While I was still a teenager, I came across a book entitled “The Day Christ Died” by Jim Bishop. In it, the author traces the fateful events of Holy Thursday night and Good Friday hour by hour. He uses the best scriptural opinions of that day and reconstructs a plausible narrative of what it must have been like to go through that night and that day that changed history. I remember reading it hour by hour in real time one Holy Thursday and Good Friday. This required that I stay up all night and read what happened at 1:00 AM and 2:00 AM etc.
My parents got a little worried about this seemingly extreme form of devotion; but it had a lasting impact on me. While I was doing this all-nighter, I felt a deep connection with Christ and a true love for the extent of Christ’s love for me and His willingness to undergo so much suffering for my salvation. When you go hour by hour, you begin to realize how bitter the passion was and how much dignity and compassion the Lord exhibited during those frightening hours. I remember reflecting, at the time, how much I hated to go to the doctor because of the needles he often gave me for the protection of my health. If I so dreaded being pierced for my health, a piercing that lasted barely a few seconds, how great was His suffering as He passed the night and the following day!
The Liturgy of the Last Supper, the time of adoration signifying His time in the Garden of Olives, the Stations of the Cross the next day, the Liturgy of Good Friday with the kissing of the Cross—all of these came alive to me with such a force that I relive the experience every Holy Week! It made me think of the importance of my union with Christ during every liturgy, but especially during Holy Week. The palms, the processions, the adoration, the kissing of the Cross, the marvelous majesty of the Easter Vigil all make me tremble with awe and deep joy.
I am so glad the Church has never made these days “Holy Days of Obligation”, jamming the Churches with people who feel they have to be there instead of how it is now: filled with real participants who make it their calling to be there with Christ through a reenactment, no, a reliving of the love of Christ exhibited by His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Holy Week therefore, and its marvelous liturgies, is an act of love and devotion. We walk with Christ and unite ourselves to His experiences during that fateful week simply because He is the most important reality of our lives and it matters what He felt and what He accomplished for us.
Therefore, the decision to come to the sacred liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday is one made out of love. There is no question of not being there since it is a matter of love and true love has no measure. It is infinite and inexhaustible. The “I don’t have time” and the “All these ceremonies bore me” excuses are so far off the mark as to seem irrelevant. If I do not want to be present, I should not dare approach the Sacred Liturgies of Holy Week. They are not for the casual observer or the spiritual tourist. They are for the mature Christian who is ready to walk the walk of Christ.
I truly believe that one enters into a deeper relationship with their Catholic faith when they recognize the importance of this week and is joyfully willing to spend the time and energy to make this the most important week of the year.
For our life in Christ is not just a pretty phrase: it must be a reality. This whole thing is not about something, it is about Someone. To choose to be with someone even when things go so wrong is the true depth of love. Think of the times spent with a loved one as they visited doctor after doctor, waiting room after waiting room to see if they can regain their health or at least slow down the relentless poison that is a serious illness. It is boring and it is scary and it is difficult; but because we love our father or our mother or our child or our friend, we willingly walk the walk with them because to do otherwise means abandoning our relationship with them. When we love, we show this especially during the hard times. We refuse to walk away but walk with. This is love and this is what Holy Week is about.