The grittiness of Catholicism, in which Lent began with priests etching black ashen crosses on the foreheads of a billion or so men, women and children, will culminate in the holiest week and the grandest liturgy of the year — the Easter Vigil Mass.
In recounting with great detail the final days and hours of Christ’s earthly life, the church will bring out her palm branches, holy oils and sacred incense. She will hold up wooden crucifixes for the faithful to kiss, and in churches across the globe and she will offer millions the chance to ponder Christ’s three days in the tomb.
Many Catholics are simply unavailable in the last evenings before Easter — they’re at church all week.
So what’s happening?
From the elevated basilicas of Rome where the pope is surrounded by cardinals and bishops to the far-flung parishes of Bush Alaska, the Catholic Church is reminding the world of salvation history. Rooted in actual places, names and people, and verified in historic scrolls and geological discoveries, this story belongs to the world, for the world.
And the church is keen to emphasize the details. This is not a vague mythology or mere philosophical pathway to enlightenment. Rather it is the account of God coming to a lost and confused world in order to show us how to return to him. It is important we remember that this actually happened and how it unfolded.
Because Christ courageously rode into Jerusalem, the city of his death, because he celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples and told them to do likewise in the future, because he submitted himself to the scandal of the cross for our salvation, because of these real acts of human and divine love, we have the Christian faith, the pathway to God. If we forget these moments, we risk turning Christianity into a system of morals, a principle for righteous living or a philosophical or theological concept.
In truth, Christianity is more like the memories a close family might recall of itself. The triumphs and sorrows of our beloved family and friends elicit real laughter and real tears because they really happened.
Indeed, Chris performed incomprehensible acts of love for us, and so we follow him to the ends of the world, give up our time, offer our skills, our very livelihood to the very one who loved us first.
Let us not neglect the coming Holy Week. It begins with Palm Sunday on April 9 and culminates with the Easter Vigil Mass on the evening of April 15.
It is a gritty, profound few days. See you there — all week.