Holy Week: a holiday with the Lord

At the foot of the cross...I recalled some memorable moments years ago when I spent my Holy Week with such great inspiration that gave further meaning to my life as a religious. Holy week contains busy days because of the consecutive celebration of liturgy upon liturgy regarding Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.  The three days of preparation before His Resurrection are so intense that it moves me to contemplate, and feel part of the drama of Jesus’ last days of His life.  I am given the fullest and deep meaning of what love is meant for.

It was the initiative of the community where I belonged, that we did an act of charity that would give more meaning to our Lenten journey towards Easter. The parish where we had our community of sisters working there had asked for volunteers to do some Holy Week liturgy celebrations in some small villages. Those villages were part of the parish’s area of jurisdiction and they were very far from the parish church itself and transportation to and from the church was difficult and seldom. Only one priest had been assigned.

The people in the villages knew that volunteers were coming for the Holy Week liturgy celebrations because this was our annual initiative as part of the parish’s program. The volunteers were composed of seminarians, some brothers from the diocese, sisters, formands, lay ministers, catechists and sometimes a volunteer priest.  The ones who led the liturgy were the parish special ministers, religious sisters or a priest, if available. The parish provided all the necessary things needed for each liturgy of the day.

On the day prior to Holy Thursday, the parish jeep – transportation brought our volunteer group to the different assigned villages then as soon as we arrived, we immediately made a house-to-house visit to the families, especially to the leaders of their village’s chapel.  With their help, we assigned people for the roles of the twelve apostles and for those who would share the seven last words of Jesus said on Good Friday, before  the 3 o’clock Liturgy of the Word.  Another group of villagers were assigned the veneration of the cross. Liturgy schedules were then posted outside the chapel. Youth, and other people nearby began coming in to help with the cleaning and decorating of the chapel, ready for the following day’s celebration.

Holy Thursday is the Lord’s Supper and the villagers chosen to represent the twelve Apostles were men, women, and youth of mixed ages. Usually, the priest would perform the washing of the feet. However, when not available, the parish special minister would first do the washing of the feet to the villagers representing the Apostles and extra things would be prepared for other people to do washing of the feet.  That meant that we would continue washing each other’s feet – not necessarily all of the people but a few of them – after which we would have the homily of a priest, brother or sister who was leading the liturgy and then some sharing of experiences from the other people about the Gospel and the act of the washing of the feet.

Jesus' washing of the feetAt the Holy Thursday celebration, even if it was long, there was such meaning and a deepening of the understanding of people’s faith experiences. People were encouraged to share and it was always a surprise and a spiritual nourishment for all of us.

In the evening, after our dinner, we continued to follow the liturgy schedule.  Depending on the agreed plan of activities, the people either came together for a film viewing of the Passion of Christ in a spacious open area, for recollection in the chapel, or for a reconciliation rite.

On the following morning of Good Friday we did a house-to-house Stations of the Cross. At each station, a family was assigned to lead the prayer and one of the members carried the wooden crucifix, processing to the next station. The stations of the cross lasted about 2 hours because we processed from village to village.  At 1 o’clock in the afternoon, the seven last words of Jesus shared by the assigned villagers deepened the meaning of those words of Christ as they connected them to their life experiences. At 3 o’clock the veneration of the cross occurred, followed by the procession of the dead Jesus around the villages, praying the sorrowful mysteries and singing some songs of the Passion. After the procession, the different groups of people with their families kept vigil and prayed silently upon the death of Christ.

Next day was Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, where we mourned the death of Christ. At this time we decorated the chapel for the Easter liturgy celebration and prepared hundreds of boiled and beautifully dyed/painted eggs for the Easter egg hunt.  Some also did song practice and others prepared the children to sing the Alleluia as the angels.

Early Easter Sunday morning, we woke up at 4 o’ clock and gathered at a certain place where Jesus and Mary would meet each other – we call this the  Encuentro (or Salúbong) and it is outside the Easter liturgy.  The children sang the Alleluia to the blessed Virgin Mary and the Resurrected  Christ and we all processed towards the chapel. After the procession the Easter liturgy followed, including the blessing of the light, water, the paschal candle, and renewal of the baptismal promises.  Everybody rejoiced for the resurrected Christ. While singing the Gloria, the bell continually rang until the hymn ended.

After the Easter liturgy celebration, we had our Easter egg hunt around the chapel area – everybody was so excited to find the eggs. We then made our final greetings to the villagers and after breakfast we left the village with such great experiences. Being with them was so inspiring because they shoed their deep and simple faith.

I count these memories as one of the best holiday because it they form part of the journey with the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.  We are one in our faith journeying this life. We share our life, our death and rising and that gives us hope that, someday, we will be united with Him in His glory.

Images courtesy of turnbacktogod.com

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