Monday, March 17, 2008

The Unity of Holy Week

When the Pascha, the celebration of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, came about in the earliest years of the church, it was a one night service, the Easter Vigil concluded in the morning with the Eucharist. Though the history is murky (And I invite learned readers to correct and clarify.), we can say with some confidence that so it was into the 3rd century, though certainly there were preparations such as fasts and the preparation of candidates for baptism. It wasn’t until the 4th century, largely under the influence of Cyril of Jerusalem, that the commemoration blossomed into the Holy Week which we now observe.

But the custom of the early church should remind us that the celebration of Holy Week is a unity. Fr. John Hunwicke certainly so reminds us:

Perhaps we should not think of Holy Week in too 'linear' a way. It is well known that S John's Gospel, read in the Western Rite on Good Friday, emphasises the Victory of the Cross (Victory doesn't have to wait for Easter morning). On Maundy Thursday, the Lord gives his disciples to eat and drink the Body and Blood which, in terms of a simplistic 'linear' approach, have not yet been broken, shed, or sacrificed. Yet he gives them to his disciples as already sacrificed. And Triumph is already integral to Palm Sunday. All the themes and elements of Pascha surface in all the rites of Holy Week; it is a thematic unity, even if poor mortals, bogged down by 'linear' time, have to take the components one at a time. The soon-to-be-taxed bag you brought back from the shop contains all your groceries simultaneously, even if you have to take them out one at a time.

And indeed the events of Holy Week fit together and lose their meaning if separated. The Last Supper and the agony of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane point to the cross and must be viewed in that context. Even the cross becomes a failure better forgotten than commemorated if it weren’t for the Resurrection. Holy Week is still just as much a unity as when it was all commemorated in one night.

I’m beginning this Holy Week with some melancholy. I’m not experiencing my usual peace right now. I guess that’s appropriate. But I would appreciate prayer nonetheless.

No comments: