4 Prayers for Holy Week
Holy Week, the culmination of Lent, is the most important time in the liturgical year. Like many things in life, it is easy to take the symbolism for granted and even worse, to fail to live their significance or let them impact our life.
So here some things to keep in mind as well as 4 simple prayers we we can pray from our hearts especially on these days
- ON PALM SUNDAY: LORD SAVE ME
- ON MAUNDY THURSDAY: LORD DRAW ME
- ON GOOD FRIDAY: LORD FORGIVE ME
- ON EASTER SATURDAY: LORD FILL ME
1. ON PALM SUNDAY: LORD SAVE ME
The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”
If you were during the electoral campaign in Malta in 2013 and you saw people waving red or blue flags, you wouldn’t need to be clever to understand which mass meeting the different people were going to. But if you showed the photo of these events to the Ethiopians in one of the villages would not mean anything to them.
The same things can happen with the symbols we read about in the Bible and we use in the liturgy. For us palms are what we wish to see when we are on a dream holiday in Hawaii and donkeys are silly animals which we associate with a farm. What do they mean?
The people of Israel lived under the oppressive Roman occupation and looked forward to a Messiah, a religious political figure who would free them. He was meant to usher in a ‘Jewish Spring’.
The last time a group of Jews had liberated the people from oppression of foreign rule was some 200 years earlier. In 164BC, the Maccabees had led a revolt against the Greeks and took back the Temple in Jerusalem.
“On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews (entered the Temple) with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.”
1 Maccabees 13:51
So the Romans didn’t like this because they must have been aware of the symbolism. What about the Jewish leaders? They didn’t like it either. The Messiah was prophesied to come riding on a donkey, which in the East would be the animal a king rode when he came in peace (as opposed to riding a horse when he comes in war).
This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, `See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”
Moreover the cry of the people was taken from Psalm 118 which also referred to the coming Messiah
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever. (Psalms 118:26-29).
The people cried our ‘Hoshana’(Hosanna) which means ‘Save us please’. But this saddened Jesus.The words were right but what they wanted to be saved from the wrong thing. Like many today, they wanted to be saved from externals, from consequences, from symptoms but not from the root cause. No wonder a few days later they were crying out‘Crucify Him’
Jesus came to save us from sin, from alienation from God. That is why we need to pray from our hearts ‘Hosanna’, Lord come save me.
2. ON MAUNDY THURSDAY: LORD DRAW ME
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a communion in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a communion in the body of Christ?
1 Cor 10:16
In Maltese it is ‘Hamis ix-Xirka’, in English it is ‘Maundy Thursday’. Both take their names from Scripture and in fact the response to the Psalms is exactly that
The cup of blessing is a communion with the Blood of Christ /Il-kalci imbierek huwa xirka mad-demm ta’Kristu.
In the Last Supper, when the Jews celebrate the Passover Meal, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the new Covenant. Giving us His body and Blood, we are called into communion with Him.
But John does not bring the description of the institution of the Eucharist in the Last Supper but instead the washing of the feet and this verse: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34 -35
In Latin these verses are translated as ‘Mandatum novum do vobis’, from which we get ‘maundy’. So on this day we are reminded that communion with Jesus necessarily means communion and service of others, going beyond selfishness and egocentricity. This is the significance of the washing of the feet ceremony.
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. John 13:14
On Maundy Thursday let us pray ‘Lord Draw me’, remembering that the Eucharist, prayer, loving and forgiving other and service all go hand in hand.
Note that after the function, the altar is stripped bare Jesus Himself was to be on the cross. The significance of the Seven Visits is a loving response to the Lord’s words to the disciples in Gethsemane: Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” Matt. 26:40
3. ON GOOD FRIDAY: LORD FORGIVE ME
But God demonstrates his own love for us. in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom. 5:8
The ceremony of the Veneration of the cross finds its origin in the fourth century when the true Cross, discovered in Jerusalem and was exposed on Good Friday for the veneration of the faithful. They had to eventually stop this because some people began to bite pieces of to take home with them.
Good Friday is the first side of the coin of the Good News – without it we will have no chance of heaven, not the slightest. Jesus took all our sins on the cross. On the cross that day Jesus experienced the greatest consequence of sin, God’s terrible judgement against sin which is the loss of God .
The prayer of Jesus who prays Psalm 22 is of one who feels abandoned by God.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The words of my groaning do nothing to save me. My God, I call by day but you do not answer, at night, but I find no respite
However we don’t need to understood the mechanism but to believe the Good News, repent and pray: Lord forgive me.
4. ON EASTER SATURDAY: LORD FILL ME
I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. John 12:46
The Church during the easter vigil will be in darkness which symbolises sin, the devil and eternal separation from God. The Resurrection of Jesus dispels and overcomes the darkness so the Easter vigil is full of light because we are celebrating the most important event in history. The ‘Light of the World’s symbolised in the new fire blessed by the priest and from which the Paschal candle is lit and from which we then all light our candles.
Jesus is Risen and He is here with us. And His Word promises us: By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 1 Cor. 6:14.
No wonder we respond with choruses of ‘Halleujah’, a joyous praise in song, another way of saying ‘Wow God’. And that is why our prayer is ‘Lord fill me’because as a result of Easter we can be filled with the very life of God, the Holy Spirit, heaven in our hearts before we even get there. The challenge is to persevere in His grace.