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The Liturgies of
Lent and Easter

by Kathleen M. Paiva

My grandmother died several years ago, but hardly a day goes by that I don't think fondly of her. Around my house are precious mementos of who she was: her early hardback edition of Gone With the Wind, her antique magazine table, even her original sheet music of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."

My most precious inheritance from Grandma, however, is the wall-sized painting of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane that now hangs in my (lining room. It reminds me of the trip to Rome that Grandma arranged for us to take the year I graduated from college. Seeing the Colosseum where early Christians had died for their faith, walking through the catacombs, participating at Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, I could "touch" my faith in a way I never had before.

Just as Grandma's things spark my memories of her, so the special symbols and services of Lent and Easter remind us of Jesus. Our lives are better, deeper and richer because our remembering of Jesus is reflected in reality: his teachings, his cross, his rising, his love. He asked us to make him present as we remember, so that what happened 2,000 years ago will continue to be real in our lives today.

Remember You Are Dust

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, so named for the ritual of being marked with ashes during this day's liturgy. "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return," the priest says, as he places the ashes on each person's forehead. Your body will die and decay. Only the spirit lives on. Your lenten journey begins here, rooted in this truth. To help you begin your lenten season, the priest could choose to say, "Repent and believe the Good News."

A priest-friend of mine from Northern Ireland told the story of how the ashes took on a double meaning for him as a child. Prejudice and war were all around him, as centuries of injustice in Northern Ireland continued to take their toll. "The ashes just gave those who hated us a target to aim at," said Father Jim.

"Why didn't you just wipe off the ashes?" we'd ask.

"Because it was a sign of our loyalty to Christ," he said, "that we were willing to suffer persecution for Jesus' sake."

There have been times that I've wanted to wipe off my ashes right after church so people wouldn't ask too many questions about the "dirt" on my head. Now I look at it as a gentle opportunity to witness to my faith, as I share the meaning of the ashes with those who aren't familiar with this custom.

As you are marked with ashes this Ash Wednesday, you must decide, like the people of Jesus' day, who Jesus is for you and whether you are truly on his team.

Remember Me As King

The last week of Lent is the holiest week of the liturgical year. Here we remember the completion of Jesus' life and purpose on earth.

Your trip through the remembered events of Holy Week begins with Passion Sunday. On that day the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus with cheers of "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" On the back of a donkey, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem as triumphantly as the winners of the Super Bowl riding in a victory parade.

You, as one of Jesus' followers, become part of the crowd during Passion Sunday's liturgy. With the congregation you gather before Mass at a place separate from the church-at a courtyard or chapel, perhaps. Taking up palm branches, as did the people in Jesus' day, you sing a hymn in honor of Christ the King as you make a grand procession into the church. The priest, in Jesus' place, wears red vestments as a sign of Jesus entering Jerusalem to give his lifeblood for the sins of the world.

The Gospel isn't read by only the priest or deacon today. You, too, are a reader. Once again, you become part of the crowd, but what a difference in your lines! Just minutes ago you were singing "Hosanna!" Now you're yelling, "Crucify him!"

You might say to yourself, "If I had been with Jesus, I wouldn't have turned against him." But aren't there times when you turn away from Jesus because the Christian life isn't as easy or "profitable" as you'd like? The liturgies of Holy Week invite you to reconsider how loyal you are to Christ, your King.

Remember Me As Priest

One of the Holy Week liturgies you may not have heard much about is the Chrism Mass. (The word chrism means consecrated oil.) This Mass is usually celebrated at the cathedral church of the diocese. All the priests of the diocese are to attend this Mass, along with their bishop. The people of the diocese are welcome to attend, too. This Mass traditionally is scheduled on Holy Thursday morning.

At the Chrism Mass, the oils to be used for anointing in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders are blessed for distribution to parishes throughout the diocese. In addition, all the priests publicly renew their vows.

Remember Me As Servant

Holy Thursday evening brings the whole parish with its priests and deacons together to celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper. During this Mass, you will be reminded that Jesus first gave us his Body and Blood in the Eucharist as part of the annual Passover feast. Indeed, the Christian experience of passing from death to life with Jesus is rooted in the Hebrews' passover from Egyptian slavery to the freedom and plenty of the promised land.

Symbolic of the first eucharistic feast, the tabernacle is completely empty as Mass begins. Bread and wine to be given as Holy Communion tonight and tomorrow must be consecrated at this Mass, not at a previous Mass.

The bells ring all through the singing of the "Glory to God," then become silent as the most solemn events in the life of our Savior begin. You will not hear the bells again until the Easter Vigil.

The Good News this night describes Jesus as the perfect example of a humble, loving servant. You hear the account of his giving himself as the passover lamb whose blood is to be shed as a sign of the "new and everlasting covenant." The story is read of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples to give them-and us-an example of service to others. This scene is then acted out. Following the homily, a dozen or so parishioners, selected to represent both the 12 apostles and the community, have their feet washed by the priest.

When we were kids, we used to make jokes about this ceremony. "I'll bet they washed their feet a hundred times before they came to church," we'd say, glad it wasn't our feet being featured in this ceremony. I mean, wouldn't it be embarrassing to stick out an unprepared foot for your pastor to wash? We didn't realize our jokes were more on target than off. If you read John 13:1-15, you would see how humiliated Peter was to have esus wash his feet. As a teen friend observed, "People who are better than you aren't supposed to kneel down in front of you. It's embarrassing." Certainly washing people's feet is a humbling act for the priest, too. By washing his disciples' feet, Jesus was teaching us that Christian humility is a two-way street: You must be humble enough both to serve and to be served in order to bring about the reign of God.

At the end of the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist to be shared tomorrow is not returned to the tabernacle. Instead, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession by the priest, led by a cross bearer and accompanied by candles and incense, to a special chapel. This action symbolizes Jesus' walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was there that Jesus wrestled with the terrible suffering he knew was to come. "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me," he pleaded. "Yet, not my will, but yours, be done." He was in such torment that he asked his apostles to keep him company, but they fell asleep. Tonight, as the Blessed Sacrament remains in this separate chapel, you are encouraged to remain in prayer with Jesus for a time.

Meanwhile, the altar in the church is stripped. The holy water is removed from all the fonts, to be refilled with water blessed at the Easter Vigil.

Apart from the Liturgy of the Lord's Supper, many families and parishes celebrate the Seder Meal or a modified Passover in their homes. Traditionally, the Hebrews celebrate this each year to commemorate their deliverance from Egyptian slavery by God's "mighty hand and outstretched arm." Foods for this meal include lamb, unleavened bread, horseradish to symbolize the bitterness of slavery, a mixture of nuts and apples called haroset to symbolize the mortar of which the Hebrews made bricks for Pharaoh, and wine.

Because my children are young (and have a distaste for wine and horseradish) we eat a "biblical dinner" in place of the Seder Meal, as a family thanksgiving for the first Eucharist. (The word Eucharist means thanksgiving.) This meal consists of broiled fish, lentils, cucumbers, wheat and barley loaves, and pressed cakes of dried figs, chopped dates and walnuts. (I found appropriate recipes in a cookbook called A Continual Feast, published by Ignatius Press.) Perhaps you could help to prepare such a meal in your home.

Remember Me As Redeemer

Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday, in memory of Jesus' crucifixion. Quietly and seriously, the people of God come together to remember the suffering and death of the Redeemer who gave his life so that his people would be free from enslavement to sin. The priest and ministers, wearing the red vestments of martyrdom, enter in silence: no procession, no opening songs, no greetings.

A simple opening prayer is followed by a reading of Isaiah's prophecy of Jesus as the Suffering Servant who would "take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses."

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is read once again. This is John's account-deeper, more personal, yet more majestic than the other Gospel accounts. You hear Jesus boldly tell Pilate, "The reason I was born, the reason why I came into the world, is to testify to the truth. Anyone committed to the truth hears my voice."

Then you have your chance to show your gratefulness for this sacrifice of your Savior. The priests, ministers and people come forward to give honor to the cross "on which hung the Savior of the world." In our parish, it is our tradition to kiss the cross, but one may simply genuflect or show some other sign of reverence.

For Holy Communion, the priest, accompanied by two ministers with lighted candles, brings the Blessed Sacrament from the special chapel without procession. After Communion, all walk out in silence.

Remember Me As Dead

During the day on Holy Saturday, the altar is left bare, symbolic of Jesus buried in the tomb. No Mass is celebrated during the daytime, and Communion is given only to the dying who need this "food for the journey" to heaven.

The day is to be spent meditating on Jesus' suffering and death. It may be tempting today to think of Jesus as being in a sort of suspended animation, but he was really dead. Jesus was stabbed through the heart as proof to the Roman soldiers that, in Jesus' words, "It is finished."

Remember Me As Light

The joyful night watch for the rising of Jesus from the dead begins after dark. All the lights in the church are out. Meanwhile a large fire is prepared and blessed outside the church. The Easter candle is lit from this fire, and is then brought in procession into the church. In dramatic symbolism of Christ's rising from the dead and his light spreading throughout the world, the small candles held by every person in the pitch-black church are lit from the fire of the large Easter candle. Now that the church is aglow in the candlelight, the Easter proclamation is sung: "Rejoice, heavenly powers!/ Sing, choirs of angels!/Exult, all creation, around God's throne!/ Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!"

During the Liturgy of the Word, the readings proclaim the salvation history of God's people, from the creation of the world to the "fullness of time" when God "sent his own Son to be our Redeemer."

At last we welcome the newest Christians during the Liturgy of Baptism. After the homily, those to be baptized renounce the devil, answer questions about their faith and are baptized as new Christians. You, in turn, renew your baptismal vows to reject Satan, his works and empty promises, and to embrace God, the forgiveness of your sins and everlasting life. The new Christians each receive a white garment, symbol of their purity in Christ, as well as of the great joy of this day, as evidenced by the white vestments worn by priests and deacons at this Mass.

Remember Me As Risen Savior

The climax of our Easter Vigil celebration is also a feast: the paschal feast of our Risen Savior, the celebration of the Mass. "Do this in remembrance of me," Jesus said. This Easter, as you receive the Body and Blood of our Savior, you will be doing more than remembering. You will join with him and become a part of everything he is working for.

Each Easter Grandma Flanigan used to make a delicious fruit salad, topped with her special pineapple sauce, for the family feast. As I prepare this same recipe for my family this Easter, I'll remember her with gratitude for all she passed on to me-especially her faith in our Risen Lord.

Kathleen M. Paiva is an active member of her Florida parish, where she has taught religion, led youth retreats and accompanies the youth choir. She and her husband are the parents of five young children. This is her fourth Youth Update.

This edition of Youth Update was previewed by Matt Crowford,17; Jeffrey W. Dozier, 17; Ross Eubanks, 14; Jeremy Leaibon,17; and Brian D. Sandlin, 14. All five attend Covington Catholic High School in Covington, Kentucky.


What Helps You to Remember?

Directions: Evaluate the following liturgical actions and symbols of Lent on a scale from 1 to 10 as to which are the most meaningful for you in remembering the life, death and resurrection of jesus Christ. Discuss your decisions.

Receiving ashes

Vestment colors

Procession into the church with palm branches

Reading the part of the crowd during the Passion

Renewal of priests' vows at the Chrism Mass

The empty tabernacle at the opening of the Lord's Supper

The washing of feet

Kissing the cross

Lighting candles throughout the church from the Easter candle

Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion

Other (please list)



All these celebrations seem designed for adults. What part can teenagers play in these lenten celebrations? Is there a place for us?


Yes! First of all, besides participating in the prayers of the liturgies, yo take part in the processions of Passion Sunday and Holy Thursday, as well as reading the words of the "crowd" during the Passion Gospels. You will be joining in other symbolic actions as well, such as receiving ashes and reverencing the cross. If you really want to get involved, volunteer to be one of the 12 who get their feet washed!


What is a redeemer?


Have you ever been to a pawnshop? If you need quick cash, you can sell possessions to a pawnbroker on a temporary basis. Here's the catch: You must buy them back--redeem them--within a certain time. If you don't buy them back in time, they become the property of the pawn-shop. It's like that in your spiritual life, too. You can "sell" yourself to sin for quick thrills, only to find you're stuck in a bad situation that's hard to change. Jesus has already paid the price and redeemed you. He offered is own life to save you.


With so many important things happening during Lent, especially during Holy Week, which is the most important?


Good question! While it might seem logical to say the Easter celebration is the most important, it has not always been so for me. At times in my life when I was most in need of a new direction, Ash Wednesday's liturgy was most meaningful. When I felt most hungry for spiritual fulfillment, the celebration of the Lord's Supper touched me most. Trials have made Good Friday most significant some years, while Easter celebrations have given me hope. I guess it just depends on you own spiritual needs.


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