I Remember Jesus: What Holy Week Liturgy Does

I remember when Jesus struggled through all the events of Holy Week. I was there. At my parish.

None of us lived in Jesus’ time. We didn’t hear him preach. We didn’t see him pass through our towns. We didn’t invite him to eat in our homes.

But we all have memories of him. This is the beauty of the Catholic liturgy. The Eucharist makes Jesus truly present in our churches — body, blood, soul and divinity — but it is a silent presence. The liturgy, by engaging our sight, hearing, smell (incense!), and taste, makes our experience of his presence come to life.

It has filled my mind with memories of Jesus, from last year and from decades ago.

I remember welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem with cries of “Hosanna!”

In the Bible, the Jerusalem crowds give Jesus a hero’s welcome, covering the street with their cloaks so he could pass over them, and waving palm branches.

The Church doesn’t ask for our coats, but it does give us the branches.

They put us there. We repeat their Hosannas to welcome Jesus. We have real children that we have to stop from ripping real palms down the middle or stretching them out to tickle their sister from afar.

Like the crowds, we stow our palms when we say “Crucify him! Crucify him!” in the Passion reading. Then we still have them, in our homes, for months. They become remote reminders of how fickle we are — professing love of Christ one minute; rejecting him the next.

I remember when Jesus stooped to wash the sweaty feet of his apostles.

I will never forget the time I first had my feet (well, foot) washed, in New Haven, Connecticut. I was worried about overpowering Father at the end of a long day so I ran downstairs and pre-washed them in the parish restroom, with soap from the hand dispenser.

Jesus was not so lucky. He washed actually dirty feet — and sandals only make them worse!

If I am ever tempted to say, “What’s the big deal?” on Holy Thursday, I remember the first time my brother’s feet were washed, in San Francisco. He was patiently waiting his turn but then a sacristan at the Church — a mentally handicapped Filipino man — had his feet washed first. Tears streamed down the man’s face at the great honor. My brother finally understood the power of the moment — for him, and for the apostles.

I remember when Jesus held his own body in his hands and offered himself to his Father.

It is hard to pinpoint the climax of Holy Week — there are so many dramatic moments. But one candidate must surely be the quiet offering of the first Eucharist in the Upper Room.

I can picture Jesus holding the bread in his hands and practically whispering the consecration.

I can picture it, because I have seen it: The serious intensity that passes over a priest’s face when it comes time to do this miracle, and the focused purpose in his look as he processes at the end of Mass to repose the ciborium of hosts in a new place, leaving the tabernacle ominously empty.

I remember when Jesus carried his cross to his death, station by station.

When I did the Stations of the Cross as a boy, my church used “The Way of the Cross Adapted from an Old Latin Compilation of Liturgical and Biblical Texts” with its mysterious references to the “gibbet” of the cross and to “Naomi” renaming herself “Mara.”

It was always a long slow haul from beginning to end, but even as a child, I endured the Way of the Cross with peaceful resignation, rather than irritated boredom.

The song still gives me chills: “At the cross her station keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping. Close to Jesus to the last …”

I remember reverencing Christ on his cross.

Every Good Friday I remember the priests we knew in Maryland and their coffee can.

When April and I were newly married, our parish handed out little blunted nails on Ash Wednesday for parishioners to keep in their pockets throughout Lent. Then, on Good Friday, we tossed them into a coffee can when we venerated the cross.

I will always remember the three priests coming down the center aisle, each tossing a nail into the can with a “clink!” and then prostrating themselves before the cross. The third priest, an old man, took his nail out of his shoe, tossed it into the can, and then reverenced his Lord.

This is what Holy Week does.

I don’t know what I would have done if I were alive when Jesus died on the cross. I expect I would have reviled him like the crowds. But the liturgy has given me the chance to do better: a lifetime of Holy Thursdays, Good Fridays, and Easter Sundays to finally get it right.

A lifetime of memories of Jesus.

This appeared at Aleteia.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.