Okay, let's get this over with. As you know, I am a lifelong practising Catholic. I love everything about my faith. I love the church - the rituals and the traditions, the bells and smells. I love the seasons and the feast days, everything about it really.
Except Holy Week.
This week, which starts today and ends next Saturday.
I know, I know. It's the pinnacle of the faith. It's what the Church is built on. And I absolutely dread it, every single year.
Ever since I was a little girl, Christ's Passion has horrified me. When we were learning about it at school, I would put my fingers in my ears and pray that it would end soon. And that feeling never went away. I'm not a little girl any longer, but I still feel the same. For me, it is the worst week of the year, and I cannot wait until it is over.
I found this Palm Sunday reflection here. It's longer than my usual posts, but I urge you to read it.
After spending the last few weeks in the desert of Lent, suddenly we find ourselves in an oasis, clutching long leaves of palms.But like so many things you see after being in the desert, it’s a mirage. What we see, or think we see, is about to shift before our eyes. Soon enough, the palms will be whips. The leaves will be thorns. Jubilation will become jeers. That is the paradox and the mystery of Holy Week.
The liturgies of this week are powerful and primal. In the days to come, there is silence and smoke, fire and water, shadow and light. We are a part of something both ancient and new, and what we do this week reminds us of that. The altar will be stripped. The cross will be venerated. The tabernacle will be emptied. The Blessed Sacrament will be moved. Bells will be stilled.And yet here we stand, at the gates to Jerusalem, palms in our hands and hosannas on our lips, beginning the arduous trek to Calvary.
This week, take the time to wonder about what we are doing, and what we are remembering.For close to two thousand years, we have gathered like this, in places like this, to light candles and chant prayers and read again the ancient stories of our deliverance and redemption.
But are we aware of what we are doing? Do we understand what it means? Do we realize the price that was paid? A proper accounting is impossible. The ledger—His life, for our souls—seems woefully unbalanced. So try this. This week, take a moment in each day that passes to wonder: What was He doing during this time of that one week all those centuries ago? What was crossing His mind on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday? What sort of anguish? What kind of dread?
Has anything we have ever worried about, or lost sleep over, or agonized about, even come close? He was a man like us in all things but sin. He must have been terrified, His mind buzzing with questions. Long after the others had drifted off to sleep, did He stay awake and worry? Maybe He sat up alone, late at night, whittling a piece of wood, the way His father had taught Him, until a splinter sliced His skin, drawing a rivulet of blood. He might have flinched and thought: Well, this is nothing. And still it stings. How intense would the pain of death become? How long would it last? How much humiliation would He be forced to endure, stripped and bleeding? And: What about His mother? Is there anything He could do to spare her from this?
As you shop for Easter baskets and dye, think of this. Ponder this. Wonder about it. Make it a kind of prayer.And then, remember what we are doing, and why.
Because, of all the calendars in all of human history, this is the week that changed the world.
Originally published in the bulletin of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic Church, Forest Hills, New York,
on April 9, 2006