Preparing for Holy Week

April 19, 2011

Cardinal DiNardo shared a few words on Pope Benedict XVI's new book about the final week of Jesus' life, "Jesus of Nazareth," during a talk at St. Mary Seminary in April.

Holy Week and Easter are almost upon us. The Lenten season intensifies in its final weeks and brings us to the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. Most especially in the time between Holy Thursday night and Easter Sunday afternoon, the Sacred Triduum or the "Holy Three Days," the Church invites us to celebrate the greatest mystery of our salvation: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. The celebration in Word and Sacrament allows us to enter the deep and abiding presence of Christ our Savior even now; the Holy Week Liturgies are not so much a "Passion play" as they are gifts given to us by Christ through the Church to enter His life now and be transformed by that grace to be His disciples and witnesses. Such is the power of the Liturgy and the Sacraments of the Church – a power that springs from the very same death and resurrection of the Lord.

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has just published Volume II of his work on Jesus of Nazareth. This recent book ("Jesus of Nazareth") is dedicated to Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter. He calls his text a theological treatise on the "mysteries of the life of Jesus": a form of theological thinking common in the early Church and especially in the Medieval Church. The Pope's book is a streamlining of this form of thinking about the words and deeds of Jesus; it is faith seeking understanding. In his analysis, the Pope treats recent topics in historical and critical scholarship about the historical life of Christ without losing the essential connection with the faith and tradition of the Catholic Church. It is an engaging work and written lucidly and beautifully.

The lengthy chapter on the crucifixion and burial of Jesus is an excellent example of the Pope's ability to weave together the words of Scripture in the Old Testament, the event itself of the Crucifixion, and the harmony between word and event discovered by the infant Church as the sacred authors "unpacked" the deeper meaning of Christ's sacrificial obedience to the Father for us and for our salvation. What at first appears to be darkness and emptiness is further revealed as light, as the plan of the Father already anticipated in the Old Testament and brought to completion in the death and resurrection of His Beloved Son. The harmony between the event and the word that unfolds its meaning as the Gospels recount the passion and death of Christ is foundational for Christian faith itself. It is the very basis for the existence of the Church.

What is this deeper reality of the event of the Cross? What is the harmony of event and word in the Passion narratives of the four Gospels? The Holy Father brings forth a number of concepts to display this harmony. Perhaps one of the most beautiful is that of reconciliation and atonement. He uses a text of the Letter to the Hebrews that quotes Psalm 40 of the Old Testament. "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,' as it is written of me in the roll of the book" (Hebrews 10:5-7 quoting Psalm 40:6-8).

The Pope elucidates this text by showing how the New Testament author of the Letter to the Hebrews modified the psalm which had referred to an open ear prepared to the words "but a body you have prepared for me." The notion of worship and life is being modified to a deeper understanding of obedience: the obedience of the whole person, the spiritual sacrifice of the heart. But as the psalm indicates, such a wholehearted obedience is not yet present and the psalmist who is the voice of the human soul yearns for fulfillment over and against the sometimes patchy and irresolute wills of human beings. The appearance of Christ, the Son, who offered His whole life once for all to the Father, has given human beings a total sinless obedience and opens up a space for us all to be reconciled to the Father and to enter freely into the obedience of the Son.

This reconciliation is for us and gives to us a new way of worship. We worship through the Son. Our worship, too, is not just "in church" but our worship is now our whole new way of life, a life in Christ, the obedient Son. The Pope takes us through details of the Passion that at first seem merely sad or strange or unexplainable and uses the key of Christ's obedience as a way to reveal the reasons for the various events surrounding Christ's Crucifixion and Burial.

I am not doing justice to the Holy Father's analysis, but I hope to have given a glance of his great insights and entice you to read his book!
Christ has reconciled us to God through a loving act of total self giving; what he enacted before His "Abba," His Father and our Father, has opened for us the way to salvation. This is the meaning of Holy Week and this is the Easter Mystery of grace. May all of you be filled anew with that grace. A Blessed Easter! †