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The Sacramental Aspects of Praying in Holy Week

The Sacramental Aspects of Praying in Holy Week      by Chris Sullivan

We pursue our daily relationship with the Lord through various forms of private prayer. The liturgy of the Church unites us in corporate prayer. The liturgical celebrations of Holy Week,perhaps more than any others, can remind us of the richness available to us when we gather to pray and worship in communion with one another.

When we gather for Mass we believe that our souls and voices are raised together in prayer with those of the whole Communion of Saints and the angels in heaven. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy declares that the assembled people of God are one aspect of the four-fold manifestation of Christ’s presence (#7). Together with the priest, the Word of God, and the Eucharist, we incarnate Christ in the Mass. Our presence in the worshipping community becomes the vessel through which God pours sacramental grace.

The sacramental aspects of the Church’s liturgical prayer can awaken our minds and our senses to the reality of the mysteries we celebrate. The Catechism affirms: “As a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols. As a social being, man needs signs and symbols to communicate with others, through language, gestures, and actions. The same holds true for his relationship with God” (#1146). For us Catholic Christians, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord are not events that happened in the distant past; they are real in this moment, active in our own lives. We experience this mystery as we relate to one another and to God and as we engage our own physicality.

Think of the many ways we use our bodies and the gifts of creation in the liturgies of Holy Week: We wave palm branches. We kneel at the proclamation of the Death of the Lord. We use water to wash one another’s feet. We touch or kiss the wood of the cross. The Easter Vigil alone offers us a symphony for our bodily senses—fire, incense, bells, water, oil, and of course, bread and wine.

The central mystery of our faith is the Incarnation of God. Never is the humanity of Jesus more clearly revealed than on the Cross. As we enter into the mysteries from Palm/Passion Sunday through the Resurrection joy of Easter, we can pray with the fullness of our own bodies, as sisters and brothers united spiritually in the Body of Christ, with knowledge of the grace of God infusing all of creation.

  • What signs and symbols in this sacred season are most meaningful to you?
  • How might you use the physicality of your body and God’s creation in your private prayer?
  • What additional opportunities might you take advantage of to pray with others as a member of the Body of Christ?