[Editor’s Note: This article includes suggestions for living Holy Week. Bookmark this article or pin it on Pinterest for future reference!]
Easter without Holy Week has no meaning.
Jesus rose from the dead. It is the raison d’être of our faith. Without the Resurrection, nothing else matters. Saint Paul says it best:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. (1 Corinthians 15:13-19)
But we cannot truly understand the Resurrection nor believe in it unless we also understand the events leading up to it. We must pay homage to the otherworldly events which led up to the empty tomb. This is why Holy Week is so vital to our faith life. It is paramount, as the end of Lent draws near, to slow down and focus upon the events of each day building up to Easter Sunday. Take the time.
The Raising of Lazarus
Begin with the raising of Lazarus, solely documented by John (John 11:1-53), but recognized by every Gospel writer. This was the last miracle which Jesus performed before the Crucifixion, and it was the one which truly set up the events of Holy Week.
To raise a man who had been dead for four days, who had been buried and sealed in a tomb — this was (and still is) beyond all human understanding. It could not be explained away with magic or sleight of hand or overeager gossip. Those in power were deeply afraid of the consequences of this, both for their political positions as well as their leadership in the Jewish faith.
For this reason, their first idea was to arrange for Lazarus to be murdered (John 12:10-11). If they could get rid of Lazarus, they could discount the miracle surrounding him and cast doubt in the minds of Jesus’ believers. It was at dinner with Lazarus that Jesus was anointed with costly oil by an unknown woman — an omen of His upcoming death and burial. It was also at this dinner that we see Judas portrayed as a thief with the money he held in trust for the group. Jesus knew the hypocrisy of Judas’ self-serving questions regarding whether that oil could have been sold to help the poor. Judas had no intention of helping the poor; he wanted more money for his pocket.
Do we truly believe that Jesus can perform incredible miracles to this very day? Plan to attend as many prayer services as possible during Holy Week.
Palm Sunday: Jesus Enters Jerusalem
Jesus rides on a colt through the streets of Jerusalem, accepting the accolades of the crowds. The Pharisees are very concerned about the size and enthusiasm of the crowds (John 12: 19), suggesting that killing Lazarus would have had no effect upon Jesus’ popularity. Jesus also realizes that many people believe in Him only because of the “signs.” He challenges them to follow His Way, which requires more than mere belief:
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me. (John 12:24-26)
Do we love this life more than our life in the Kingdom with Jesus? Or do we, like many in Jesus’ time, say that we believe, but do not act on it because we “prefer human praise to the glory of God” (John 12:43). Bring home palms and place them behind a crucifix or image of Jesus in each room of our homes. (If you do not have a crucifix/image in each room, now is a good time to get them.) This can be a start to living our faith in public and living in the Kingdom now.
Holy Monday: Jesus Cleanses the Temple
So many Jews were in Jerusalem for Passover and money changers, often illicitly, were operating in the Temple area. Jesus turns over their tables and removes them, declaring that His house is a house of prayer, not a den for thieves (Luke 19:46). His implication that the Temple is His own house further infuriates and frightens the Jewish leaders.
Has Easter become more about bunnies and colored eggs than living as “Resurrection people”? Are we simply cultural Catholics who relish the traditions and trinkets, but do not live as Temples of the Holy Spirit? Have a family meeting to discuss ways in which our family can truly live its faith in its priorities and purpose. If we are putting CYO sports before Mass, Jesus needs to clean out our Temples!
Holy Tuesday: Jesus Curses the Fig Tree
Jesus leaves Jerusalem on Monday night and returns to Bethany to spend the night. The next morning, as He was going back to the city of Jerusalem, He is hungry. He spies a fig tree, but there is no fruit. He curses the tree and it immediately withers. When the Apostles see this, they ask how the tree withered so quickly.
Jesus said to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:21-22)
As Jesus approaches the Temple, many surround Him, questioning Him, seeking His counsel. He shares the parable of the two sons:
“What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21:28-32)
Jesus can’t make Himself any more clear: We must do more than just say that we believe. We must live each day of our lives as believers. In fact, it’s better to not even speak of our belief and instead just act as believers. Do people know that we are followers of Christ simply by the way we live? This is typically the day when Confession is offered for several hours in our parishes. That is a great way to prepare for the Triduum — the three days leading up to Easter.
Holy Wednesday (Spy Wednesday): Judas Conspires to Betray Jesus
Jesus continues to preach to His Apostles and those surrounding Him. He warns the Pharisees of their sinfulness and reminds His Apostles that He will be handed over to be crucified. The best-known parable which Jesus gives on this day is the story of three men and the Talents. While two of the men multiply their talents by hard work and ingenuity, that third man buries his talent in the ground so that he will not lose it.
What are we doing with the gifts God gave us? Are we “burying” them because we are too afraid that we might fail or be less than perfect? Or do we use our gifts for His glory so that others can see Him through us? This would be a great time to assess the ways in which we are using our wealth and talents in our own home. Are we using them for worldly material gain or status? Take time as a family to evaluate our priorities and examine how we use our gifts.
Holy Thursday: Jesus His Apostles’ Feet and Institutes the Eucharist
Jesus teaches His Apostles (and us) that the only way to be holy is through humble service to others. We must be last, not first. We must not seek power and glory on earth but in heaven. And Jesus helps us every step of the way by providing us with Himself in the form of bread and wine.
Jesus serves us ultimately by making Himself our literal food and drink to nourish us. Do we believe this miracle when we participate in the Mass? Do we allow the power of the Eucharist to fill us and flourish in us? Plan to attend Holy Thursday evening Mass in which the priest washes the feet of others and where the final consecration of the Eucharist will take place until Easter. Spend some time in Adoration.
Good Friday: Jesus Suffers and Dies on the Cross
Jesus allows Himself to be completely humiliated. He is mocked, cruelly scourged, and crucified like a common criminal. All of his Apostles either run away or deny Him. Only His mother will stay as close as she can, in the end, supported only by some other women and the Apostle John, to whom Jesus entrusts her before He dies.
Where were all the people for whom Jesus performed miracles? The healed lepers? The blind who now see? The father of a daughter who was healed or the centurion whose slave was cured? How often do we fail to recognize Jesus in our midst or pay homage to Him out of embarrassment or pride? Plan to attend Good Friday Services and pay homage to the Cross. Within our families, set up a tradition now that, between the hours of Noon to Three on Good Friday, we will either be at Church or at home, maintaining prayerful silence for those three hours. What a powerful testament to Him would that be!
Holy Saturday: The World is Quiet
The tabernacle light was extinguished on Friday. The Church is empty and bare. The great King is dead.
And so we wait, and think of our own dead loved ones, knowing that Jesus went down into Hell and freed those who believe in Him from the punishment of their sin. Again, this is not a day to go out shopping or participate in sports. Stay home, work quietly, and contemplate the great sacrifice of our Lord. Plan to attend Easter Vigil at midnight tonight.
Easter Vigil: Hallelujah! He Has Risen!
The Sabbath is over and the women go to anoint His body in the tomb, but He is gone. Jewish days run from sundown to sundown, so this was the early morning of the third day. Imagine their astonishment, their fear, their confusion as they run to tell the others.
Are we still astonished? Would we, like others who saw and touched and spoke with the Risen Lord, give up our former life to follow Him? Or do we just go back to our fishing nets, our tax collecting, or our sheep? Plan to attend the Easter Vigil where the new fire is lit and new Catholics are welcome to our Church. Feel their joy as they, for the first time, know what it is like to participate in the Eucharist and join the community of believers.
Then let us take that joy home with us, and keep it burning throughout Easter Season, and until our worldly death.
He has risen!