Reflections on the Daily Readings
Reflections on the Daily Readings
April 5 - 11, 2020
Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum
Readings: Sunday Cycle A; Weekday Cycle II.
Divine Office - Psalter Week II/Proper.
Sunday 5: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 21; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66
The readings today all point to the person of Jesus Christ. While Palm Sunday recalls the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, it is also the beginning of the end of his earthly life and gives us a contrast which helps us to focus on what is to happen later this week. The entry to the holy city was triumphant but that didn’t last very long and the week would end with death, and so today sets a very sombre tone for the days to come.
In the first reading, taken from the third section of the prophet Isaiah, the text speaks of the Christ as one who came to preach the word of God but who was beaten and insulted. The servant is humble and does not resist the attackers because he knows that God is watching and comes to his help and so the insults have no impact. The Psalm speaks of the sufferings of the servant of God.
In the second reading we have a hymn from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians which speaks of the divinity of Jesus Christ and what he gave up in order to become one of us. The opening speaks about how Jesus was equal with God but became fully human – a slave to death – but that through this freely chosen action he has been exalted by God, and is now Lord to the glory of God the Father, and whose name ranks above everything in creation.
The gospel from St Matthew recounts the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ for us. Matthew’s passage opens with Judas going to the chief priests and offering to bring Jesus to them. In the text, two men will die: Judas who realised his sin but failed to have hope; and Jesus who not only hoped and trusted in the Father but is the source of all hope and through whom sin is forgiven. The text ends with the guard being sent to watch over the tomb. Seeing the Christ suffer for us helps us to carry our sufferings for him. Between today’s reading of the Passion and that on Friday next – Good Friday – we have a final opportunity to reflect on the history-changing events which are about to happen and of their significance for each and every one of us.
Monday 6: Monday in Holy Week
Isaiah 42:1-7; Psalm 26; John 12:1-11
Our first reading from Isaiah points to the person of Christ who is the fulfilment of the covenants made so long ago. We could in a way see the reading as God dedicating his Son for the work he is about to accomplish. The Psalm speaks of the Lord as our light and our help. The gospel passage is leading up to the Passion at the end of this week. Today we see a woman named Mary anointing the feet of Jesus and he tells those with him that she will need this ointment again for his burial. While Judas was indignant at the ointment being used in this way Jesus sided with Mary because the intention in her heart was pure and well placed. The reading also prepares us for the betrayal by Judas later this week. Meanwhile, the chief priests continue to plot his death.
Tuesday 7: Tuesday in Holy Week
Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 70; John 13:21-33, 36-38
The Prophet Isaiah today speaks beautifully of the servant of God, one who will be the light of the nations. Each of us is called to witness for God before men and women so that this passage may be said of each of us. We could in a way see the reading as Jesus speaking about his destiny as redeemer of the world. The Psalm is the prayer of a man persecuted by his enemies and who seeks the help of God. In the gospel we have the scene at the Last Supper. We are confronted with the fact that Judas is about to hand Jesus over to his accusers while St Peter will fail to stand up for Christ despite his vow. We too can fail God when the crunch comes but if we believe in his power and pray to him as the psalmist does in today’s Psalm, then he will stand by us and we will be the light of the nations.
Wednesday 8: Wednesday in Holy Week – Spy Wednesday
Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 68; Matthew 26:14-25
The reading from Isaiah takes up the theme found in yesterday’s first reading – that of answering God’s call and witnessing for him before our fellow men and women, which may at times bring suffering and persecution. The Psalm is of a man in great distress who calls on God for help against his enemies. The gospel reading sees Judas accepting thirty silver pieces for handing Jesus over to the Jewish authorities – hence the name “Spy Wednesday.” We all have the ability to be like Judas at times and to deny Christ for the sake of our other gods. Judas realised too late that what he was doing would not work and in his sorrow he repented in the only way he knew how. How often do we truly feel sorry for having betrayed the Lord for the ways of this world and if we did feel sorry, when did we last truly do penance for it? We are called to rely on God’s help and believe in the reprieve Christ gained for us so that we will become the witnesses Isaiah speaks of.
In light of the current coronavirus pandemic, many churches will be unable to celebrate the following ceremonies with the attendance of their parishioners and regular visitors. The ceremonies will be available through a variety of media outlets and the faithful are encouraged to join in the ceremonies in that way under these circumstances. Where the ceremonies are being livestreamed, there will be some alteration to what normally takes place. In many cathedrals, the Chrism Mass has already taken place or will be celebrated at a future date. In parish churches where the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated without a congregation, the Washing of the Feet and Procession to the Altar of Repose are omitted, while at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night the Blessing of the Easter Fire and procession is also omitted.
The Easter Triduum
Thursday 9: Holy Thursday
Isaiah 61:1-3, 6a, 8b-9; Psalm 88; Apocalypse 1:5-8; Luke 4:16-21
This celebration takes place in the cathedral in every diocese on the morning of Holy Thursday and is presided over by the bishop as shepherd of the diocese. During this Mass the Sacred Oils (the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens) are blessed and the Oil of Chrism consecrated. They are then distributed to the churches throughout the diocese for use in the coming year. Also at this Mass, the bishop is joined by clergy from throughout the diocese which represents the unity of the diocese and of the universal Church. The clergy renew their commitment to priestly service before the bishop and the people.
The first reading for this celebration from the prophet Isaiah speaks very much of the presbyteral order: those ordained to sacred ministry and who carry on the work of God following the example of Jesus Christ, the great high priest. They are the words quoted by Jesus when he began his preaching in Nazareth, as we have in the gospel.
The second reading from St John’s vision in the Apocalypse, speaks of what Jesus Christ has done for us by washing away our sins with his blood. The text also tells us that he has made us a line of kings and priests to serve God, to bring his word and his salvation to all peoples. It also says that those who pierced him will now see his glory.
The gospel text from St Luke echoes the first reading and in it we see Jesus preaching in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. A key element is that the Lord says he was anointed for this work and so too were we at our Baptism and at Confirmation. Others were ordained to a very specific function in ministerial priesthood and while this morning is a celebration of the ordained gathered with their bishop, it is also a celebration of the commitment we each have to the work of the building up of the Kingdom of God.
Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 115; 1Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
The Lord’s Supper is celebrated in the evening time just as the Passover Meal was celebrated in the evening to recall the first Passover in which the Israelites left Egypt. As the blood of the lamb saved the Israelites, so the blood of Jesus Christ brings salvation to the whole world.
The first reading from the Book of Exodus recounts the instructions given to the people regarding the preparations for and the eating of the Passover meal and how the blood of the lamb was to save the people from death. In keeping with the last line of the text, it is a festival kept to this day throughout the Jewish world.
The letter of St Paul to the Corinthians tells of the institution of the Eucharist when Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine as his very own body and blood during their celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem. It is an important text because it was written over twenty years after the event, and by one who wasn’t there, which testifies to the importance that these words and actions had in the early Christian Community.
The gospel passage from St John shows us the scene in the upper room and in it we see Jesus washing the feet of those who were with him. In this way he showed that they were to be servants of all and this is a key element for Christians today. After the gospel is read, the washing of feet takes place as a reminder to us of the instruction Jesus gave us. The reference to bathing and the washing of the feet also remind us that our souls were cleansed at baptism but that, from time to time, we need to be cleansed again which we do in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
At the end of the Eucharistic celebration the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the tabernacle to the Altar of Repose, while the altars are stripped and crucifixes covered. This gives us a stark reminder that the Lord has been taken from us. The liturgy begun tonight does not end with a blessing and dismissal because the liturgy continues until the end of the Easter Vigil.
Friday 10: Good Friday
Celebration of the Lord’s Passion
Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 30; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
This celebration should take place in the mid-afternoon as this corresponds to the time when Jesus arrived at Calvary to be crucified. The celebration begins with a silent procession to the sanctuary – the silence reminding us of the importance of what is happening.
The prophet Isaiah in our first reading speaks of the Suffering Servant, of the one who died for our sake. It gives an account of the terrible suffering he underwent and the fact that it was our sins which caused that suffering, a suffering that was borne in silence. For this act of selflessness, the servant will justify many who will come to believe in him and for this he will receive a great reward. The Psalm takes up this theme and speaks of the trust the servant places in God the Father.
The passage from the letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus Christ as the one who lived a human life like us and, because he trusted in God and interceded for us, brought about our salvation. The second reading sees Jesus as the Suffering Servant of the first reading.
The gospel of St John recalls the Passion and death of Jesus Christ. John’s account is different to those we hear on Palm Sunday because it focuses much more on the kingship of Jesus and sees the crucifixion of Jesus as the means of our salvation just as the Jews in the wilderness were saved by the raising of the bronze serpent. In the encounter with Pilate, it is clear that Jesus is a king but not of the kind we are used to thinking of. In the episode in Pilate’s courtyard, the Sanhedrin show their disloyalty to God by declaring that their king is Caesar rather than listening to what Jesus has to say. The raising of Jesus on the Cross is not a moment of failure for the Evangelist, but a moment of glory as Jesus is raised above all those who were against him and so becomes the means of defeating death.
The Liturgy of the Word is followed by the Solemn Intercessions and then the Veneration of the Cross. The Veneration begins with the presentation of the Cross to the people before each person present goes forward and kisses the Cross as the sign of their salvation. The Cross is then placed in a prominent position before the people as a reminder to them of what their sins have bought. The celebration concludes with the Holy Communion after which the people leave in silence.
Saturday 11: Holy Saturday
The Easter Vigil
The Triduum reaches its climax on this night with the celebration of the Easter Vigil. The vigil begins outside in darkness with the Service of Light in which the Easter Fire is lit and the new Paschal Candle blessed. From this each of the faithful lights a candle and carries it in procession into the church. When the procession reaches the sanctuary the great Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) is sung. This great hymn reminds us of what Christ and God have done for us.
The Liturgy of the Word follows and the readings trace the history of salvation from the story of Creation to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on this night. For this there are seven Old Testament readings and two New Testament readings given but, for pastoral reasons, the Old Testament readings may be reduced in number.
1. Genesis 1:1-2:2: The first passage taken from the book of Genesis recalls the story of Creation, of how God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. A key aspect to this text is that God looked on everything he had created and saw that it was all very good – there was nothing that displeased God or which he regretted or tried to re-mould.
2. Genesis 22:1-18: The second passage from Genesis recalls the sacrifice by Abraham of his son, Isaac, at the Lord’s command. It is a powerful story of one man’s faith in God because sacrificing his son would have negated the other promises God had made with him, and yet Abraham believed in God so much that even this was not too much for his faith.
3. Exodus 14:15-15:1: The reading from Exodus is obligatory and tells of the final escape of the Israelites from Egypt. After the Passover, in which the first born of man and beast died, the pharaoh sent the Israelites out of Egypt to be rid of them and their curse. However, the pharaoh immediately regrets this and pursues the Israelites and so the Lord brings an end to pharaoh and his soldiers, and the Israelites are finally free to return in peace to their own land.
4. Isaiah 54:5-14: In the passage from Deutero-Isaiah, we see that the Lord has abandoned his people for a time because of their sinfulness but he has now taken them back and promises to never leave them again even though they are still sinners. He uses the image of a bride and says that if the people are faithful to him then they will bear offspring, people of faith like them who will pass on the faith to others.
5. Isaiah 55:1-11: This passage from Deutero-Isaiah exhorts the people to seek out the Lord but suggests that he is not simply found in the sanctuaries but is to be found everywhere, throughout all of his Creation. It is also a call to fidelity and purity of heart before the Lord with the promise of a great reward.
6. Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4: The text from Baruch was written at a time when the Israelites were again in exile – this time the Babylonian captivity – and they are told by the prophet that this is because they had been unfaithful to God. They are reminded that if they return to the Lord then once again they will live and prosper.
7. Ezekiel 36:16-28: In the reading from Ezekiel, the Lord says that the people have profaned his name and done that which is wrong and so have been exiled. They have also suggested that the Lord is not the true God because he couldn’t protect his people and prevent their exile. So now the Lord is going to act and will bring the people home to their own land where they will live forever and where the Lord will give them a new heart to worship him both as individuals and as a nation.
Romans 6:3-11: St Paul tells us in the New Testament epistle that, through baptism, we are bound in a very special way to Jesus Christ who died that we might have life. Because of that baptism, death has no power over us just as it has no power over Jesus Christ any longer and, if we keep his commandments and live up to our baptismal commitments, then we too shall live for ever.
In St Matthew’s account, we see the angel open the tomb as the women arrive to complete the burial preparations which should have taken place before burial but could not because of the Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday. The angel invites them to see the empty tomb and tells them that the Lord has risen. He then sends them back to the disciples and, as they head away, they are greeted by the Risen Lord who tells them to go to the disciples and send them to Galilee where he will meet them.
Where possible, the Sacrament of Baptism now takes place. If there is no one to be baptised then Easter Water is blessed and the faithful renew their baptismal promises before being sprinkled with the Easter Water. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is now celebrated for the first time since Holy Thursday and for this the altar is again covered with a cloth and burning candles are placed on or near it. The whole feeling of the Vigil is one of great joy and celebration for our salvation has been won for us and Christ has been glorified by his Father. The liturgy begun on Holy Thursday evening now concludes.
Memorials this Week:
© P. Breen, O.Carm. 2011, 2013
The Reflections above are available in printed form in:
Reflections on the Readings for every day of the Church's year.
Patrick J. Breen, O.Carm. Dublin: Columba Press. 2011. ISBN 978 1 85607 732 3.
And direct from the publishers: Columba Press, Dublin.