An Invitation into Passiontide and Holy Week

For many centuries the final two weeks of Lent have been referred to as Passiontide—a privileged time to focus our attention upon the Mystery of the Cross of Christ. The veiling of some our crucifixes and statues is meant to have this effect. As parishioners gathered under the patronage of the Holy Cross, I believe this is a particular season of grace for us in addition to the great September 14th Feast of the Exaltation (or Triumph) of the Holy Cross that we celebrated throughout our campuses this past fall.

Palm Sunday is a fleeting moment of glory as Christ is publicly acknowledged as Messiah, but His identity will only be fully revealed upon the Cross. Lest we miss the grace that is offered on the threshold of Holy Week that draws us to reflect upon the drama of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord, I would propose several ways to enter in.

+ First from the rich patrimony of the ancient chants of the liturgy: below is the translation of the Vexilla Regis. It was written by Venantius Fortunatus in the 6th century to honor the arrival of a large relic of the True Cross to a convent near Poitiers in present day France. It came to be used as the Hymn for Vespers (Evening Prayer) from the Fifth Sunday of Lent until Holy Thursday. Its poetry and spiritual insights are unmatched. You can use the text as a starting point for reflection or look up the Vexilla Regis chant on YouTube. Think of it as a sort of ‘theme song’ for our parish that beckons us to look to the Cross with sentiments of gratitude, wonder and devotion.

The flag of our King comes forth: the mystery of the Cross shines upon us, that cross on which Life suffered death, and by his Death gave life.
He was pierced with the cruel Spear, that, by the Water and the Blood, which flowed from the wound, he might cleanse us from sin.
Here, on the Cross was fulfilled the prophecy foretold, in David’s truthful words: ‘God hath reigned from the Tree.’
O fair and shining Tree! beautiful by the scarlet of the King, and chosen as the noble trunk that was to touch such sacred limbs.
O Blessed Tree! on whose arms hung the ransom of the world! It was the balance, wherein was placed the Body of Jesus, and there by hell lost its prey.
Hail, O Cross! our only hope! During these days of the Passion, increase to the good their grace, and cleanse sinners from their guilt.
May every spirit praise thee, O Holy Trinity, thou Fount of Salvation! and by the Cross, whereby thou gavest us victory, give us, too, our recompense.

+ Read the Passion Narratives from the four evangelists. This year on Palm Sunday we read Mark’s account and on Good Friday we always read John’s account of the Passion. You can easily find these in a bible or online: Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; and John 18-19. Pay special attention to the ‘seven last words’ of Christ on the Cross.

       (Hint: you need to read all the Gospels to find them all)

+ Seek the grace of a good Confession. Now is the time to be reconciled to God. See p. 6 for our regular times and some special Holy Week times (Monday and Tuesday). The door to mercy is open, but we must be humble enough to walk through it.

+ Pray with the beautiful cover image, complete with palms, which is a detail from St. Clement’s Church in Chicago—modeled after the San Clemente Apse in Rome.

+ Attend the Musical Passion Play ‘The King of Love’ this coming Wednesday evening at Holy Cross church. It is an easy entry-point into the grace of Holy Week and will run from approximately 7-9 pm, followed by refreshments. There is no cost to attend and it is a perfect occasion to bring a friend. The beauty of the locally-composed music and the simplicity of the narrations will be sure to draw you to the heart of the season.

+ Participate in the absolutely unique liturgies of the Triduum—the great three days of prayer leading up to the Church’s solemn celebration of Easter. We do so in a unique way this year as one parish united in faith. I am grateful for your willingness to understand the intention of the Church’s directives that we would gather for one Holy Thursday liturgy and a single celebration of the Easter Vigil. I am grateful to ministers and volunteers from all campuses who are assisting with the countless details that make these festive liturgies possible. Following the Holy Thursday liturgy at Holy Cross which commemorates the double institution of the Holy Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist, a reception with wine and cheese will follow in Kolbe Hall. Of course a Eucharistic prayer vigil will continue at the altar of repose until 11 pm as well, so stop through to pray even if you are not able to attend the liturgy itself.

+ On Thursday, Friday and Saturday during the Triduum we will pray Lauds (or Morning Prayer). All are invited to gather for this simple but beautiful liturgical prayer that unites us with believers around the globe in offering to God a sacrifice of praise. See p. 3 for locations. Of course in addition to our communal Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, these days are special days of quiet reflection, prayer and spiritual reading.

+ On Holy Saturday, participate in the Święconka or Blessing of the Easter Baskets at our various campuses. See the times and places on p. 3. The food you bring to be blessed has a symbolic meaning and points to the Paschal Feast of the Eucharist. By the way, blessed food tastes better! All are welcome.

+ Pray for our candidates and catechumen who will receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. Over the past three weeks of Lent, Fr. Hagan has celebrated the three scrutinies with them. Note that the Easter Vigil will last upwards of two hours—it is not for the faint of heart, but it is truly the ‘mother of all vigils’ and harkens back to the vigils that our early Christian forbearers kept all through the night awaiting the first streak of Easter dawn. What a grace it will be for those who will be received into the Church and for us who will renew our promises of baptism.

+ Joyfully celebrate Easter Sunday at one of our Easter Masses. A special procession with the statue of the Risen Christ will take place at the early morning Polish Mass of the Resurrection and at the 9:30 am Mass at Holy Cross. See all times on p. 3, especially noting that there will not be a 6:30 pm Mass at Holy Cross on Easter Sunday.

We are invited each year to live intensely these holiest of days; let us not miss this year’s renewed invitation. Fr. Hagan, Fr. Stan, Deacon John, and I are truly grateful to spend our Holy Week in service of you and together with you in pursuit of the contemplation of Christ’s merciful face. May our living of Passiontide and Holy Week be blessed!

United in looking to the Cross - our only hope - and our King upon it,

Fr. Howe