Each year, millions of Catholics make promises of personal sacrifice during Lent. Most of us keep to these promises but some of us break down and decide to give something up that is less important to our daily lives. This is natural, unfortunately. Our sacrifices which are intended to help keep our focus squarely on Christ and His sacrifice usually become nothing more than minor inconveniences for us during the course of Lent. There are ways to combat this. I find the most effective method of combating what can only be characterized as spiritual malaise is to steel yourself against it by going through some spiritual training. By fully engaging in Holy Week, not only will you give yourself a support infrastructure for the rest of the year but you will finish your Lent with a profound insight into Jesus’ last week before His crucifixion. So here are a few suggestions for the Catholic who feels that he or she may have fallen a little short in their Lenten sacrifices or for the Catholic who simply wants to be with Jesus during that last, sorrowful yet hopeful week before the salvation of humankind was attained on the Cross.
- Go to Confession: I can’t stress this one enough. Cleaning the window between you and the Holy Spirit is the only way you will be able to see through it more clearly. If you are trepidatious about going, remember that Christ was trepidatious about accepting the Cross. Holy Week is the one week during the year where we see Christ’s humanity magnified and we see our fears and anxieties reflected in His. Go to confession. Don’t trust me on it; trust Christ on it.
- Say the Rosary: Especially on Good Friday. The profound suffering of the Blessed Mother is sometimes overlooked during Holy Week as the suffering of Christ which is on full display is so absolutely horrific. However, Blessed Mother’s heart broke repeatedly that Friday and it broke because for one reason she knew that her Son had chosen this fate for the very same people who were nailing Him to the cross. Praying the rosary can show Our Lady how grateful we are for that sacrifice and how much we love her Son. It isn’t much, but it’s the least we can do to show her that, yes, we do care. We can tell her; “it hurts me too, Blessed Mother. Today we can cry together if you’d like.”
- Go to Holy Thursday Mass: Everyone has memories of a farewell. Maybe it was a dinner, a party, a small get together, whatever. All masses are uplifting. This one however, is sad and it should be. The disciples, who by this time most assuredly knew something was up, were still largely in the dark. Literally and figuratively. We see Christ installing the Sacrament of the Eucharist as a way to stay with His friends and with us after He is gone. John lays his head on Jesus’ shoulder. They go off to pray. Yeah, they knew something was up. Two thousand years later, we as modern disciples know what the following day brings. It is a small gesture in contrast to the gravity of the memory of that night but we are given the chance to stay with Jesus. We are given the chance to say; “I know what tomorrow is. I will stay with you while you pray in the garden and I have learned from the mistake of the disciples; I will not fall asleep.”
- Go to Good Friday service: Tradition dictates that Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday. At three o’clock, the time when Jesus gave up His life for us, at every Catholic Church we commemorate His passion and death. It is a tough service to get through. It is exceedingly sad and the Gospel reading is long. Think Palm Sunday long. The veneration of the Cross is very moving and the entire service is designed to teach the person there that not only should be sad about what happened to Jesus, but to also be sad about the times in our lives when we put Jesus out of our minds and relegated Him to secondary importance. All of this for us… and we still don’t appreciate it at all times.
- Tenebrae Service: A Tenebrae service is an intensely personal and focused devotion. I can’t do it justice so I am posting a link which better explains what it is at the end of this paragraph. Pro Tip: be prepared to cry a bit. Tenebrae.
- GO TO MASS ON EASTER!: Don’t skip it because you’ve, “already been so much this week.” Remember, while the crucifixion saved us from sin, the resurrection assured us eternal life. Lent, the triduum and everything the church asks of us during this time are all in preparation for Easter Sunday. That is the focal point of our religion and the focal point of the purpose of humanity. Don’t. Skip. Mass. I don’t care how many people you have coming over for the egg hunt, or if you want little Mortimer to open his basket and get his chocolate in the morning, or if you have an early reservation for brunch, make time for Mass. DO IT. Sorry for yelling. Another option if your Easter Sunday is hopelessly hectic; attend the Easter Vigil. I personally go this route. This fulfills the Mass obligation and quite frankly, it is awesome. Exultet, the blessing of the fire, the lighting of the paschal candle, the vigil by the tomb anxiously awaiting the triumph of the risen Christ, the ringing of the bells and the burst of light that erupts when the church is re-illuminated, the removing of the dark cloths from the statues, the flowers, the lighting of all the candles… It is absolutely amazing.
- Try to Be Nice: Do something nice for someone you love, someone random and then yourself. Jesus died for us because ultimately He wants us with Him in Heaven. Not because He wants us to be miserable. While it is important to be adequately bummed during this penitential season, I believe that Jesus would stop us if we were going too far to say, “ya know… I did this so you’d be happy in your life.” The thing is; He can stop us. It is up to us to be open to Him. So yes, mourn His death, mourn your sins but counter that with MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF LOVE AND JOY! That’s the whole point.
Make Holy Week, not just Good Friday, the focal point of your Lent and I guarantee you will not be sorry.
Make Easter the focal point of your life and not just the Springtime and Jesus guarantees you won’t be sorry.