The Priest and the Paschal Triduum

A Meditation on the Liturgy From Palm Sunday to Easter

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ROME, MARCH 26, 2010 ( Given the proximity of Holy Week, Father Nicola Bux, professor of Eastern Liturgy and Consultor of several Holy See dicasteries, proposes a substantial liturgical meditation on the key moments and symbols of the celebrations proper to Palm Sunday and the Holy Triduum.

Father Bux’s reflections are a valid aid — offered both to priests as well as the rest of the faithful — to bring us closer to the divine mysteries that will be celebrated in the forthcoming days, with a spirit of contemplative faith and prayer of adoration, and not of mere organizational pragmatism.

We take advantage of the occasion to wish our readers a Holy Easter that will bear fruits of interior joy and conversion (Father Mauro Gagliardi).
* * *
The Letter to the Hebrews is the only text of the New Testament that attributes to our Lord Jesus Christ the titles «priest,» «high priest» and «mediator of the New Covenant,» thanks to the offering of the sacrifice of his body, anticipated in the mystical Supper of Holy Thursday, consummated on the Cross and presented to the Father with the Resurrection and Ascension to Heaven (cf. Hebrews 9:11-15). This text is meditated in the Liturgy of the Hours of the fifth week of Lent — or Passion week, as in the liturgical calendar of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite — and in Holy Week.
We Catholic priests must always look at Jesus Christ and have his same sentiments, to the point of absorption in Him; this ascesis occurs with permanent conversion. How does conversion take place in us priests? In the rite of Ordination we are asked to teach the Catholic faith, not our ideas, «to celebrate with devotion and fidelity the mysteries of Christ — namely, the liturgy and the sacraments — according to the tradition of the Church» and not according to our taste; above all, «to be ever more united to Christ high priest, who as pure victim offered himself to the Father for us,» that is, to conform our life to the mystery of the cross.
The Holy Church honors the priest and the priest must honor the Church with the holiness of his life — proposed St. Alphonsus Mary of Liguori on the day of his Ordination — with zeal, with work and with decorum. He offers Jesus Christ to the Eternal Father, that is why he must be clothed in the virtues of Jesus Christ to prepare himself to encounter the Holy of Holies. How important is the interior and exterior preparation to the sacred Liturgy, to the Holy Mass! It is about glorifying the high and eternal priest Jesus Christ.
However, all this is carried out to the greatest degree in Holy Week, the Great and Holy Week as the Eastern Church says. Let us look at some of its principal ceremonies on the basis of the Pontifical of bishops.
1. On Palm Sunday, the priest enters Jerusalem with Jesus in joy. On this Sunday the Church celebrates the Lord’s triumph and anticipates the joy of the victory of the Risen One. The solemn procession in honor of Christ the King is the most characteristic rite of the day: It recalls the triumphal cortege that accompanied Jesus on his entry in Jerusalem, expresses the actual meeting of the Church in the holy mysteries and represents, ahead of time, the entrance of the elect in the heavenly city, as the Apostle says: «Provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him» (Romans 8:17).
The liturgy of the Palms orients us, therefore, to the definitive Presence of the Lord, in Greek «parousia.» It is not just about commemorating the Lord’s entry in the heavenly Jerusalem but, bringing us close to the Eucharistic banquet, where the Bread will be broken, about proclaiming symbolically what will really happen at the end of the world. Then the Lord’s Cross will open the entrance of the heavenly Jerusalem to that «great multitude» that St. John contemplated in the prophetic vision, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues — clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, «Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!» (Revelation 7:9-10).
2. With the Missa in Cena Domini of Holy Thursday, the priest enters the principal mysteries, the institution of the Most Blessed Eucharist and of the ministerial priesthood, as also of the commandment of brotherly love, signified by the washing of the feet, gesture that the Coptic liturgy does ordinarily every Sunday. Nothing expresses it better than the song «Ubi Caritas.» After communion, the priest, taking the humeral cloth, goes up to the altar, genuflects and, helped by a deacon, takes the pyx with his hands covered by the humeral cloth. It is the symbol of the need for pure hands and hearts to approach the Divine Mysteries and touch the Lord!
3. Good Friday in Passione Domini, the priest is called to go up to Calvary. At 3 p.m., the Passion of the Lord takes place in three moments: the Word, the Cross, Communion. It moves in procession and silence to the altar. After reverencing the altar, which represents Christ in the austere nakedness of Calvary, he prostrates himself on the ground: It is the «proskynesis,» as in the day of ordination. Thus he expresses the conviction of being nothing before the Divine Majesty, and repentance for having dared to measure himself, through sin, with the Omnipotent. As the Son who abased himself, the priest recognizes his nothingness, and so begins his priestly mediation between God and the people, which culminates in the solemn universal prayer.
The exposition and adoration of the Holy Cross takes place: The priest goes to the altar with the deacons and there, standing, receives it and uncovers it in three successive moments, or shows it already uncovered, and invites each of the faithful to adoration with the words: Look at the wood of the Cross. In its bare solemnity, here, in the heart of the liturgical year, tradition has endured tenaciously more than at other moments of the year. The priest, after depositing the chasuble, if possible barefoot, is the first to approach the cross, kneels before it and kisses it. Catholic theology does not hesitate to give to the word «adoration» its true meaning. The true Cross — bathed with the blood of the Redeemer — makes itself, so to speak, one with Christ, and receives adoration. Because of this, prostrating ourselves before the sacred wood, we say to the Lord: «We adore you, Oh Christ, and we bless you, because by thy Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.»
4. The Easter of the Kingdom of God has been realized in Jesus: the Supper offered and consumed, «on the night he was betrayed»; immolated on Calvary on Good Friday, when «the earth was covered in darkness,» once again at night receives the consecration of divine approval, in the resurrection of Christ the Lord: From John we know that Mary Magdalene went to the sepulcher «while it was still dark»; hence, it happened in the last hours of the night after the Paschal Saturday.
In the Novus Ordo, the priest, from the beginning of the Vigil, wears white vestments as for the Mass. He blesses the fire and lights the Paschal Candle with the new fire, if he proceeds, after having nailed, as in the old liturgy, a cross. Then he traces on the vertical side of the cross the Greek letter alpha and below, instead, the letter omega; between the arms of the cross he traces four numbers to indicate the current year, saying: Christ yesterday and today. Afterward, having made the incision on the cross and the other signs, he can nail in the candle five grains of incense, saying: Through his holy wounds. Then, singing the Lumen Christi, he leads the procession to the church. The priest is at the head of the faithful people here on earth, to be able to lead them to heaven.
It is the priest who intones solemnly the Alleluia. He sings it three times, gradually raising the tone of his voice: the people repeat it each time in the same tone.  
In the baptismal liturgy, the priest
, standing before the font, blesses the water singing the prayer: Oh God, through the sacramental signs; while he invokes: Descend, Father, on this water. He can submerge the Paschal Candle in the water once or three times. The meaning is profound: the priest is the fertilizing organ of the ecclesial womb, symbolized by the baptismal pool. Truly in the person of Christ Head he engenders children that, as father, he fortifies with the chrism and nourishes with the Eucharist. Also by reason of the marital functions to the Church Bride, the priest must be a man. All the mystical meaning of Easter is manifested in the priestly identity, coming to fullness, the pleroma, as the East says. With him sacramental initiation reaches its culmination and Christian life the center.
Hence, the priest, having ascended the cross with Jesus on Friday and lowered into his sepulcher on Holy Saturday, can really affirm on Easter Sunday with the sequence: «We know that Christ has truly risen from the dead.»
 [Translation by ZENIT]

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