The holiest of times and the messiest of times

We encounter life in all its glory in Holy Week

For the past seven months parents all over the country have been preparing with their child for the celebration of that most holy of days, the day when they receive the body and blood of Christ for the very first time.

Over those same months I have been privileged to speak to gatherings of these same parents all over the country. What strikes me about these gatherings is that this most holy of times is also the most messy of times.

At every gathering I encountered parents who are faithful and wholly engaged in this journey of preparation; parents who are totally disconnected and who have no intention of entering into this journey and the largest group, those who are unsure but open to being surprised by what the year might bring.

I have also encountered priests who are excited about the possibilities that this journey brings, priests who are tired of doing the same thing year after year and disillusioned by what they perceive as a lack of integrity about the whole sacramental process and priests who are doing their best to engage with the messiness in the hope of encountering the holiness.

These encounters and range of responses do not and indeed should not surprise me. This is life in all its messiness and in all its holiness. These moments are, I believe, graced moments gifted to us by God. At these times those ministering in Church are offered an opportunity to meet again those already welcomed into the Church through Baptism and to take time to enable, encourage and sometimes challenge them to remember why they began this journey in the first place. It gives those who minister an opportunity to re-evaluate their own way of meeting people on their journey, causes them to stop and reflect on how they are coping with the messiness that they encounter in so many aspects of their ministry but that often seems to be magnified at these times of sacramental preparation and celebration.

It is also an opportunity for parents and family to be affirmed in the work that they are already doing in keeping the Faith alive, to be reawakened to the possibilities of living a life of faith and to be shaken out of a complacency that sacraments are rights, or perhaps more accurately rites that bring with them no responsibilities.

As we enter this holiest of weeks in our Church calendar we see the same holiness and messiness. It is as if God is showing us during this Holy Week that to be holy is to be messy, to be holy is to engage with the messiness of life. From the moment that Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday to the triumphant celebration of the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night we encounter life in all it awful messiness and all its wonderful holiness. Palm Sunday is always part of the Do This in Memory programme.

The Gospel in the Grapevine is the first Gospel of Palm Sunday so that we encourage the children and their parents to enter with Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and so begin the journey of Holy Week. At the Do This in Memory Mass on Palm Sunday we encourage the children to participate in the entrance procession waving palms and shouting ‘hosanna.’ The palms can then be taken home and placed in the Family Prayer Space.

Encouraging parents and children to attend the liturgies of Holy Week is an important part of the communication during the Palm Sunday Mass. Their attendance on Holy Thursday is particularly important and indeed some parishes include the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as part of the Do This in Memory programme.

Unique opportunity

There is a unique opportunity on this day to make real the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, to help the children and their parents understand how the bread and wine that we bring to the table becomes the body and blood of Christ, the real presence that we profess as the core of our belief.

The call to be like Jesus is nowhere more beautifully expressed in all its messiness and all its holiness than in the washing of the feet and encouraging a parent and child to have their feet washed at the parish celebration makes this even more real. Our Good Friday celebration of the Passion brings many to our churches who are not always with us.

The messiness and holiness of the crucifixion allows us all the possibility of connecting the messiness of our own lives with the hope of holiness that the cross signifies. As we gather on Holy Saturday night to keep vigil, we move from darkness into light, we listen again to the story of our salvation and we become an Easter people with ‘alleluia’ as our song. 

Take time in these days to enter into the messiness and holiness of this holiest of weeks. Embrace the messiness and who knows what holiness awaits us all.