By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
We find ourselves in the middle of Holy Week -- a week when business as usual just doesn’t make sense.
And yet, most of us probably have a lot of business as usual to do. So giving Holy Week its due in our life pilgrimages is almost certainly a struggle.
Case in point: a friend and former colleague of mine put together a little min-retreat on Wednesday of this week. I relish solitary time, but retreats are generally not my thing, and truth be told, I can’t remember the last time I attended one.
Nonetheless, when he proposed it over lunch with two other friends and former colleagues whose company and wisdom I appreciate, their participation assured mine. Later two more friends and former colleagues were added to the list.
But in the last few days two of the five participants have had to beg off because of pressing duties at work. Sounds like this has become as much of a Hell Week as a Holy Week for them. I’ve already said a prayer for both of them, and I’m sure we’ll pray for them during our day together.
Still, I know both of these men are going to do what they can to find ways to stay mindful of this special week in our liturgical calendar – as all of us should.
Church offers a lot
My wife Jane finds a lot of inspiration and consolation attending church services. And there are plenty of church services to attend during Holy Week, especially at the end with the start of the Easter Triduum. Here’s what the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) website has to say about it:
The summit of the Liturgical Year is the Easter Triduum—from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ's Paschal Mystery.
The single celebration of the Triduum marks the end of the Lenten season, and leads to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil.
During this brief period, the liturgical services that the church offers include:
- Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday (also the Chrism Mass in many dioceses);
- Good Friday of the Lord's Passion;
- Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday;
- Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday.
Each of these liturgies has dimensions we don’t experience any other time of the year, so they can do a lot to help us focus on the significance of Jesus’ suffering and death – and most especially his Resurrection.
If she could, I think my wife would attend all or nearly all of these liturgies. But she’s a CPA with a large tax practice in the midst of tax season. It wouldn’t surprise me if she has tax appointments Thursday night – although I’m pretty confident she doesn’t have any Friday between noon and 3 p.m.
(No, I wouldn’t dare interrupt her to ask. But I must also say that it also wouldn’t surprise me that she would make a Friday afternoon appointment if that’s the only time a client could see her. Recall Jesus working miracles on the Sabbath?)
If your circumstances permit you to attend one, most or all of the liturgies leading up to Easter Sunday, please give it your serious consideration. (Of course you will be in church on Easter Sunday, unless you attended the Easter Vigil Saturday night and don’t feel the need to return the next morning.)
Options on your own
If you’re busy – and stressed – with business as usual, there are still a lot of ways you can make this week special in your pilgrimage of faith. Here are a few:
- Pray – try to grab little moments to pray on the run, in your car or in your laundry room or even in your bathroom. Forsake a shower concert for shower contemplation. Decide to utter a short, spontaneous prayer every time you enter a particular room. Little things add up. Your focus gets sharper. If you can spare an hour in adoration, that might prove very helpful.
- Read – I have one app that provides the daily readings, one that offers a brief reflection and short prayers, and three publications that provide short daily reflections. To read them all doesn’t take five minutes. But the experience grounds me in the significance of this week.
- Listen – Relevant music is a lot more accessible today than ever. Grab your headphones and listen to your liturgical favorites or contemporary Christian tunes. Jane and I have a special attachment to the music of Jesus Christ Superstar, dating back to our college days when I co-produced a multiple projector slide show to go with the music for use at Easter Mass. We’ve since attended several live productions, inspired each time. That music will be playing in our offices and cars this week, stirring our hearts and keeping us mindful of how special this time is for us. Choose whatever selections warm your heart and stir your soul.
- Contemplate – you don’t need formula prayers, books or pamphlets or music to put you in touch and keep you in touch with Jesus. You can, as a commercial puts it, just do it. Think for a minute – or more if you can – of Jesus. Recall his teachings ... his promises ... his betrayal ... his suffering ... his death ... all the fear and uncertainly of his disciples ... his Resurrection ... their joy and renewed confidence. Make it your own.
Do what you can. Be grateful. Grow where you can. And through it all focus on how much Jesus, Son of God, loves you. Unto death.
That’s a lot. But you’re worth it. Jesus said so.