Meditations by Msgr. Liptak


Msgr. Liptakweekly gospel meditations



How to Spend Holy Week

Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47.



Aim: to explain (1) the liturgical and (2) the personal observances of Holy Week in the life of a.161lower of Christ.

The first two Mass lessons today emphasize that Jesus came to serve, not to be served: to give his life as a ransom for us all. The First Reading is from the Second Isaiah's third Servant Hymn, which looks forward to the day when a mysterious Suffering Servant of the Lord would appear. In the Second Reading, Paul stresses that Jesus' suffering service even to the Cross ensured his exaltation as Lord.

In the Passion narrative this year, from Mark --we followed Jesus, the Suffering Servant of God as he fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, giving up his life for us. And in the blessing (and procession) of the palms, we remembered and dramatized the Lord's entrance into Jerusalem to inaugurate the first Holy Week, when the events recounted in the Passion Narrative took place.

Today marks but the beginning of the most sacred week in the Church year, what we call Holy Week, the last three days of which constitute an inner sanctuary, known as the Paschal or Easter Triduum. ("Triduum" is a Latin derivative meaning "three days.") As Christians, we are invited to participate in the liturgy of this Triduum. The invitation is a graced privilege; the ceremonies are especially instructive and devotional.

The principal Holy Thursday parish liturgy is the afternoon or evening Mass of the Lord's Supper. Just before this Mass, Lent ends, and the Easter Triduum begins. The Eucharist is offered in white vestments. During the Gloria, the church bells are rung and the organ played for the last time until the Easter vigil. In the homily we are reminded of the three great Holy Thursday mysteries: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the New Testament priesthood, and the promulgation of Jesus' commandment to love one another as he loved us.

Following the Mass, a procession begins; the Holy Eucharist is borne by the celebrant to a place of reposition. For the remainder of the day-until midnight if possible-the faithful are invited to pray before the tabernacle-shrine in praise, joy and thanksgiving for the three mysteries recalled at Mass.

On Good Friday there is no Mass, but a beautiful afternoon or evening Communion service is enacted. Wearing red vestments, symbolic of Jesus' Precious Blood, the celebrant presides over (or reads) a series of three Bible lessons; the last ending with St. John's Passion account. The ancient Prayer of the Faithful comes next, then the Veneration of the Cross. Finally, Communion is distributed.

On Holy Saturday the Church in spirit waits at Christ's tomb and contemplates his death. With the first hour of evening, a magnificent vigil, anticipatory of the Easter Mass, commences in darkness. A new fire is struck and blessed. The Paschal Candle, signifying Jesus, the Light of the World, is blessed, lighted, and borne into the sanctuary, where the beautiful Exsultet, an ancient Easter Hymn, is proclaimed A series of insightful Bible readings follows. Then the Gloria is intoned again, for the first time since Holy Thursday, and the bells ring loudly. The Gospel is the Easter story.

Following the homily, the parish baptismal water is blessed and, if scheduled, baptism administered. Next, everyone in the congregation, led by the celebrant, joins in the renewal of baptismal promises; then sprinkled with "Easter" water, reminiscent of baptism.

Make an effort this Holy Week to attend the liturgy. Being here in church to follow Jesus in prayer empowers us to follow him as suffering servants in the world: to help transform our lives, our families, our neighborhoods.
This is our most precious week. It should not be wasted.


Cathedral of St. Joseph  140 Farmington Avenue  Hartford, Connecticut 06105  860-249-8431