The liturgical celebrations of Holy Week offer a key to living moments of loneliness, worry and uncertainty, when God seems distant, Pope John Paul II told thousands of pilgrims during the weekly general audience on April 19.
The Holy Father recalled that Christ, dying on the cross, felt abandoned by God but was actually guided by the Father in obtaining the victory over sin and death.
The contemplation of the Lord's passion — and the imitation of his complete acceptance of the will of God — offers believers a key to understanding their own suffering and to achieve a share in Christ's victory.
The Lenten journey, which we began on Ash Wednesday, reaches its climax in this week, justly called “Holy.” We are getting ready to relive the most holy events of our salvation over the next few days: the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.
Before us in these days, as an eloquent symbol of God's love for humanity, stands the cross. At the same time, the invocation of the dying Redeemer resounds in the liturgy: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Often this cry of suffering is “ours” in the various painful situations of existence, which can cause deep discomfort and generate preoccupations and uncertainties. In moments of solitude and loss, not infrequent in our lives, the exclamation can surge up in the soul of the believer: “The Lord has abandoned me!”
The passion of Christ and his glorification on the tree of the cross, however, cast a different light on such events. On Golgotha, the Father, in the fullness of the sacrifice of his only-begotten Son, does not abandon him. Instead, he is bringing the plan of salvation to completion for all of humanity. In his passion, death and resurrection, he reveals to us that the last word in human existence is not death, but rather the victory of God over death. Divine love, made fully clear in the Paschal Mystery, conquers death and sin, which is its cause (see Romans 5:12).
In these days of Holy Week, we enter into the heart of the saving plan of God. The Church wants to remind everyone in a special way during this Jubilee Year that Christ died for each man and each woman, because the gift of salvation is universal. The Church shows the face of a crucified God, which does not cause fear, but communicates only love and mercy. It is impossible to remain indifferent to the sacrifice of Christ!
In the soul of those who pause to contemplate the passion of the Lord, sentiments of profound gratitude spring up spontaneously. Spiritually climbing Calvary with him, we are able to somehow experience the light and joy that come from his resurrection.
We will relive this with the help of God in the Easter triduum. By means of the eloquence of the rites of Holy Week, the liturgy will show us the undeniable continuity that exists between the passion and the resurrection. The death of Christ already carries within itself the seed of the resurrection.
The prelude to the Easter triduum will be the celebration of the Mass of the Holy Chrism tomorrow morning, Holy Thursday, which will see the priests gathered in their diocesan cathedrals around their respective shepherds. The oils of the sick, of catechumens, and the chrism will be blessed for the administration of the sacraments. This rite is dense with meaning, accompanied by the particularly significant act of the renewal by the presbyters of their priest-ly commitments and promises. It is the day of the priests, which brings us, the ministers of the Church, each year to rediscover the value and the meaning of our priesthood, gift and mystery of love.
That evening, we will relive the memorial of the institution of the Eucharist, sacrament of God's infinite love for humanity. Judas betrays Jesus; Peter, despite all his affirmations, denies him; the rest of the apostles abandon him in the moment of the passion. Few remain at his side. But still, the Lord entrusted his testament to these fragile men, offering himself in his body given up and his blood poured out for the life of the world (see John 6:51). It is an incomparable mystery of presence and of goodness!
On Good Friday, the narration of the Passion will resound, and we will be invited to venerate the cross, extraordinary symbol of divine mercy. The crucifix points out to us, who are often confused when distinguishing between good and evil, the only way that gives meaning to human existence. It is the way of total acceptance of the will of God, and of generous giving of ourselves to our brothers and sisters.
On Holy Saturday, a day of great liturgical silence, we will pause to reflect on the meaning of these events. The Church will keep careful vigil together with Mary, Mother of Sorrows, and with her will await the rising of the dawn of the resurrection. At the dawning of the “first day after the Sabbath,” the silence will be broken by the joyful Paschal announcement, proclaimed in the festive hymn of the Exsultet, during the solemn liturgy of the Easter Vigil. The triumph of Christ over death will shake, along with the stone before the tomb, the hearts and minds of the faithful, and bring them deeper into the same joy experienced by Mary Magdalene, the holy women, the apostles, and those to whom the Risen One appeared on Easter Day.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us prepare our hearts to live this Holy Triduum intensely. Let us permit ourselves to be filled with the grace of these holy days, and as the holy bishop Athanasius exhorted: “Let us also follow the Lord, that is, imitate him, and so we will have found the way to celebrate this feast not only exteriorly, but in a more real way, that is, not only with words, but also with works” (Easter Letters, letter 14, 2).