Participate in Holy Week services

Published 12:08 am Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Easter Sunday is a socially significant time in our society — many families come together to celebrate, children engage in Easter egg hunts and many individuals lay aside their winter clothing and dress in new spring styles. Easter also comes at a time of the year when signs of new growth and life in nature are visible everywhere — shrubs, trees and plants are sprouting forth new leaves.

For Christian people, Easter is important because it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. All of Christian faith hinges on the resurrection. St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 15:17 that “without Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, our faith is void.”

The date of Easter is different every year. This is determined by what is known as the Gregorian calendar which is the standard international calendar for civil use. This calendar had its origins in the Council of Nicaea, convened by the Emperor Constantine, in 325 C.E. Using this calendar, Easter occurs between March 21 and April 25.

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The date of Easter determines many religious ceremonial days — Palm Sunday, Holy or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, etc. For Christian churches, Palm Sunday was celebrated on April 9 this year.  In the final days of Jesus’ earthly life, events of major importance occurred. Most of these events are liturgically celebrated in Christian churches.

As a faithful Jew, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples (Luke 22:15-16). Judas, one of his disciples, left from the Passover meal to betray Him. Jesus was arrested and charged with claiming to be the Messiah, was found guilty in the court of Pontius Pilate and condemned to death by crucifixion (Matt. 27:26).  On the day that has come to be known for Christians as Good Friday, Jesus was crucified on the hill of Calvary outside the gates of the city of Jerusalem.

On the third day after his death He appeared to some of his disciples (Mark 16:6), thereby fulfilling his promise that God would raise Him on the third day. This belief of Jesus’ resurrection remains the central tenet of the Christian faith. To understand the expression ‘third day after his death’ one has to realize the Hebrew way of expressing time was different from our time. That means the day of Jesus’ death (Friday) was counted as the first day, Saturday as the second day and Sunday as the third day.

Christian churches ceremonially mark the events leading to the resurrection in different ways. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates Holy Thursday as the Day of the Lord’s Supper this Thursday. The central purpose of this day’s service is to recall and relive the spirit and meaning of Jesus’ Last Supper (Passover) with his disciples. The ceremony includes the traditional washing of feet, recalling the institution of the Eucharist and the establishment of the priesthood. The congregation will spend two hours after the service in prayer.

The Good Friday service recalls the journey of Jesus to Calvary and his ignominious death by crucifixion on Calvary Hill. The ceremony, at 5 p.m. at St. Mary Basilica, includes the solemn reading of the account of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion from the Gospel of John. It also includes the rite of veneration of the cross and Holy Communion. In some Catholic churches, the way of cross is celebrated at noon, as is the case at St. Mary Basilica.

The celebration of the resurrection begins with a solemn Saturday service after sundown, known as the Easter Vigil. This begins with the blessing of the Easter candle, a symbol of the light of Christ. This is taken in procession into unlit churches, symbolizing the world of darkness into which Jesus came and from that candle all the congregants light their individual candles. New members, who have undergone a nine-month intensive study program, are baptized and confirmed as full members during the Easter Vigil.

The Saturday evening ceremony follows the normative Catholic order of worship, which includes the narrative of the institution of the Eucharist and the communion rite and also includes the rite of baptism and admission of new members to the congregation. On Easter Sunday, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus continues to be the central focus. Christians are invited to reflect on the resurrection and prayerfully open their minds and hearts to its saving graces.

A schedule of the times of Holy Week and Easter services in the Miss-Lou area Catholic churches is available from each church office. Services at St. Mary will be at noon and 5 p.m. on Good Friday, 8 p.m. on Holy Saturday and 10 a.m. on Easter Sunday.

May the peace and joy of the resurrected Lord be with each of our readers.
The Rev. David O’Connor is pastor of St. Mary Basilica and Assumption church in Natchez.