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Take advantage of the beautiful gift, and opportunity, of Holy Week

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Juan Esposito blesses palms as a Palm Sunday Mass begins outside the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in the nation’s capital in April 2023. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

I keep my homilies short on Palm Sunday, as do many of my fellow priests. The gospel is so strong as we read the Passion (this year from Mark) that there is little need to add reflections or context. If we let the story of Jesus’ suffering and death soak into our hearts, we can’t help but be moved by his love for us.

I like to give a little “fervorino” – a short sermon or pep talk – about the week ahead and the opportunity to use it as a personal retreat to draw closer to God.

The Church even calls it Holy Week, and it can be a real gift to those who participate. There are many ways to do that – Palm Sunday processions, penance services, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and adoration that follows, Veneration of the Cross and Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, and of course the magnificent Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday celebrations. Private reading, reflection and prayer are also valuable.

While some Catholics view this as a special week and enter fully into the liturgies, I must admit I’m disappointed that many others do not see this week as much different than any other week.

For me as a priest, Holy Week always meant fewer activities in the parish beyond those of the week itself. No meetings, school, religious formation classes and more. That gives us priests a chance to also use the week for our own spiritual journeys.

There is plenty to do to prepare for these wonderful liturgies, but I am currently blessed to live with two great priests. I will probably preside at one liturgy during the week, and then can enjoy the reflections of my brother priests during other liturgies.

I can’t encourage you enough to take advantage of the beautiful opportunities to grow in faith and love during Holy Week. I am honestly not sure how to better help our fellow Catholics appreciate the richness and depth of these most critical liturgies that bring to life our very salvation. Maybe we’re just so caught up in the secular, the world we live in, and the business of what we’re called to do that we just don’t think to make the commitment to God that we should.

I don’t mean to sound frustrated, but if I do, it’s only out of love for God’s people and out of a strong desire that all would use this gift of the Church as the valuable experience it is to really get in touch with the love God has for us.

The comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen once reportedly said, “If 90 percent of success is just showing up, the other 10% depends on what you’re showing up for.”

Holy Week is worth “showing up” for. Easter will become a far richer, more beautiful experience if we dedicate ourselves to preparing for it by participating prayerfully and attentively in Holy Week.

As we enter into the beautiful liturgies, God’s victory over sin and death will become more than an Easter day to celebrate with loved ones, more even than a season to celebrate liturgically.

It will become a part of who we are and how we live, enriching our relationship with and love for the very God who suffered for us, died for us and opened the gates of heaven that we might live with him forever.

(Msgr. John Enzler serves as the mission advocate of Catholic Charities of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and is a chaplain at his alma mater, St. John’s College High School in Washington. He writes the Faith in Action column for the archdiocese’s Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers and websites.)