As I write this post, I am in the Portland area for the Chrism Mass where all the priests of the Archdiocese gather around our Archbishop at Mass, renew our promises of our ordinations, and assist the bishop in the blessing of the Holy Oils (Oil for the Sick, Oil of the Catechumens, and Sacred Chrism). This is generally the first of a series of important liturgical events which make up "Holy Week." This year, however, due to a scheduling conflict at the Cathedral, the Chrsim Mass is much earlier. Holy Week proper begins with each Palm Sunday and concludes on the Saturday of the Easter Vigil.
At Palm Sunday, the Church gathers at Mass to reflect on the Scriptures which tell of Christ's entrance into Jerusalem, his passion, and death. At our 7 PM and 11 AM Masses, we will begin in the Parish Center and eventually process into the church with our palms waving high.
The following Thursday is called, Holy Thursday. It begins what is also called "the Triduum" or three days. On this evening Mass (7 PM), we recall the events of the Last Supper which includes a symbolic washing of feet. This ritual is intended to remind us of our call to serve our brothers and sisters as Jesus did. During the Preparation of the Gifts we will formally receive the Holy Oils which were blessed at the Cathedral. We commemorate the institution of the Eucharist where we conclude Mass with a solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament to an altar of repose (located in our Parsh Center) where adoration will take place until 10 PM. The main altar in the church is stripped and the Eucharist does not return to the Tabernacle until Easter Vigil.
On Friday, we will participate in an ecumenical Good Friday service at St. Luke's Episcopal Church here in Grants Pass. In the evening (7 PM) we will continue our solemn memorial of Christ's Passion on Good Friday with a silent entrance into the Church, solemn proclamation of the Scriptures with a more elaborate reading of the Gospel, followed by the Veneration of the Cross. Communion will be offered in a simple way followed by a silent and solemn procession out of the church. This is not a Mass, but technically a liturgy of the Word with Communion. The entrance and recession are both striking, for they indicate that they are not beginning nor ending something. This is true, as Good Friday is more of an "in-between" service with Holy Satruday being the conclusion.
On Holy Saturday, we will all gather outside on the East side of the church at 8:30 PM for the blessing of the fire and Paschal Candle. We will all enter the church while lighting our own smaller candles. The Exaultet will be proclaimed, a large selection of Scriptures will be proclaimed detailing Salvation History, and then we bring the Elect to the large Baptismal Fount in order for them to receive their first Sacrament, that is Baptism. Immersion baptism is the norm, but we will see a variety of forms being offered that night depending on the person. Then we will receive the Candidates into full communion and then offer both the newly baptized (Neophytes) and Candidates the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is then offered where our new Catholics become even more in union with Christ through his most Holy Body and Blood. That concludes Holy Week.
I hope that you will arrange your week around these important moments of the Church. If you have not ever been to the Triduum, I cannot encourage you strong enough. It truly sets up Easter in such a context that, I believe, we can more fully enter into the mysteries of our Lord.
May God Bless you during this Holy Week,
Fr. William Holtzinger