Today we enter into what is, for us as Catholics, the most important, solemn, and beautiful week of the year: Holy Week. Our celebration begins here with this Palm Sunday Mass, what is traditionally called Passion Sunday.
That word—passion—has two very different meanings. The first and obvious meaning, connected with our feast today, is that of suffering. We speak of the passion of Christ, meaning His suffering and death, and all that He embraced to set us free from sin and death. He truly loved us all the way to the cross.
The second meaning, also rather obvious, is passion as in desire. When we are passionate about someone, we have a tremendous desire to spend time with them, to be close to them.
In the opening words that Christ speaks in our Passion Narrative today from St. Luke, our Lord expresses both meanings of passion as He addresses His disciples. The scene is the Last Supper, and He is just about to share His own body and blood with them for the first time in the Eucharist. Looking upon them with what must have been great love, he says:
I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:15).
Jesus is saying that He has a tremendous passion to gather with them before He undergoes His passion. It is fitting that Christ speaks of both meanings as we celebrate this Passion Sunday Mass and enter Holy Week. This week is the time when our desire for God meets His own infinite desire for every one of us. It is a time when God wants to stir up within us that passion He wants us to have for His passion. How is He working in our lives at this time to do that?
There are fifty-one weeks in the year that we think about and are immersed in our own suffering, our struggles and difficulties, our crosses. And rightly so. We all have our own crosses to bear, our own particular sufferings that we face each day.
But this week, above all other weeks in the year, is the week that we focus on His cross, His suffering, His passion. How is God drawing us more completely into that mystery this Holy Week? I would suggest three ways in which God is able to accomplish that.
Firstly, when we spend time doing what we just did: reading the passion of Christ in the gospels. Each of the four gospels has an account of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. Pick one of them, and spend some time alone with God reading over and praying with those sacred accounts of Christ. The saints have done that since the earliest days of the Church. Why not us this Holy Week? We are all called to be saints.
Secondly, we enter more deeply into the passion of Christ by participating in the Sacred Triduum, those three holiest days of this most special of all weeks: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil on Saturday Evening.
On Holy Thursday of this week, we gather to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We remember that Christ, on the night before He died, gave over His body and poured out His blood in the Eucharist for the life and sustenance of the Church.
On Good Friday we gather as God’s people to remember and celebrate the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, that glorious death which purchased for us salvation and the forgiveness of our sins.
And at the Easter Vigil, we assemble once again as Church, our souls and our sanctuary filled with light, and celebrate with great joy the resurrection of Christ.
Finally, we come to participate in the passion of Christ by recognizing that our own suffering is not something separate and alien to Him. Christ came among us as a man to help shoulder our burdens and take away the curse of sin and death that has afflicted us all. He helps us in our deepest need, but more than that. He also gives us all a share in His own suffering for the redemption of the world.
Whenever we unite ourselves to Him in faith, acknowledging our own crosses and difficulties, but uniting them also to Christ and to His cross, God allows us some share in His work of bringing about new life (see Colossians 1:24, 2 Corinthians 4:8-14).
This is Holy Week, the most solemn and beautiful week of the year. How will God stir into flame that passion for His passion this Palm Sunday, and every day this week?