The missus and I shared at dinner last night that we'll be going to Church each night for the next 3 nights and then again on Easter Sunday morning. My oldest son was taken aback and said simply, "Wow, that's a lot of Church."
That reaction I'm sure would be a common one. Sadly, even among those who deem themselves Catholics.
I've shared before that I was raised Catholic and yet it wasn't until RCIA last year that I can ever remember being exposed to what is called The Triduum:
The Triduum is both the shortest Liturgical Season and the longest continuous liturgical celebration – three days of prayer, reflection, and celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps it is the Church’s way to slow us down enough to recognize and truly appreciate the meaning of these days.
The liturgical celebration begins on Holy Thursday with the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. It is here that we meditate on what happened that night – the first Eucharist, the betrayal of Judas, the washing of the apostles’ feet, Jesus’ agony in the garden and arrest. It is this night that we hear Jesus say, “Do this in memory of me,” and “Go and do likewise.” We have here the example we are to follow. Jesus willingly offering himself for those he loves and leading by serving.
You may notice that on Holy Thursday there is no dismissal from the Mass. The Mass isn’t over yet. All are invited to remain in prayer with Jesus on this night just as Peter, James and John were invited to pray with Jesus in the garden. There’s a beautiful song from the Taize community that states, “Stay here with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray. Watch and pray.” We are invited to watch and to pray with the one who emptied himself completely for our sake.
The liturgical celebration continues with the commemoration of the crucifixion on Good Friday. There are no Masses celebrated on Good Friday. We gather to continue the prayers of the previous night. We gather to remember together the events that save us. The services on Good Friday have always been especially moving for me. I have been moved to tears as I prayed with the words of the songs or watched others venerate the cross.
The Triduum reaches its climax in the celebration of the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. Once again the Church will sing “Alleluia!” The tomb is empty… he has risen! It is in this celebration that we move from the darkness of death to the light of new life; we hear the story of God’s faithful love throughout all of history; we welcome new members to our family and rejoice that life always triumphs over death. With the dismissal from this celebration the Mass that began on Thursday comes to an end.
Three days, one Mass. And I can't tell you how powerful it's become for me. I actually look forward to the three days and this year, with what's happening in our lives, I'm pretty sure it's going to be all the more powerful.
Which takes us to tonight's commemoration of The First Eucharist, the essence of which is captured quite nicely with these challenging and provocative thoughts from Misty at Catholic Sistahs:
When my husband and I were going through RCIA, our priest explained the Eucharist to us and said, “It’s either the biggest hoax in history that’s been perpetrated on billions of people for nearly 2,000 years–or it’s the truth.” It made me realize then that there is no middle ground; I had to accept on faith that what looks like a piece of bread to me is, in reality, a person: Jesus himself, fully human and fully divine. I had investigated the major world religions on my way to Catholicism because I wanted to find the Truth and I knew that if I ever found it, I wanted to live with integrity. I knew I could not call myself a Catholic if I was not willing to submit my will to the most fundamental, core teaching of the faith: that the Eucharist really and truly is Jesus. Not just a symbol of Jesus. Or even a really meaningful memorial of Him. But really and truly Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man who was born of a virgin, died on a cross, and rose from the dead 2,000 years ago.
My belief that Jesus is really there in that host fuels everything I do as a Catholic. I show up to Mass every weekend because I don’t want to miss the privilege of communing with Him. I go to Confession because I want my soul to be a welcoming abode for Him, who is perfect. I pray because He is part of me. I use NFP because I respect His gift of fertility, through which I’ve cooperated with God in the creation of five new, immortal souls. Everything, from genuflecting before the tabernacle to sacrificing for my friends and family, is rooted first in my relationship with Jesus, who comes to me under the guise of bread.
This teaching is foundational; I’ve found that a person who doesn’t believe in the Real Presence rarely believes much else the Church teaches, either. It just makes sense–if you don’t believe the Church is telling the truth about the Eucharist, then how can you trust that anything it teaches is true? If it’s wrong about Communion, then maybe it’s wrong about heaven and hell and all the rest. Maybe its wrong about God loving us or existing at all.
It cuts both ways, too: if you do believe the Church is right about the Eucharist, and Jesus is really and truly present, then why doesn’t the Church have the authority to guide you in ALL parts of your life? To me, it seems irrational–not to mention self-serving–to believe God gives the Catholic Church the power to turn a piece of bread into the Son of God, but that its guidance on moral matters is suspect. If you can take the monumental leap of faith that a piece of bread is really a person, then the rest ought to be cake.
Today is Holy Thursday, the day we memorialize Jesus giving us His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. This truth about the Eucharist–that Jesus is present to us under the appearance of bread, so that He can commune with us most intimately–is the core of our Catholic faith. This Sunday, as you move toward the altar, there is only one question that ought to consume your soul: “Do I really believe He’s there?” After all that Jesus did to redeem us, He deserves a straight answer.
I've struggled with this and so can't disrespect anyone who continues in that struggle. But I struggle now no longer. That core Catholic truth has become for me the reason why I look forward to Mass. In the past, I've prayed to experience the Presence of God.
Now I do, each week.
Happy Holy Thursday folks.