Why do Catholics spend so much time in church this week? What’s with the ritual? Why do they commemorate everything? The answer is Holy Week. Next to the Incarnation, or the birth of Christ, the entire answer lies in the triduum or (three days) of this week.
The disciples had already asked Jesus where he would eat the Paschal supper. Today before dawn the Lord sent for Peter, James and John, spoke to them at length concerning all they had to prepare and order at
It was a night that would precipitate the following days of sorrow, despair, confusion and ultimately joy. It would be crowned with great awe and relief for the dawn of the Lord’s day would be forever redefined after this exceptional weekend. The Old Law would be replaced with the New for the series of acts initiated by Jesus initiated a New Covenant with God. The church would be conceived on this night and confirmed 43 days later at Pentecost. Holy Thursday was the matrimony of the Church, the institution of the priesthood, the Eucharist (Christ’s perpetual presence and sacrifice represented on the altars of the world until the end of time) and the ultimate initiation of His Love. The following is an excerpted explanation of this day from Fr. Thomas Keating who writes about the significance of the day.
“The texts read in the liturgy during Lent provide us with the means to understand the sacred mysteries of Holy Week. We think of the penitent woman who washed our Lord's feet with her tears and of Mary of Bethany who anointed his feet with the perfumed oil. It was the custom of the time to wash the feet of a guest, to offer him a kiss of welcome, and to anoint his head with ointment. It was not the custom, however, to kiss those feet or to wash them with one's tears; nor to place precious ointment of great price on the guest's feet rather than upon his head. Why such extremes on the part of these two devoted women?
They evidently wished to show that He was no ordinary guest. Surely the Divine Goodness, which praised the extravagance of these two women, would not do less than offer you and me the ordinary courtesies, if He invites us to His banquet table.
With this background in mind, we can understand why Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. They were to be His guests at the first Eucharistic supper, just as Christians are His guests at the commemoration of it. This sharing in the body and blood of the God-Man is the pledge of a still greater banquet: the eating and drinking of immortal life and love at the eternal banquet of heaven, where our nourishment will be the Divine Essence itself.
But as guests at the banquet table of the Lord in this world, and as recipients of the divine hospitality, the disciples had to receive at least the ordinary marks of courtesy; that is, the washing of the feet, the kiss of welcome, and the anointing with oil. These three acts form an organic whole. Omitting any one of them would have been to fail in courtesy, something the Father would never do to guests invited to His supper. These three marks of courtesy correspond to the three stages of Christian initiation.
First is the washing of the feet, symbol of baptism, which must precede the Eucharist. The Eucharist represents the kiss of welcome, the intimacy of union, and the mutual sharing of deep love. The anointing of the head with perfumed oil suggests the grace of the sacrament of confirmation. Jesus did not anoint the heads of his disciples on this occasion because the Spirit had not yet been poured out. After his passion and resurrection, however, this crowning courtesy was bestowed at Pentecost.
Catholic belief is that it is being bestowed in each reception of the Eucharist, especially in the yearly renewal of the Paschal mystery. We have seen John resting in Jesus' bosom at the Last Supper, a symbol foreshadowing and anticipating this grace. The anointing of Jesus by Mary of Bethany pointed to the outpouring of the Spirit upon him and upon all his members, especially those taking part in the supper. But John was given the reality beyond the symbol. Resting in Jesus' bosom, John received the grace of which the anointing of the head with ointment is the external sign.
These reminders of the divine hospitality, of the inconceivable courtesy that God has extended to us, make us approach the Paschal mystery with humble and grateful hearts. How can we thank the Lord for his invitation, for the incredible depth of his sharing?”
Have a joyful Easter weekend!
Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at email@example.com or on the web at familyfare.blogspot.com