The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no 36)
“Were You There When . . . ?”
St. Mark's Gospel is the shortest of the four. In my study Bible, which has pretty large print with many notes and references at the bottom of each page, the story is only twenty-five pages long. Even a slow reader like me can read from beginning to end in well under two hours. If you try this out for yourself, you may notice something interesting about the author's narrative strategy. About one-third of the way through, Jesus is already entering what the Church calls Holy Week. So, Mark gives us almost the whole of Jesus' public ministry in a few pages, while the final week takes up about two-thirds of his Gospel. In fact, you will find this imbalance in the other three gospels as well. As the Biblical scholars like to say, the Gospels are made up of an extended introduction followed by the Passion-Resurrection narrative. It's only a slight exaggeration. In other words, when the gospel story approaches our Lord's passion and resurrection, the narrative slows down, the attention to detail intensifies, the pace is more meditative, the focus is sharper and closer.
This narrative plan entirely determines the liturgical habits of the Church. No matter what the Scripture readings are on any given day of the week, no matter what liturgical season it is, every Mass is a celebration of Christ's Passion and Resurrection. Every Sunday is Passion Sunday, every Sunday a “little Easter”. But it is especially in Holy Week that the liturgical pace slows down, matching the pace of the gospel narrative.
There is a simple (but theologically perfect) African-American spiritual that asks the question: Were you there when they crucified my Lord . . . were you there when they laid him in tomb . . . . Were you there when he rose to live again? Our faith answers “yes” especially during Holy Week. In this most solemn time, we are called to greet Jesus as King, to watch and wait with him in the garden, to accompany him in his time of trial, to meditate upon the dark mystery of his self-offering on the Cross—and finally to proclaim his victory over death in his resurrection. The liturgies are long; you can see why. Let's try not to complain; it was a very long week for Jesus.
Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday)
The blessing of the palms in the courtyard – the palm procession –
the reading of the passion story by several voices – the first Eucharist of Holy Week.
The Triduum (The Great Three Days)
Holy Thursday: Mass of the Lord's Supper (7:00 p.m.)
The washing of feet, the transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament, silent adoration until 10:00 p.m.,
the stripping of the altar.
Good Friday, Adoration of the Cross (3:00 pm)
The reading of the Passion According to St. John in several voices, the solemn intercessions,
the placing of the large wooden cross, the adoration of the Cross, Holy Communion
The Great Vigil of Easter (8:00 pm)
The New Fire in the front courtyard, the blessing of the Pascal Candle,
the candle light procession into the dark church, the sung Easter Proclamation,
the Readings of God's saving acts in history, Holy Baptism and the renewal of baptismal vows,
the First Eucharist of Easter.
Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ (8:30, 10:00, 11:30)
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