Anchorage Archbishop invites Alaskans to celebrate the year’s most Holy Week

Two years ago, I had the great experience of traveling to the Holy Land during the first two weeks of Easter. The day before that pilgrimage ended, I celebrated Mass in one of the holiest sites of our faith, the church of the Holy Sepulchre, known as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.

After spending weeks visiting the country side and villages where Jesus was born, raised, baptized, preached, performed miracles, was transfigured; following the path and places of his Passion and Crucifixion all culminated in this celebration of the precious gift he left us, the Eucharist, in the place where he also rose from the dead.

For me, that pilgrimage is a great synopsis of Lent in that we are invited to walk more closely with Jesus and to live our faith more vibrantly. Likewise, Lent concludes with the great celebration of the Triduum; Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and finally, celebrating the joyous, Easter Resurrection with a renewed heart!

I want to encourage this readership to make an earnest effort to participate in the Holy Week services at the parish of your choice. Traditionally, Holy Thursday begins with the celebration of the Chrism Mass, where the Holy Oils which are to be used in the celebrations of the sacraments in the coming year are blessed by the archbishop. During the same ceremony, the priests renew their priestly promises. After the Mass, the oils are carried back to each parish to be used for the first time during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night.

In this archdiocese, due to the travel distances, the Chrism mass is celebrated the Thursday before Holy Week. This is one of the most beautiful celebrations of the whole year and I pray that Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral is packed that evening. Please come join us.

Perhaps my favorite liturgy of the year is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, celebrated Holy Thursday evening. This Mass recalls the Last Supper, that moment when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and teaches them that such service is at the heart of our discipleship. During this same meal, Jesus gives the church “the new and eternal covenant” of his Body and Blood which we celebrate in every Mass according to his command: “Do this in memory of me.” It was on this Holy Night that Jesus also gave the church the gift of the priesthood.

Recalling that Jesus went directly from the Last Supper to the Mount of Olives to pray, the Mass on Holy Thursday concludes with a eucharistic procession and the Blessed Sacrament is reposed at a special altar set up somewhere within the church so that we can “keep watch” with Jesus. At some point during the night, the Blessed Sacrament is removed and the church begins to accompany Jesus in his arrest and Passion. Another favorite practice this night is to visit several parishes, praying at their altar of repose for a few moments, and then traveling to the next. Young adults, families, this is a great way to practice and celebrate your faith at the same time!

On Good Friday, the Triduum celebration continues with the recalling of Jesus’ Passion. We read the Passion from the Gospel of St. John, offer special prayers for the universal church and then reverence the cross.

In this archdiocese, there is a long tradition of the Good Friday Faith Walk, which I’m anxious to participate in for the first time. Be sure to check out the details for when the group will depart from your church, or make plans to join any of the parishes that are participating (see page 23 of this issue for details).

The Triduum concludes with a solemn remembrance of the time Jesus spent in the tomb before his Resurrection. Good Friday and throughout the day of Holy Saturday is meant to be kept in a sacred fast, of prayer, silence and accompaniment of the stillness of the earth at the death of the Savior. And once this solemn moment has passed, the church has its greatest celebration of the year; the Easter Vigil! He who has suffered and died is risen!

Darkness gives way to light as the Easter fire is lit – although I suppose here in Alaska with the longer days – that is not quite the spectacular event that it is in the lower 48! Yes, this is that Mass where there are many extra readings from the Old Testament recalling God’s gifts of creation, life and covenant, culminating in the Gospel reading of the Resurrection.

Those who have prepared to become Catholic are received into the church with the celebrations of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. This is a time for all of us to celebrate our faith, and to welcome our newest members into the church.

I pray that your Lenten journey has been fruitful, and that you join us this Holy Week and Easter in celebrating these great moments in the life, ministry, Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus.

He still walks among us. Keep following him!

The writer is the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.

'Anchorage Archbishop invites Alaskans to celebrate the year’s most Holy Week'
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