mystery that will unfold throughout Holy Week.

During the Mass, the full Gospel account of the passion and death of Jesus is read.

On Monday of Holy Week, the Gospel reading, John 12:1-11, recalls the woman who anointed Jesus with oil.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, the Gospel — John 13:21-33, 36-38 — offers a hint of the events to come as Jesus predicts the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter. In the Diocese of Biloxi, The Chrism Mass occurs on this day. The Bishop blesses sacred oils in the diocesan cathedral at this special liturgy.

The oil of chrism is used during baptisms, confirmation, ordina- tion and the consecration of altars. The oil of catechumens is used at the Easter Vigil. The oil of the sick is used to anoint people during the sacrament of the anointing of the
sick. After the mass, the oils are distributed to the parishes for sac- ramental celebrations throughout the year.

As part of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, the renewal of priest- ly promises was incorporated into the Chrism Mass. It is very special to see all the priests of the Diocese celebrating mass with their Bishop and Deacons.

On the Wednesday of Holy Week, this day is traditionally referred to as “Spy Wednesday.”  It recalls the decision of Judas to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

On Holy Thursday, we celebrate The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorating the Passover meal that Jesus shared in the Upper Room with the apostles on the night before he died.

Before the meal, he washed their feet to impress upon them the call to serve others. The church recognizes the Last Supper as the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. During the meal, Jesus also instituted the Eucharist by transforming bread and wine into his own body and blood. After the meal, Jesus went to Gethsemane where he suffered the agony in the garden, the betrayal of Judas and the brutality of being arrested.

At this mass, after Communion, the altar and sanctuary are stripped and there is a procession with the Blessed Sacrament, which is taken to a separate altar of repose, usually located on a side altar or in a chapel.

There is no dismissal or final blessing. It is the last time the Eucharist will be celebrated until the Easter Vigil. People leave in silence but continue to keep a vigil with Jesus in their hearts in anticipation of the events that will take place on the next day.

On Good Friday, The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion and Death, we continue our journey in a somber service that commemorates the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus.

Because it is considered a continuation from the night before, the liturgy begins in silence. The priest enters and lies prostrate at the foot of the altar. The service begins with the Liturgy of the Word, which includes a reading about the suffering servant in Isaiah, a psalm, a reading from the book of Hebrews, and the account of the passion and death of Jesus from the Gospel of John.

During this part of the liturgy there are special prayers for all the people in the world.

The second part of this liturgy is the veneration of the cross, an ancient practice that allows each person to touch or kiss the instrument of torture that leads to salvation. The third part of the liturgy is a Communion service with hosts that were consecrated the night before. Afterward, the tabernacle is left empty and open.

The lamp or candle usually situated next to the tabernacle, denoting the presence of Christ, is extinguished. People leave the church in silence, but continue to keep a vigil with Jesus, who has entered the tomb and will rise on the third day.

In addition to this service, many Churches pray The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of the Cross or Via Crucis, which commemorates Jesus’s passion and death on the cross. There are 14 stations each depicting a moment on his journey to Calvary, usually through sacred art, prayers, and reflections. The practice began each year on Good Friday as pious pilgrims traced his path through Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa.

Later, for the many who wanted to pass along the same route, but could not make the trip to Jerusalem, a practice developed that eventually took the form of the fourteen stations currently found in almost every church throughout the world.

In the first century, the early Christians celebrated every Sunday in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus. By the second century, they established a particular day for the celebration of the resurrection, which was connected to the Jewish Passover. Their observance began at sundown on Saturday evening.

They called it the Night of the Great Vigil, a time of remembrance and expectation that lasted throughout the night so they could sing “alleluia” at dawn on Easter morning. It was during the Night of the Great Vigil that new Christians were received into the church.

Over time, the practice of observing Holy Week spread throughout the Christian world, with prayers, historical reenactments and special liturgies.

During the Middle Ages, the celebration of the Easter Vigil gradually fell out of practice. The important days of the week were Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In 1955, the Vatican reestablished the Easter Vigil as an important part of Holy Week observances.

During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the bishops called for the restoration of the early Christian rituals for receiving new Christians into the church at the Easter Vigil. In 1988, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was issued by the Roman Catholic Church.

Today, the Easter Vigil begins the Easter fire, the lighting of the paschal candle, the reading of salvation history, the celebration of the sacraments of initiation for catechumens and renewal of baptismal promises for the faithful is once again an integral part of Holy Week celebrations.

As with Good Friday, the celebration begins in silence with people waiting in darkness.  The first part of the Vigil is the Light Service, which begins outdoors with the Easter fire and the lighting of the paschal candle.

The candle is carried into the dark church as a symbol of the Light of Christ, a powerful reminder that Jesus is light in the darkness. The individual candles, held by people in the pews, are lit from the paschal candle.

By the time the procession reaches the altar, the church is bathed in candlelight. The Exultet, an ancient song of proclamation that gives thanks and praise to God, is sung, normally by a Deacon of the Church.

During the Liturgy of the Word, Scripture readings and psalms help people reflect on all of the wonderful things God has done throughout salvation history. It is then the baptismal water is blessed, the candidates and catechumens receive the sacraments of initiation, and the congregation renew their baptismal vows.  During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, people share in the body and blood of Christ.

The mystery and ritual of the Easter Vigil touch the deepest part of people’s souls with elements of darkness, light, silence, music, fire, water and oil, along with bread and wine that become the body and blood of the risen Lord. They are reminded that new life in Christ can never be overcome by darkness or death.

For the early Christians, the celebration of Masses on Easter morning developed as a way to accommodate people who were unable to attend the Easter Vigil. Today, Easter Sunday Masses are joy-filled celebrations of the risen Lord with the singing of the Gloria and alleluias, the renewal of baptismal vows, and a sprinkling with Easter water.

After sharing in the Eucharist, people go forth strengthened in faith to serve the Lord and one another.

Easter Sunday marks the beginning of the Easter season, which will last the next 50 days and include the celebration of Jesus’ ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Quite a special time of the year for us Christian Brothers and Sisters. A time to self-examine, turn away from sin, repent and start a new with our Father in Heaven.  A time to recall the great love our Father has for us. In St. Paul’s letter to the ROMANS, the message is made very clear…

“Christ died for us at a time when we were astray. Few are willing to die for an honest person, though someone might be willing to die for a truly good person. God showed how much he loved us by having His Son die for us, even though we were sinful. Even when we were not in favor with God, he made peace with us. Now that we are at peace with God, we will be saved by the life of his Son.”

This is about as simple an explanation as we will ever get. Then there is also one of the most famous faith-based verse of the bible that puts it all in context…

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life.” – JOHN 3:16

Peace my Brothers and Sisters, and many wishes for you and your families to have a Blessed, spiritual filled Holy Week and a very Happy Easter.