Bishop's Interview: Focusing on Christ’s passion, death, resurrection during Holy Week
Editor: Bishop, this newspaper will be in the homes during Holy Week. Explain the importance of this week to our faith.
Bishop Vásquez: Holy Week is the most important time of the year for Christians. This week begins on Palm Sunday and culminates at the Easter Vigil. This week is the conclusion of Lent, and it celebrates the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. We concentrate particularly on Christ’s Passion –– his suffering, death and resurrection –– because we believe that Christ’s actions saved and redeemed us. We believe Christ’s actions during Holy Week changed all of history and humanity.
On Palm Sunday, we hear the Passion of the Lord, which is taken from the Gospel of Matthew, Mark or Luke. This year we listen to Mark’s account. Almost half of Mark’s Gospel focuses on the Passion of Jesus Christ, so obviously for Mark this is the high point of understanding who Jesus is. Anyone who wants to know who Jesus is should read the Passion. There we begin to understand who Jesus is and how he is the Son of God and the Savior of the world and we see the humility with which God saves us.
On Tuesday of Holy Week the diocese celebrates a special Mass called the Chrism Mass. This is a most meaningful celebration for priests because it is the time when we as priests commit ourselves by renewing the promises we made on the day of our ordinations. Before the whole community of God, we pledge to live our lives for God and for his church.
At the Chrism Mass we bless the oils the church uses throughout the entire liturgical year. We bless the oil of the sick, which will be used to anoint those who are ill, home-bound, in nursing homes and in hospitals. We also bless the oil of catechumens, which is used to anoint those who are preparing to enter the church and to anoint young children who are baptized. This oil is a sign of the strength that comes from Christ to help the catechumens overcome sin and temptation.
The third oil blessed is called Holy Chrism, which is used for the major sacraments in the life of the church. This oil will be used for confirmations throughout the diocese, for children’s baptisms and for anointing the hands of newly ordained priests. It is also used to anoint the heads of bishops on the day of their consecration. The oils are also used to anoint the walls of new churches and to consecrate new altars. The oil is poured upon the altar, as a symbol of Christ himself.
On Holy Thursday the church begins the Holy Triduum (three days), which is the most special days of the year for us Catholics. The church has never made these celebrations obligatory because it hopes people will understand how sacred and important these days are. The evening Mass on Holy Thursday includes the washing of the feet, signifying the last night before his death when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Christ showed them the meaning of servant leadership and the ministry of humility and service to each other. At the Last Supper, Jesus gives us a command that what he has done for us we are to do for one another. Also at the Last Supper, which was the first Mass, Jesus gave us the priesthood to continue the celebration of the Eucharist until he returns.
On Good Friday, we celebrate the Passion and death of Jesus Christ. On this day we listen to the Passion taken from the Gospel of John, and we celebrate the sacrificial love of Christ in giving himself completely to the Father for us. One of the central actions on Good Friday is the Veneration of the Cross. Good Friday is the only day in the liturgical year that no Eucharist is celebrated. We begin the ceremony in silence and we conclude in silence; it is a most solemn day recalling the great out pouring of love by Jesus Christ.
On Holy Saturday the church is in prayerful waiting for the resurrection literally all day. As night falls, we begin the Easter Vigil with the blessing of the sacred fire. We enter the dark church led by the paschal candle and we all share the same light with our individual candles. We listen to the Exsultet proclaiming the resurrection, which occurred that night. After this we listen to the readings from the Old Testament, which describe the salvific acts of God for his people. Then comes the Gospel that proclaims the resurrection of Christ and we sing the Alleluia for the first time since Lent. Then we move into the liturgies of baptism and confirmation for those who are to be received into the church. The culmination of the Easter Vigil celebration is the Eucharist where once again we are nourished by the body and blood of Christ, Our Risen Lord. It’s a new beginning for the whole church and for the next 50 days we celebrate Easter!
Editor: Recently a child asked me why is it called Good Friday? I probably did not give the best answer. What would your answer have been?
Bishop Vásquez: To young children what happened on Good Friday may not seem so good. However, when Jesus went to the cross on that first Good Friday, it was an act of great love. Jesus willingly allowed himself to be crucified out of love for us, out of love for humanity. God turned the crucifixion –– a horrible method of execution –– into a means of salvation for all of humanity. Not just Catholics or believers but all humanity for all time was saved by the cross. What Christ did once on the cross can’t be repeated, and it can’t be substituted. It is everlasting. The church believes the crucifixion has a retroactive effect, that is to say it looks back to all those who came before and it looks forward to all those who will come long after we are gone, and, of course, it applies right now to us in this particular moment.
There is a wonderful saying in Latin “Ave Crux Spes Unica,” which means “Hail to the Cross, our only hope.” There is no hope for us but the cross because without the crucifixion of Christ we would be completely lost. So Good Friday is indeed “good.”
Editor: Of course we celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday. For 50 days we celebrate Easter and then Pentecost. Explain the importance of those 50 days.
Bishop Vásquez: The 50 days from Easter to Pentecost is a wonderful time for the church. The mystery of the resurrection is so deep and profound that the church celebrates it over the course of 50 days. It’s like a banquet that begins slowly and lasts for a long time. The food we are eating is rich and flavorful so we want to appreciate it; therefore, we don’t rush to finish. We take it in slowly in order to appreciate the flavors and tastes. In a similar way we celebrate the mystery of the resurrection for 50 days because there are so many aspects to be integrated and understood. We need sufficient time to truly appreciate the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Editor: What is the significance of Pentecost?
Bishop Vásquez: At Pentecost, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. It is the birthday of the church. When Christ ascended to the Father, he left word to the apostles to pray and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit pushes the apostles out of their confinement; they go outside and begin to witness about Jesus. They begin to proclaim boldly the message of Christ, the Resurrected Lord. Peter is the leader of the apostles and is the primary preacher; Peter is the “rock” on which the church was built. At Pentecost the church sends the apostles throughout the world to proclaim Christ.
Editor: What is your payer for the diocese during the Easter season?
Bishop Vásquez: My prayer is that we would be transformed and renewed through the Paschal Mysteries. May the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ renew us spiritually, so that our lives reflect the life of Christ. May this gift of spiritual renewal, which we receive from God, be experienced in the celebration of the sacraments and especially in the Eucharist.