Why Mass During Holy Week is Anything but ‘Boring’
I was headed out for a run after work recently, and as I passed the office of a co-worker, she called out, “Are you crazy?” I laughed it off and out I went.
It was just a light drizzle at first. What was all the fuss about? I wondered. Ninety seconds later, the nearly horizontal rain pelting my face clued me in. A little water never hurt anybody, I told myself. Within minutes, the downpour let up as suddenly as it had started, but then came the lightning. Followed by hail. By the time I calculated my limited options for finding shelter, the sun burst through the clouds, filling everything with light and warmth even as it continued to drizzle.
We’re in the middle of a similar mash-up of dramatic upswings and downturns this week. Over the course of eight days, Catholics across the globe mark Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Like a fast-moving spring weather system, the rituals, prayers, and mood of these holy days all change wildly from one moment and one day to the next.
It’s a week for *all* of the feels, but that just means that it’s like life, right? Light pastels dominate the color palette this time of year, but more than ever, this is a week for vivid, robust colors. During Holy Week, the Church keeps burning brightly the full color spectrum of real life and its many varied moods. There is a lot of room to find ourselves here, no matter what life is like for us right now.
A few days ago, on Palm Sunday, we waved palm branches and recalled the crowds who cheered Jesus’s arrival into Jerusalem. Then, during the Gospel reading only minutes later, we completely changed our tune and joined the crowd in shouting: “Crucify him!” And that’s just the start of Holy Week!
On Holy Thursday, we’ll recreate the tender moment when Jesus ate the Last Supper with his closest friends and followers, only for the scene to end in betrayal and heartbreak. On Good Friday, in a simple gesture of jarring juxtaposition, we will shuffle single-file to lovingly kiss the instrument of torture that killed our savior. On Holy Saturday — the eye of the storm — we’ll sit in the eerie still and darkness that hangs thick in our hollow churches as we contemplate Jesus’ absence.
And then, on Easter Sunday, everything teems with life, excitement, and hope — from the lilies at the altar to the packed pews.
Whether we attend one or all of these Church services, the invitation is the same: whatever we are feeling or going through — from the thrill of being in a new relationship to the ache of loneliness, anxiety, and loss — we can bring it with us. We don’t have to check anything at the church door to come inside. We don’t have to look (or feel) like monochromatic pastel in order to belong.
On the surface, Mass can look like a stiff, static affair. But when we look more deeply, this holy season reassures us that God is big enough for our own messy lives to fit into. It’s a mixed up, mysterious, up-and-down season as winter turns to spring — as Lent turns to Easter — and it reminds us that nothing in the entire emotional register of the human heart is foreign to Jesus.
Each one of us, and every part of us — in all our contrasts and in our real color — is welcome here.