March 14, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

God’s divine gift is celebrated in noble simplicity during Holy Week

What makes for good religion? What makes for good worship in our churches?

Are soul-stirring sermons and rousing hymn-singing the key to salvation? Are people who attend a heartwarming Holy Week concert of sacred music more likely to be saved than those who gather for Easter Mass at one of our smallest mission churches?

The mystery of Jesus Christ which we celebrate is much more profound than what we do with it in word and song. Word and song is important, but the mystery is essential.

The drama of Holy Week warms the soul. Three special days—the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil—are filled with the drama and pathos of our salvation, which culminates at the great Easter celebration.

If we take our salvation seriously, we owe it to ourselves to take part in the Church’s commemoration of Holy Week and Easter. This is not just another week in early spring.

The dramatic Passion plays and the stirring choral presentations in many churches are wonderful. Soul-stirring drama and music does much to dispose us to the true meaning of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Sensing the pathos of the suffering of Jesus and getting in touch with our sorrow and our need to repent because our sins brought him to such suffering is part of good liturgy. And so are the good Easter feelings, knowing that after all is said and done we have been saved.

But good worship and good religion is much more than soul-stirring feelings that may fade by Easter Monday morning. I think most of us realize that if we had to depend on feelings to move us to do what we need to do (and not do) in order to be saved, most of us would be in trouble much of the time. Good worship (and good religion) therefore is more than good feelings.

Jesus gave us the Church and the sacraments of the Church because we need signs that we can see and touch, we need visible signs that we are saved.

We need visible signs that somehow make present even now what was more than dramatic play-acting during his Passion, death and resurrection while Jesus Christ was on Earth.

We believe that Jesus founded the Church so that the mystery of his life and death can be carried on even as he sits at the right hand of the Father. We believe he gave us the sacraments to make his mystery of salvation present even now.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, we celebrate the chrism Mass during which we bless the holy oils, which are used in the sacraments of the Church. And we commemorate the institution of the sacrament of holy orders with the renewal of promises by the priests of our archdiocese. Without the priesthood, there would be no Eucharist.

On Holy Thursday, we commemorate the Last Supper, the institution of the holy Eucharist, the greatest of our sacraments. The entire mystery of Jesus is represented every time Mass is celebrated, whether in the grandest cathedral or in the smallest mission chapel. At every celebration of Mass, the entire drama of salvation is not only called to mind, but it is made present and specially available to us once more. No stirring sermon or no rousing chorale can make such a claim or do so much good.

And at the Easter Vigil, we welcome new sisters and brothers into our community of faith. We celebrate the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, which initiate us into the Church and the opportunity for salvation.

Holy Week and Easter remind us that there is much more to life and reality than meets the eye. God so loved the world that he asked his only Son to give his life for each one of us. What do we do in return?

Good religion and good worship means we give our love to God. We go to church to give thanks and not just to get some good feelings.

Again, there is nothing wrong with good feelings, and our challenge is to plan our liturgical celebrations in such a way that we are emotionally moved as well. But we need to go deeper in our minds and hearts to embrace the wondrous mystery of our salvation present to us even now.

I encourage all of us to go out of our way to participate in the liturgy of Holy Week as we approach Easter.

Beginning with the drama of Palm Sunday, in faith we probe the meaning of our very lives in response to God’s love for us.

This Divine gift is celebrated in noble simplicity during the great Holy Week, the Triduum and the great Easter Vigil. †

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