As we approach Easter, the AD Times spoke with Bishop Alfred Schlert about the significance of Holy Week and about how Catholics can make the most of this significant time in our liturgical year.
Why do Catholics focus on Christ’s passion and Cross during Holy Week?
We cannot live our faith without the Cross. The fact that Jesus died for our sins is essential to our faith. He is the culmination of all of the sacrifices of the Old Testament—the Lamb who was slain.
When we are baptized, the Cross is traced on our foreheads. When we are anointed before death, the Cross is again traced on our foreheads. Our prayers begin and end with the sign of the Cross. Our whole life is lived in the shadow of the Cross—I mean that in a positive way: the image of Christ’s sacrificial love is always close to us.
The Cross allows us to accept what comes our way in the form of suffering or in the form of disadvantage. There is value in suffering. Jesus’s suffering, of course, brought us salvation. But there is value in our suffering too. Today, because of our affluence and technology, we are able to skirt our crosses—for a time. But when they come to us—physically, emotionally, spiritually—we are often unprepared to embrace them.
Our culture downplays sin. Can we explain Christ’s Death and Resurrection without it?
No, because if sin didn’t exist, there would be no reason for the Incarnation, for Jesus to come down to earth, take on our human nature, and be the Lamb of Sacrifice that was prefigured in the Old Testament.
When we downplay sin, we downplay the work of salvation that Christ accomplished. If I downplay sin, I don’t have much of a regard for grace.
Acknowledging that we are sinners allows us to be humble before God. Conversely, to deny sin is to be haughty before God.
Why did Jesus allow himself to be falsely accused? Couldn’t He have set the record straight?
That would not have been in accord with the Father’s will. It was possible for Him to debunk the accusations against Him, which were clearly false, but He chose not to because that was not what He was sent to do. There are many places where Scripture shows Jesus deliberately making the choice to follow the will of the Father, for example, the temptation in the desert, the agony in the garden, and his appearance before Pilate and Herod.
Peter denied Christ three times, and most of the other Apostles went into hiding. How did these men become the first leaders of the Church?
The old joke is that the last time bishops (first Apostles) agreed unanimously on anything was to go into hiding after the Resurrection. The fact that they did so shows their weak human nature, but it also shows how God’s grace overcomes weakness.
Two things were required to confirm their faith. First, Jesus had to appear to them after the Resurrection and walk them through why all this had to happen. You see this on the road to Emmaus, in the apparitions in the upper room, and at the shore of the lake where the Apostles find Jesus making breakfast. Second, the Holy Spirit was poured out on them at Pentecost, giving them tremendous spiritual strength and courage.
What do the events of Holy Week mean for our world today?
If accepted, the Death and Resurrection of Christ are a cause for great joy.
We live in a time when many people lack hope and seem to be joyless. There is a correlation here with the fact that fewer people are practicing the faith. If we’re not living in the hopeful shadow of the Cross, then we’re not living in the glow of the Resurrection.
When we rely on ourselves and the things that make us happy—or even anesthetize us—we experience profound disappointment when they inevitably fail or are taken from us.
God did not create us to walk around under a cloud, but that is what happens when we don’t have the joy and peace that comes from living with Christ crucified, died, and resurrected. When people promote things that are not of the Gospel, they often do so with angry voices and clenched fists. Meanwhile, we see the martyrs in the early Church going to their deaths singing.
How does it feel to be baptizing, confirming, and giving first Holy Communion to so many new Catholics on the Easter Vigil?
It feels very hopeful, because every person coming into the Church is being offered the salvation that Christ offers, with all of the means necessary—the Sacraments, Scripture, Tradition, the constant teachings of the Church—to live well in this world and to prepare for the next.
It’s very humbling for me as the minister of these Sacraments to see God’s grace at work. It shows the resiliency and permanency of the Church, existing until the end of time. We are all called to become saints. For those about to enter the Church, it starts with the outpouring of grace in these Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil.
How can Catholics get the most out of Holy Week?
First, participate in the liturgies that the Church offers during this week. They are rich, they have been honed over centuries, and they speak to us in a profound way.
If it is not possible for everyone to attend these rites, they can participate from home by prayerfully reading through the liturgies in a missalette. We can also ramp up our prayer and fasting. Limiting our normal activities can show us that this week is different from all others. Maybe watch fewer hours of TV, or avoid going out for dinner.
The shadow of the Cross and the glow of the Resurrection—both are contained in the liturgies and prayers of Holy Week and especially the Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and its culmination, Easter Sunday.