This year, March 29, 2015 begins the most solemn week of the year. We walk liturgically the last week of our Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly life. We call this journey “Holy Week.” We walk “liturgically” meaning sacramentally we are actually present to the suffering, dying and rising of Jesus Christ. We participate in His “Paschal mystery.” This divine mystery is the theological core of the Christian faith and the soul of the Church’s liturgical life.
The word “paschal” comes from “pascha” which itself means “the passing over.” The Pascha is an early description for the Easter celebration of baptism and the holy Eucharist. Lent developed as a season of preparation for baptism and first communion on Easter. St. Paul spoke to the newly baptized on Pascha, “We were buried with Christ through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
The first service of Easter begins at 8:00 pm on Holy Saturday night (April 4, 2015) and is called “The Great Vigil of Easter.” At this first Mass of Easter you will hear lots of scripture readings from the Old Testament and New Testaments. The great stories such as the Fall of man, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the prophecy of the Dry Bones, and God making in man a new heart, our baptism into the Christ’s dying and rising and the Empty Tomb. These readings are some of the most ancient Christian “paradigms” for sacramental baptism. The joy that illuminates this evening service is celebrated using the contrast of candlelight and darkness. The glorious announcement “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” originally was spoken by those who had just been baptized into Christ and become a new creation.
The early Christians understood how the act of baptizing was the very act of “passage” in which the Church fulfills herself as God’s new creation. Using liturgy the Church transcends earthly dimensions of an institution and she becomes the living Body of Christ as she receives the Body and Blood of Christ. At this moment in earthly time the Church is the manifestation and presence of the “new aeon” of the Kingdom of God.
The first known use of the term “Paschal mystery” as it applies to our Lord’s suffering, dying, and resurrection is found in a homily written by Melito, who was the bishop of Sardis near Smyrna. The homily was written between 160 and 170 A.D. A contemporary of Melito was Irenaeus, bishop of Antioch (130-202 A.D). He was taught how the celebration of “Holy Week” (what he called “Great Week”) went back to the time of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. (d. 155 A.D)
The origin of this solemn week lies buried in apostolic times. By the 4th century during the episcopate of the great bishop St. Cyril of Jerusalem it was an annual event. Many of the earliest churches were being built on the sacred sites in the Holy Land by Constantine, and with the growing influx of pilgrims to Jerusalem for Easter Day the Church developed liturgies celebrated on the original sites and at the times indicated in the gospels. The liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer for Holy Week are structured from these ancient services.
Holy Week brings to fruition the baptismal themes that has structured the season of Lent. An example of this is how on the 5th Sunday in Lent (March 22, 2015) the Gospel addressed the role of baptism using the words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
Lent has prepared us to listen attentively to the Passion Gospels and Old and New Testament stories that narrate our salvation. We find on Maundy Thursday the origin and purpose of the Mass. We discover on Good Friday how all graces flow from the sacrifice of Christ and how on this “Good and perfect day” our Lord’s suffering body made a new humanity that in baptism made us the Father’s “new creation.” (Eph 2:14-22 and 2Cor 5:16-21)
At the Great Vigil of Easter the 40 days of Lent “fold into” the renewal of our baptismal vows where we once again renounce Satan and all his evil and we promise ourselves again to Christ and to the ministry of His Church. “Through the Paschal Mystery, dear friends, we are buried with Christ by Baptism into His death, and raised with Him to newness of life. I call upon you, therefore, now that our Lenten observance is ended, to renew the solemn promises and vows of Holy Baptism, by which we once renounced Satan and all his works, and promised to serve God faithfully in His holy Catholic Church.” (BCP 292)
On Easter Day we pray, “Almighty God, who through Your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by Your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” (BCP 222)
Join us for our services during Holy Week and complete your journey of Lent to Easter Morning.
- March 29th – Palm Sunday, Sunday 8:00, 9:00 and 11:15 am.
- April 1st – Wednesday in Holy Week, Mass at 7:00 am and 11:00 am in the Lady Chapel.
- April 2nd – Maundy Thursday, Mass with choir, Foot Washing, Stripping of the Altar, and beginning of the Great Watch. The Church remains open from the end of Mass around 8:00 pm until 12 midnight for prayer.
- April 3rd – Good Friday Liturgy at 12:00 pm noon and with the choir at 7:00 pm.
- April 4th – The Great Vigil of Easter with choir at 8:00 pm. Includes the Service of Lights, the Blessing of the Easter Fire, procession with the Paschal Candle and chanting of the Exulted, and the service of Lessons recounting the history of salvation.
- April 5th – Easter Day, 8:00, 9:00 and 11:15 am. 9:00 am is the Flowering of the Cross and Children’s sermon; 10:30 am Easter Egg Hunt with children.