During his general audience on March 31, on the eve of the Easter Triduum, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the significance of the upcoming liturgical celebrations. He encouraged the faithful to participate fully and wholeheartedly in these celebrations, which commemorate the great events of Christ’s passover from death to the fullness of life.
Dear brothers and sisters,
We are about to experience those holy days that invite us to meditate upon the central events of our redemption, the essence and the heart of our faith. Tomorrow the Easter Triduum begins, the pivotal point around which the entire liturgical year revolves, a time when we are called to silence and prayer in order to meditate on the mystery of Our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection.
In their homilies, the Fathers of the Church often make reference to these days, which, as St. Athanasius observes in one of his Easter letters, introduce us “to the time that makes us aware of that new beginning — the day of the holy paschal mystery — in which the Lord died for us” (Letters 5,1-2: PG 26, 1379).
I encourage you, therefore, to live out these days in an intense way, so that they may decisively guide our lives to a strong and generous commitment to Christ, who died and rose for us.
An Appeal to Priests
Tomorrow morning, during the chrism Mass that is the first act of Holy Thursday, priests will gather together with their respective bishops. During this important Eucharistic celebration, which customarily takes place in the cathedral of the diocese, the oils used for catechumens, the sick and those being confirmed will be blessed. Moreover, the bishop and his priests will renew the promises they made as priests on the day of their ordination.
This year, this gesture is particularly significant because it takes place in the context of the Year for Priests, which I called to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of the saintly Curé of Ars. I would like to reiterate to all priests the hopeful wish that I expressed at the end of the letter I wrote to open this year: “As Curé of Ars did, let yourselves be enthralled by Christ. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!”
The Eucharistic Mystery
Tomorrow evening we will celebrate the institution of the Eucharist. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, confirmed the truth of the Eucharistic mystery to these first Christians, communicating what he himself had learned: “that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
These words clearly manifest Christ’s intention. Under the species of bread and wine, he makes himself truly present to us with the body he gave and the blood he shed in the sacrifice of the New Covenant. At the same time, he made the apostles and their successors ministers of this sacrament, which he offers to his Church as supreme proof of his love.
Alone With Jesus
Moreover, in a very moving rite, we will remember Jesus as he washed the feet of the apostles (see John 13:1-25). For John the Evangelist, this act depicts Jesus’ entire life and reveals his love to the end — an infinite love, capable of making man fit for communion with God and of setting man free.
At the end of Holy Thursday’s liturgy, the Church transfers the Blessed Sacrament to a specially prepared place of reposition, which represents the loneliness of Gethsemane and Jesus’ mortal anguish. Before the Blessed Sacrament, the faithful contemplate Jesus in the hour of his loneliness and pray for an end to all the loneliness in the world.
This liturgical journey is also an invitation to seek an intimate encounter with the Lord in prayer — to recognize Jesus among those who are alone, to keep watch with him and to be able to proclaim him the light of our own lives.
On Good Friday, we will recall Our Lord’s passion and death. Jesus offered his life as a sacrifice for the remission of the sins of mankind, choosing to be crucified — the most cruel and most humiliating death.
There is an indissoluble bond between the Last Supper and Jesus’ death. During the Last Supper, Jesus offered his body and blood, that is, his earthly existence, anticipating his own death and transforming it into an act of love.
Thus, he makes death, which, by nature, is the end and the destruction of every relationship, an act in which he communicates himself as the instrument of salvation and as the proclamation of the victory of love. In this way, Jesus becomes the key to understanding the Last Supper, which is an anticipation of the transformation of the violence of death into a voluntary sacrifice, an act of love that redeems and saves the world.
Holy Saturday is characterized by a great silence. The churches are stripped bare, and there is no special liturgical event. During this time of expectation and hope, believers are invited to prayer, reflection and conversion — especially through the sacrament of reconciliation — so that, profoundly renewed, they may participate in the celebration of Easter.
Victory Over Death
On the night of Holy Saturday, during the solemn Easter Vigil, “mother of all vigils,” this silence will be broken with the singing of the Alleluia, which announces Christ’s resurrection and proclaims the victory of light over darkness, of life over death. The Church rejoices in the meeting with her Lord, entering into the day of Easter, which the Lord inaugurated by rising from the dead.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us prepare ourselves to live this holy triduum, which is now upon us, in an intense way so we may enter even more deeply into the mystery of Christ, who died and rose from the dead for us. May the Blessed Virgin accompany us on this spiritual journey! May she, who followed Jesus throughout his passion and was present at the foot of the cross, lead us into the paschal mystery, so that we will be able to experience the joy and peace of the risen Christ.
It is with these desires that I convey to you my most cordial wishes for a holy Easter — good wishes that I also extend to your communities and all your loved ones.