By Fr Walter de Sa
The season of Lent, which took off on Ash Wednesday (February 22, 2023) comes to an end on Maundy Thursday. It comprises forty four days of preparation for the celebration of Easter.
It is a long journey, treading an uphill path, in imitation of Jesus who, along with the apostles Peter, James and John, climbed up on Mount Tabor, where He “was transfigured before them; His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light.” (Mt 17:2).
Pope Francis, in his Lenten message, calls it the “Summit”, the goal of our Lenten journey.
The Lenten practices that Christians faithfully observe, such as fasting, prayer and almsgiving, when performed in the right spirit of the season, lead us to Easter, experiencing our own transfiguration as well as that of the Church, which is the body of Christ.
WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT
The sixth Sunday of Lent brings us closer to Easter. It is known as the Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, and marks the beginning of the Holy Week. On this Sunday, the Catholic community commemorates, in a solemn way, the messianic entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem.
He was hailed and welcomed as King by the people who shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel” (Mt 21:9). People spread their garments and leafy branches on the road to receive Jesus seated on a donkey. This entrance is described in minute detail in all the four Gospels in the Bible.
What follows after Jesus’ entrance is His passion, which is part of God’s salvific plan. Jesus, Himself, had disclosed to His disciples that He would have to go to Jerusalem to suffer at the hands of the chief priests and the pharisees. He also talked to them about His death, death on a cross, as well as about His resurrection on the third day, a fact that His disciples could not grasp at that moment.
Holy Week is the last week in the life of Jesus as a human being, sent into the world by God to set humanity free from the powers of darkness. Prior to His death, He left behind a rich legacy for posterity.
At the last supper with His twelve, He instituted the Eucharist, the Priesthood, and gave the great commandment of brotherly love. At the table, He told His disciples, “I have greatly desired to eat this Passover with You before I suffer… I will not eat again until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”
Then, He took the bread and gave it to them, and said, “This is My Body to be given for you.” Similarly, He gave them the cup, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My Blood, which will be shed for you.”
Thereafter, He empowered them to do the same in His name, saying, “Do this as a remembrance of Me.” (Lk 22: 15-20) Barring John, the synoptic gospel writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, describe the Lord’s Last Supper.
John makes only a passing reference to ‘supper’ in the context of the new commandment of fraternal love given by Jesus as He washed the feet of the disciples.
John vividly describes this action of Jesus while other evangelists remain silent about it. John lays great emphasis on the commandment of love which is a distinctive sign of the disciples and followers of Christ.
Having washed the feet of the twelve, Jesus asked them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord…. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.” (Jn 13: 12-15)
The episode of washing the disciples’ feet ends with the touching words of Jesus that should stir our hearts, too, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13: 34-35)
SCENE IN GOA
As an ancient tradition goes, no masses without people are permitted on the Thursday of Holy Week. Only the Chrism Mass in the morning and the mass of the Lord’s Supper in the evening are celebrated with solemnity on Holy Thursday.
However, due to the pastoral good of the clergy and of the people, the Church allows the Chrism Mass to be anticipated on another day, but close to Easter.
In our Archdiocese, the anticipated Chrism Mass is held on a Thursday prior to the Thursday of Holy Week in the Sé Cathedral Church. The Chrism Mass, in which the priests participate along with the bishop, is significantly a manifestation of the priests’ communion with their bishop, which is called Unum Praesbiterium (one presbyterate), who are the co-workers and sharers in the triple ministry of the High Priest, Jesus Christ. Moreover, not only the unity of the priesthood but also of the sacrifice of Christ is visibly made present.
During the Chrism Mass, the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens are blessed while the Chrism Oil is consecrated by the bishop.
The Oil of the Sick, which is used in the administration of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, is blessed before the Doxology, and the blessing of the Oil of Catechumens and the Consecration of the Chrism Oil are done after post-communio (prayer after Communion).
Infants/adults who are to be baptised, are anointed with the Oil of Catechumens and the Chrism Oil. The candidates receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation and the candidates receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders are anointed with the Chrism Oil.
The Chrism Mass provides an opportunity for priests to renew the priestly vows, made on the day they were ordained priests. Thus, they are motivated and strengthened to become Christ-like shepherds tending diligently and zealously to His flock.
While the Chrism Mass is celebrated in the morning, the mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in the evening of Maundy Thursday. With this mass begins the Paschal Triduum which includes Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil and ends with the vespers on Easter Sunday of the Lord’s Resurrection.
(The writer is the parish priest of the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church and former Principal of St Xavier’s College, Mapusa)