As Catholics, we continue to celebrate Easter and Christ’s Resurrection for eight days, until Divine Mercy Sunday. Considering the events of the past week, this would be a good time to reflect further on the Paschal Mysteries.
Here are summaries of Holy Week homilies from the Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, Bishop of Saginaw.
Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday
During his Palm Sunday Mass, Bishop Cistone remarked that all the events of Holy Week— from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to Calvary and beyond— are one salvific action, all part of God’s plan.
“Jesus is going to Jerusalem, but He is also going to His Passion, death and resurrection,” he said. “He knows that the plan of His Father is about to be fulfilled.”
Bishop called Holy Week a “week of paradoxes.”
For example, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was on a donkey, a sign of peace, rather than a horse, like a victorious conqueror or king. The Jews shout “Hosanna!” while waving palm branches, which were traditionally used in a funeral procession.
The apostle Peter assures Jesus that he will stand by His side; yet, Peter denies Him three times. Jesus gives to His Apostles His own Body and Blood in the form of ordinary bread and wine.
There is the paradox surrounding Christ’s divinity and humanity: that the Lord of all would become a man and allow himself to die out of obedience to His Father. That the Cross, an instrument of torture and death, would become the instrument by which salvation is won.
These, the Bishop said, are like the paradoxes of our own lives as Christians.
“Some days we are really up with the Lord; and, when times are tough, is if often hard to be a Christian,” he said. “Today the Lord is inviting us to be a part of Holy Week. We need to ask ourselves if we have the same courage, faith, patience and endurance (as Christ did.)”
The Bishop challenged the faithful to “be a part of the paschal journey, so that our lives will mirror Christ’s.”
Jesus gives us the Gift of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday
At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, Bishop Cistone asked the faithful to create their own homilies.
“What does the Eucharist mean to you?” he asked. “Who is the Eucharist for you?”
The Bishop encouraged the people to pray, to think about these questions, and to discuss them with their families.
Referring to the Holy Eucharist, St. Thomas Aquinas said “It is the greatest gift Jesus could give to us.”
To illustrate the sacredness of the Eucharist, the Bishop shared two stories.
Doris Day, Servant of God and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, was present at a Mass during which the celebrant used a coffee cup instead of a chalice for the Precious Blood of Christ. After Mass, Day retrieved the coffee cup, dug a hole in the back yard and kissed it before burying it. She said that it would never again be an just ordinary coffee cup, for it had held the Precious Blood of Christ.
In the second story, a priest was preparing for Mass in the sacristy when he accidentally dropped an unconsecrated host. Before throwing away the wafer, he picked it up and said, “And to think of what this could have become!”
“When we receive the Eucharist, we are ordinary people carrying an extraordinary gift,” the Bishop said.
Jesus Reconciled us to the Father on Good Friday
On Good Friday, the day of the Lord’s Passion, Bishop Cistone focused on Christ’s final words: ‘It is finished’ or, in Greek, Tetelestai. He explained that although it is not obvious in the literal translation, it means more than simply “I did enough,” but rather “there is nothing left to be done.”
“The Lord Jesus could not have done anything more,” he said, explaining that Christ gave Himself completely in the perfect sacrifice to His Father.
“That is what we commemorate today,” the Bishop said. “Jesus finished the task of reconciling us to the Father. He gave every ounce of His life, His Body and His Blood.”
To conclude, the Bishop challenged the faithful to reflect upon their own lives and the ways in which they serve God. At the end of our lives, can we say tetelestai, there is nothing left to be done?
“Is our relationship with Christ just enough?” he asked. “Or, can we really say to Jesus ‘I’m giving You all that I am and all that I have?’”
Sharing the Light of Christ at Easter Vigil
The Easter Vigil begins outside the cathedral with the blessing of the Easter fire and lighting of the Paschal candle and smaller candles for each person in attendance. Capturing this image, Bishop Cistone recalled an incident in his own priesthood when the parish church was destroyed by fire. Pews, stations of the cross, statues, vestments, everything was burned to ashes.
Speaking of the all-consuming properties of fire, the Bishop said” “The Church is asking us to allow the Lord to consume us.”
We need Jesus to overwhelm and consume our sins, weaknesses and pride, like a fire purifying metal. “We need to burn away anything that’s not of Him,” Bishop said. “And once that’s burned away, (allow Jesus) to create a new person.”
In turn, that fire becomes a guiding light. “We need to allow that fire to become a guiding light for us — the light of Christ,” he said.
On Easter Sunday we are Reminded to Bear Witness to the Risen Christ
With the cathedral filled on Easter Sunday, Bishop Cistone challenged the faithful to not only be witnesses of what Jesus has done for us, but also to bear witness.
The Bishop spoke of courtroom scenes where witnesses of a crime are called to testify about what they had seen. “It’s not enough just to have seen something, you have to also testify to it,” he said.
The Bishop used the Gospel account of the apostles’ reaction to the Risen Jesus as an example. At first, they were fearful and remained locked in the Upper Room, but later they were empowered with the gift of the Holy Spirit to tell others that Christ had risen.
“We are witnesses to the grace and love of God,” he said. “You and I have experienced times in our own lives when the Risen Lord Jesus has been present to help us, to bless us, to lead us. Every single one of us is here today because we are witnesses.”
But it’s not enough to acknowledge this for our own sake, he added.
“We have to bring that Word of God, what we have experienced, and bring that to someone else,” he said.
The Bishop added that everyone is called and equipped to share Christ with those around them; for example, parents can read Bible stories to their children to teach them about Jesus or pray before meals to acknowledge that everything is a gift from God.
“If all we do today is quietly celebrate at this Mass that Jesus Christ who died for our sins is risen from the dead… then all it does is remain here,” he said.
“You must bear witness in what you say and what you do,” the Bishop said, before wishing the congregation a blessed and happy Easter.