A hymn/poem for Holy Week. . .
At the Name of Jesus, by Caroline Noel, (1870)
At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess Him King of Glory, now.
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call Him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.
Humbled for a season, to receive a name
From the lips of sinners, unto whom He came.
Faithfully He bore it, spotless to the last.
Brought it back victorious, when through death He passed.
Bore it up triumphant, with its human light
Through all ranks of creatures to the central height;
To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast
Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.
In your hearts enthrone Him; there let Him subdue
All that is not holy, all that is not true.
Crown Him as your Captain in temptation’s hour;
Let His will enfold you in its Light and Pow’r.
Jesus, Lord and Savior, shall return again
With His Father’s glory, o’er the earth to reign.
For all wreaths of empire meet upon His brow,
And our hearts confess Him King of Glory, now. . .
For a Catholic, Holy Week (between Palm Sunday and Easter) is just a liturgically-rich environment, just packed full of significance to drive home what Christ has done for us. . .
Starting on Holy Thursday, with the Mass of the Last Supper, in which we commemorate Jesus' institution of the Eucharist (or Holy Communion), and his washing of the disciples' feet - our priests actually take a basin and water and wash the feet of a dozen parishioners, which just makes it all the more 'real' that what Jesus did for the Twelve, he does also for us. One year, I was one of the foot-washees, and I completely understood Peter's impulse of, "uh, please, you can't do this to me. . ."
On Good Friday, at noon, we have the Good Friday service. Good Friday is the only day of the year that Catholic churches don't have Mass - the altar, and the church building generally is stripped bare. The priests enter and leave the church in silence, and the entire liturgy is just somber, as we reflect on Christ's work on our behalf, on the cross. There is a liturgy of veneration of the Cross, and a communion service. Just because I'm the kind of goofball that I am (and may God have mercy on me), I always get a wry chuckle from the General Intercessions in the Good Friday prayers. There is a series of intercessions that follow an apparent 'progression' - first, for the Catholic Church, then for the pope, the bishops and all clergy, for those entering the Church this Easter, then for all Christians, for the Jewish people, for those who don't believe in Christ, for those who don't believe in God, and lastly, for those in public office. I'm pretty sure that the prayers don't have quite the 'significance' that seems apparent to me from the 'progression', but I always get a chuckle from them. . .
On Good Friday evening, we go to a Tenebrae ('shadows') service. Most parishes don't have a Tenebrae service, and ours doesn't, either, but one of the perks of living in the see city of our diocese, is that the Cathedral is right downtown in OurTown, and they have a Tenebrae service there. Tenebrae is a powerful liturgy, symbolizing the apparent 'Triumph of Darkness' as Christ is in the tomb, and His impending ultimate Victory. Through a series of prayers, the candles on the altar (and the lights in the entire church) are progressively extinguished, until a single candle remains lit, in an otherwise pitch-dark church. And then, that single candle is hidden behind the altar, symbolizing Christ hidden in the tomb. The first time I attended a Tenebrae service, and the last candle was hidden, it provoked a sense of utter despair, as I could mentally/spiritually 'place myself' in the situation of the first disciples, who had placed their hopes in Jesus, and to see him brutally killed, and placed in the grave - very much a sense of, what are we gonna do now? And then, the single candle re-emerges from its hiding place, so much as to say, 'Not so fast; wait till you see what comes next'. . . And the service again ends in silence.
And after sunset on Holy Saturday is the Easter Vigil Mass - the richest, most wonderful liturgy on the entire Church calendar. I won't bore you with all the details, but it begins in darkness. The Easter candle is blessed, and the fire from the Easter candle is distributed to everyone in the church, as they light their candles from its flame, until the church is lit by the light of all the candles. The candles are extinguished, and the Exsultet - the ancient Christian Hymn of Victory - is sung, followed by a series of readings (in our parish, we usually do three readings, but there could be as many as seven), which collectively tell the story of Salvation History - typically beginning with God's creation of the world, and including the story of the Exodus, and a passage from one of the prophets. After this, the lights are turned on (in symbolism of passing from the Old Testament to the New, and the Advent of Christ, and His Resurrection) and the Gloria is sung, followed by a reading from one of the New Testament Epistles, and a reading from the Gospel.
The Easter Vigil is also when people are typically received into the Catholic Church, and baptisms and confirmations are also included in the liturgy. This year, our family has been 'instructing' a young man, in preparation of his being received into the Catholic Church. A friend of 4M's decided he wanted to become Catholic, but there wasn't a 'neat' way to handle his instruction - he was too old to just include him in the regular confirmation class (typically 8th/9th graders), but still a bit young to just have him follow the regular 'adult' course of instruction. So, they asked our family if we could just handle his instruction, and for the past several months, we've had him over every Sunday to join our family for brunch, and then we retire to the 'study' for the week's instruction. And this Saturday evening, at the Easter Vigil, it all comes to its culmination, and our young friend will enter into life as a confirmed Catholic Christian. It has been a rich and rewarding time for our family (it always seems that you learn as much, or more, by teaching something, as you do from being taught), as well as for him.
Sunday, we'll host as many members of Molly's family as come, for Easter dinner, and family celebration - Easter baskets for the kids (over the years, Molly has developed a tradition of a 'hunt' for the Easter baskets, using Bible verses as clues, the final one leading them to where the baskets are stored), and a dinner of roast lamb (the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, dontcha know).
All together, it's just a wonderfully rich time in the life of our family, and the Catholic Church more generally. Blessings to all of you, whether Catholic or not, during, and through, the holy days to come. . .