Ever since my return to the faith several years ago I’ve always maintained that Holy Week really is the best time to be Catholic – this special week has a structural genius to it that more recent expressions of Christianity really don’t have an equivalent of. When we give ourselves to it fully, there’s something about the rhythm of this week that leads us through the cross into the tomb, and then raises us up with Christ, so that by Easter Sunday it’s almost impossible for us not to be floating on cloud nine.
Of course, the power of this week only highlights sadness of us not being able to celebrate it together as a community. I think in a special way of those who have been preparing for several months to enter the Church this week, and who now are being forced to wait a bit longer. However, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the first Easter didn’t take place in a church either. It happened at an empty tomb, while all the disciples were sequestered in a home, grief-stricken and wondering what was going on. So in some ways our experience this Easter will bear some notable similarities to that of the first disciples two thousand years ago.
Below I’ve included some resources and suggestions to help you take part in Holy Week from home, and I’ll send another letter on Thursday morning with homilies for Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Know that you are all very much in my prayers this week, and I pray that our parish community will be spiritually strengthened by the profound graces the Lord offers us this week, even as we endure a time of physical separation from each other and the sacraments.
Today we celebrate Passion Sunday—or “Palm Sunday”—when the Church recalls the entrance of Christ the Lord into Jerusalem to accomplish his Passion and Resurrection. Our liturgy today marks the beginning of what Christians in the Middle Ages referred to as “The Great Week”. Our spiritual training during these past few weeks of Lent now reach their fulfilment, and we prepare to encounter the deepest mysteries of our faith.
We speak of this week as “Holy”, and it’s worth reminding ourselves what this adjective means lest its familiarity lead us to miss its true meaning. “Holy” means other, set apart, belonging to God – and for that reason different. This week is called holy because God is uniquely present and active in it: in it are celebrated—in it are still powerful—the events through which Our Lord has redeemed us.
The events we will relive this week are extraordinary – and it is in their uniqueness—their holiness—that their significance lies. The centre of this uniqueness is of course the person of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen King, who is today given a king’s welcome into the Holy City.
So today we begin. Of course, we know where this is going – it’s spelled out for us in the lengthy Gospel reading assigned for today. We remember that the crowd that cheered Jesus would soon condemn him. We remember that the voices praising him also called for his death. We remember that those who loved him and promised loyalty also abandoned him, denied him, and betrayed him. As a child I was always stunned by how quickly the crowd turned on him: today he’s a hero, and by Friday they’re yelling “Crucify him!”
Just what is going on in the hearts of those who today are acclaiming Christ as the King of Israel? They obviously had their own idea of how the Messiah—the long-awaited King promised by the prophets—should act, and they were clearly disappointed by the way that Jesus chose to present himself as the Messiah and King of Israel. The cheering crowds wanted a great political figure who would restore their national independence. What they got was a man who said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
In hindsight, there’s a clue to all this in the way Jesus entered Jerusalem – not mounted upon a mighty horse, but upon a lowly donkey. G.K. Chesterton once wrote an amusing poem about this species, noting their
monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
…and proclaiming them
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
And yet, says Chesterton’s donkey, this goofy creature has a great and grand secret.
I also had my hour (he says)
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
We have here a Messiah and King that turns everything upside-down. He has come to save his people, not as a military conqueror, but as an executed criminal. And this lowly donkey has the honour of escorting him to his moment of redemption.
If we are honest, we must admit that we so often are like the crowds that welcome Jesus with joy one minute and betray him the next. How often we praise God on Sunday… and damn him on Monday. How often we continue his betrayal in ways large and small.
Pope Benedict XVI once pointed out that the question facing the crowd faces us as well:
“Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us? What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God? It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne. We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the happiness of heaven, divine beatitude. So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations? What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?”
So as we prepare to follow our King this week to the hill of Calvary, we remember that he is a king who chose to enter into his glory on the back of a lowly donkey. And as we wrestle with the implications of our counter-cultural Messiah for both our worldly longings and our very image of God, we could perhaps do well to look to our Lord’s humble steed for inspiration. Like the donkey, we are humble, yet we also have our sacred duty and privilege: to carry Christ our Lord into the world, even if only for “one fierce hour and sweet.”
Let me finish this brief reflection with some words from Archbishop Costelloe’s recent letter to the priests of our Archdiocese:
We are all to some extent stumbling about in the dark at the moment. We are praying and hoping that the worst of this crisis will soon be over – but we don’t know when. We share with everyone else our concern about our own health and that of others, especially our families, our friends, our colleagues and our people. We chafe under the burden of the restrictions placed upon us but we know how important they are. We want and need to be able to reach out to our people and provide them with the pastoral care they need and the richness of our sacramental life and spiritual traditions. We are desperately sorry for those who have lost loved ones and can’t come together to celebrate a Requiem Mass for them and entrust them to God’s loving care within the beauty and dignity of our funeral rites. We are sad, even distressed, about our inability to celebrate Holy Week and Easter as we have always done.
Even if we are struggling to see it at the moment, there will be in all of this an extraordinary gift of grace. It really is true that the Lord never abandons us. He comes to us in the midst of the storm and the darkness and says, “Have courage. I am with you. Do not be afraid” (cf. Matt 14:27) – then he leads us to safety. To borrow Saint Paul’s words from another context, “with such thoughts as these you should comfort one another” (1 Thess 4:18).
Let’s keep praying for each other, for our people, for our country and for the world.
A few parish notices:
– The parish office is open this week from 9am-12:30pm Monday to Thursday (closed on Good Friday), and on Tuesday and Thursday either Fr Matteo or myself will be in the office throughout opening hours and available for reconciliation or a chat without an appointment (we remain available at many other times by appointment).
– As announced last week, we will have blessed palms and holy water bottles available to be picked up from the portico of the parish church from 11am onwards tomorrow, and from the parish office during the week (and for folks at Serpentine, you can pick them up from Pat Kellett’s place from tomorrow afternoon onwards). Please don’t take more than you need, and maintain appropriate social distancing as usual. As for ideas for getting into the spirit of Holy Week, one possibility might be to display a palm or small green branch on your front door on Palm Sunday, to display a crucifix from a front window on Good Friday, and to display a candle from a front window for the Easter Vigil.
– Our online parish offering process is now up and running. If you would like to make a donation equivalent to your normal first or second collection offering, you can make an online bank transfer to the following accounts:
– Account name: First Collection
Account number: 851712575
– Account name: Second Collection
Account number: 852006613
You can also drop off envelopes or cash offerings in person during office hours if you wish. The Holy Land Collection (which normally takes place on Good Friday) has been moved to later in the year.
– We have decided that we won’t try to stream online the parish’s Holy Week services, but rather that it would more spiritually beneficial for everyone if we clergy don’t have to stress about tech issues and instead can pray the liturgies well. However, if the closure of churches continues to drag on, we might consider trying to stream Sunday Masses in due course. As for this week, if you want to watch the services online I would encourage you to access the Archbishop’s liturgies on one of the following platforms (he assures us that the audio issues they’ve had are being worked on):
These are the times that Archbishop Costelloe will celebrate the Holy Week liturgies:
- Palm Sunday – 11am, Sunday 5 April
- Holy Thursday – 7pm, Thursday 9 April
- Good Friday – 3pm, Friday 10 April
- Easter Vigil – 6pm, Saturday 11 April
- Easter Sunday – 11am, Sunday 12 April
– Our parish Vinnies conference is looking for younger people to help drop off food vouchers to people in need. It would only require an hour or so a week, and would simply involve putting envelopes with vouchers in peoples’ letter boxes. The regular team are still able to make all the necessary arrangements, but many of them are of an age that sees them prevented by the current travel restrictions from venturing outside much. If you or someone you know would be able to help it would be greatly appreciated – please contact Ray on 9525 4733 or email@example.com.
– This Tuesday (7th of April) is Fr Matteo’s 30th birthday (still a spring chicken!). We thank God for the gift he is to us here in Armadale, and we assure him of our prayers!
Finally, a few links:
Given that we’re all stuck at home, I recently dusted off the ol’ piano and recorded a special coronavirus version of “Piano Man” 🙂 You can view it here (the lyrics are in the video description): https://youtu.be/GA3hN9_IsNM
Our parish now has an official Facebook page, which you can find here:
I’ve attached a PDF document with some thorough Holy Week liturgies you can use at home that have been prepared by the Archdiocese of Manila (but it would be simple to adapt them for here). The Perth Archdiocesan Liturgy Office also has a number of prayer resources that you might find helpful as we enter in Holy Week:
And here are some great Holy Week resources that are more suitable for children:
If English isn’t your first language and you would like to get information and updates about the coronavirus in other languages, this is available here:
The secret to understanding spiritual communion in a time of video Masses:
Finally, let me leave you with a lovely prayer from St Teresa of Avila:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
– St Teresa of Avila
Wishing you all a blessed Holy Week!