The Church celebrates today as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. It is on Palm Sunday that we enter Holy Week. At the procession with Palms, we read the Gospel of Mark. Mark dedicates over one-third of his Gospel to Passion Week, the final days of Jesus’ life. This reading shows the importance and every year we celebrate them from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday. Jesus enters the Holy City of Jerusalem amidst thousands of pilgrims who came for the annual feast of Passover (Exodus 12:1-13). Prince Solomon used his father David’s royal donkey for the ceremonial procession on the day of his coronation (1Kings 1:32-40). Jesus entered the Holy City as a king of peace, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah (9:9-10).
On Holy Thursday there is a Chrism Mass in Cathedral Churches because it is a solemn observance of Christ's institution of the Eucharist and priesthood. In order to make the opportunity for most priests and laity to attend this Mass, the Diocese may celebrate prior to the holy week. As I write this message we are in preparation for the Chrism Mass. At this 'Chrism Mass,' the bishop blesses the Oil of Chrism used for Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, and Anointing of the Sick. On Holy Thursday, we celebrate three things: Institution of the Eucharist, Institution of the Priesthood, and Jesus' promulgation of the new commandment of Love. "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:3). The original meaning of this feast is to celebrate the passing of the angel of death over the Israelites and their escape from Egypt ((Exodus 12:3). In the new Passover, Jesus will pass over to the Father through the upcoming events of his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. The Holy Thursday liturgy in the parish communities celebrate in the evening because Passover began at sundown. Washing of the feet takes place in this Mass. In the Old Testament time, it was a gesture of hospitality, normally performed by a household slave. In John chapter13, Jesus washes the disciples' feet. The foot-washing may be a sign of priestly ordination as in the Book of Exodus 40:12. Food brought for the poor will be brought at the offertory. After the Holy Thursday evening Mass the Blessed Sacrament is carried in solemn procession to the flower-bedecked Altar of Repose, where it will remain 'entombed' until the communion service on Good Friday. And finally, there is the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament by the people during the night, just as the disciples stayed with the Lord during His agony on the Mount of Olives before the betrayal by Judas. No Mass will be celebrated again in the Church until the Easter Vigil proclaims the Resurrection.
On Holy Thursday the institution of Eucharist Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my body broken for you; this is my blood shed for you,” and we see on Good Friday that sacrifice is completed on the cross. He broke himself for us and fed us. This is also the week when we should lighten the burden of Christ’s passion as daily experienced by the needy people through our corporal and spiritual works of mercy; break and share. Jesus completed the sacrifices on the Cross. The water and blood came from the side of Jesus. In the book of Numbers when Moses struck the rock, the water came out (20:10-13). Paul interprets this rock as Christ (1Corinthians 10:4) from which flows the spiritual drink of the Eucharist. St. John Chrysostom says, "The water and blood symbolizes Baptism and Holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, the cleansing of water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the Holy Eucharist." Holy Week can become "holy” for us only if we actively and consciously take part in the liturgies of this week. Let us meditate on these beautiful liturgies and renew our own faith.