Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Triduum (Homily on Palm Sunday)

Not long after I was ordained, I started going to the Vancouver Symphony with another young priest. Since we never seemed to get enough sleep, half the time we’d slip out at intermission and not go back. An extra hour of sleep seemed more valuable than the concert.

Nowadays the same friend and I go to the opera instead of the symphony, and we never leave at half-time—the tickets are just too expensive! On top of that, an opera tells a story, and we want to hear how it ends.

Palm Sunday is like the first act of a great opera, or even its overture. The drama of Holy Week opens with Christ’s triumphant arrival in Jerusalem. Then we listen to the story of his anguish in the garden, his betrayal, the trial before Pilate, his suffering, crucifixion and death.

Great mysteries unfold in the Gospel we have just heard. But the whole story is not told today. Where is the Last Supper? Where are all the little details that St. John tells us but that St. Luke omits? Where, indeed, is our Blessed Mother?

The Church requires only that we return to Mass on Easter Sunday, when the sad story of Christ’s Passion is transformed by the glory of his Resurrection. But I have to tell you, in all honesty, that coming back to church only next Sunday is a bit like missing the middle act of a three-act opera. The Sacred Triduum, the three days in which our liturgies tell the whole story of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and keep a solemn vigil awaiting the Resurrection, is the summit of the liturgical life of the Catholic faith.

Not even Christmas Midnight Mass can compare with the power and intensity of these three celebrations.

On Holy Thursday, we live vividly the moment when Jesus gave us the Eucharist, and he shows us the connection between the Mass and charity.

On Good Friday, we stand at the cross and pour out our prayers for ourselves and the whole world.  We join our sufferings to those of Jesus. There is no Mass, only a solemn liturgical celebration, as we ponder the mystery of the crucified Lord. 

And then, we return to church on Saturday night to watch and wait until the light of Christ, the flame of faith, casts aside the darkness. We listen to the Word of God as it unfolds God’s plan for creation. And then the joyful news arrives—He is risen! All creation is made new.

At the Easter Vigil we see how the Resurrection changes lives. The faith of the catechumens as they die and rise with Jesus in the waters of baptism is more powerful than any homily. We witness fellow Christians profess the faith with us and enter into full communion with the Catholic faith and receive the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist.

Obviously, some of you cannot be present for one or even any of these liturgies. You may be like my friend and I were, needing sleep more than anything else. But today, I invite everyone to consider with great care the invitation to celebrate Holy Week to the full. I ask each and every one of you to consider participating in the beautiful liturgies of Thursday evening, Friday afternoon and Saturday night.

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