Thursday, March 17, 2016

Curious About Jesus and His Church? Don’t Just hear About It, Come LIVE It During Holy Week!

This is addressed primarily to those who are curious about what Christianity is all about, those who are considering conversion, and to those of you who have friends or family who are looking into Jesus. 

If you have ever asked "Just who are these Christians and what do they believe and why?"  This week provides the single best opportunity to find out first hand by taking a step  back into history and  experience the passion week of Christ, as Christians have been doing, exactly the same way for nigh on 2000 years. 

So if you are curious, or serious about Jesus, it will be well worth it to set aside some time over the next 10 days or so and get to a Catholic Church, where you will potentially begin a life changing journey.

It all begins on Sunday. It’s proper name is Passion Sunday, but more commonly known as Palm Sunday.  As you walk in to the Church, you will be given Palm leaves.  The Mass begins with a re-enactment of the scene where Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and was greeted by the people waving palm leaves and spreading their cloaks on the ground to welcome the Messiah. The same people who cried out Hosanna! On Palm Sunday, will, less than a week later call for His crucifixion.
The readings come next. First one reading from the Old Testament and one from the Pauline letters as usual. The Gospel is usually read by the Priest or Deacon only. On this occasion, all present participate. The Priest will assume the role of Jesus, and some of the lectors will play other roles, while the people are the ones who take on the role of the masses who attended Jesus trial before Roman Proconsul Pontius Pilate.   As I said earlier, we relive it.  The Readings are: Isaiah 50: 4-7, Psalm 22,  Philippians 2:6-11  and the Gospel is  Luke 22:14-23:56.
Then there is the Sacrifice of the Mass itself, which is done at every Sunday  Mass. We recall the last Supper, and all baptized Catholics who are in a state of Grace  may receive the Eucharist, which we believe is actually the Body, Blood, and Divinity of Jesus Christ Himself.  More on this later.
I would first like to take a moment to explain briefly what is meant by “In a state of grace”.  All Catholics are required to confess their sins to a Priest, who is there “in Persona Christi” .In Other words Christ is there in the person of the priest who hears your confession, and absolves it.  Catholics MUST confess at least once a year, preferably during Lent to remain in a state of Grace. 
I thought it important to let curious non-Catholics know that even though they are not Catholic, they may still receive the Sacrament of Confession from a priest, and the absolution that comes with it.  What they may NOT do is receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  That comes when you are received into the Church. Hold that thought for later in this post.
When the Eucharist is distributed, you have two choice. You may remain in your seat and observe, or, and I highly recommend this, you may approach the priest like the others, but instead of receiving the host, cross your arms over your chest and bow your head, and the Priest will give you a blessing.
Then the Mass is ended, and the people dismissed.

On the Thursday following Palm Sunday, the Easter Triduum begins. The Easter Triduum is one Mass, not three, spread over three days.

Let us begin with Holy Thursday, aka Maundy Thursday.   At this part of the Mass we relive the Last Supper, and the institution of the sacrament of Holy Orders. This is when Jesus Washed the feet of His disciples, and in so doing ordained them to the Priesthood.  After the readings (Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14, Psalm 116,I Corinthians 11:23-26 & the Gospel , John 13:1-15)  and homily, twelve men from the Parish, representing the disciples will come up and be seated around the altar, and the Priest , in the role of Jesus will wash and dry one foot of each of the men.  Often some of the men asked will be those to be received into the Church on Saturday’s Easter Vigil. 

After this is done, the sacrifice of the mass will take place. After which, the church will be filled with incense, and the Eucharist will then be carried through the church in a procession where it will be exposed for adoration, either in the church itself, or adoration chapel, if the church has one.  Worshippers are encouraged to spend some time in adoration over the next 24 hours.  The priest will lead the procession of the Eucharist through the church, He will wear a special colourful robe, and will hold the Eucharist under the robe. An umbrella will be held over his head.
The people form an honour guard for the Eucharist, which you will remember IS the Body of Christ. 
The people are dismissed, but there is no declaration that the Mass is ended. It resumes on Friday, at 3:00PM.


That being said, there is much happening at many parishes in the interim.  Many Parishes will have a silent  procession through the streets carrying a cross.  Some parishes even get together with other parishes in the area, and sometimes even other Christian communities, and will follow a path where stops are made in front of the various churches, where a prayer is said, a part of the passion is recalled, and Hymn sung, then on to the next. 
Some Parishes pray the stations of the cross at the church.  Some will have their youth groups put on Passion plays either around noon, or in the evening.  In any case, there will be plenty of opportunity to learn and experience it.

The Good Friday part of the Mass always begins Friday at 3:00 PM, for that is the hour at which Christ died. The trial, and Passion of Christ is relived through the reading of scripture (Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 31, Hebrews 4: 14-16, 5:7-8 and the Gospel: John 19:1-19:42) , once again with the participation of the laity. Then Silence, and Jesus is laid in the tomb.

This is followed by the prayers of the Faithful which in this case is much longer than usual, and is universal. That is to say ALL the congregations in the world will pray for exactly the same  10 intentions:

1) For The Church

2) For the Pope

3) For the Clergy and Laity of the Church

4) For those preparing for baptism

5) For the Unity of Christians

6)  For The Jewish people

7) For those who do not believe in Christ

8) For Those who do not believe in God

9) For All in Public office

10) For those in special need  This is followed by the procession of the cross, where a Crucifix is brought in and we acknowledge that “This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Saviour of the World” .
The cross is then placed in front of the Altar, and after the Eucharist  (There is no Eucharistic prayer, rather hosts consecrated the night before are used)  is distributed, the people are invited to venerate the cross, and then file out quietly.

On Saturday, it is Easter Vigil. We enter a darkened church. The black paper placed over the doors and windows remains in place. Everyone is given a candle as they come in, and the fire is blessed, and the Paschal candle is prepared and lit, the candle is then processed through the church, and the peoples’ candles are lit from it.  and Jesus is declared risen from e dead. Bells ring, there is great rejoicing, and the Gloria is sung for the first time since the Mass before Ash Wednesday which kicked off Lent.  The readings begin, and these are usually the history of Salvation which carry us right through to Jesus.  The readings This year (The Catholic Church operates on a three year rotation of scriptures ) are: Genesis 1:1-2-2, Psalm 104, Genesis 2: 1-18, Exodus 14:15-31,15:20 followed by The Canticle to the Lord from Ex. 15, Isaiah 54:5-14, Psalm 30, Isaiah 55: 1:11 followed by a responsorial Canticle from Isaiah 12, Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4, Psalm 19, Ezekiel 36:16-17, 18—28, Psalm 42, Psalm 51. Romans 6:3-11 Psalm 118, and then the Gospel: Luke 24:-1-12.

Then the catechumens, the people who have been studying and discerning for several months will be received into the church., and with them we renew our own baptismal promises.  This is followed by the celebration of the Eucharist, which the Newly confirmed members of the church will receive for the first time.

So… What’s next?   If you are still considering receiving Christ as Saviour and being e=received into His Church, the next step is to speak to A priest or Deacon who will place themselves at your disposal to answer your questions and get you started.   It would be good to buy a catechism, and a Bible and to read both regularly, and to seek answers to questions arising from your reading.  Involve yourself in the  parish community.  You are accepted, and welcome, and the people will help you in your journey.  And Sign up for RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults)   this is required for all those coming into the Church who have not been baptized or confirmed.  It  begins in October and carries on through until you are received into full communion.  They meet once a week, and instruct you in the faith, and what the church teaches.  And help guide you in your discernment in terms of whether the Catholic Church is for you or not, for you are expected to accept ALL that the church teaches. 

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