ONCE again, Christendom observes the holiest part of the year – Holy Week 2021.
Minus yet the congregated attendance in churches because of COVID-19, some – if not most – would just prefer to skip the assembled rituals in churches and are better off at home with their TV sets.
I’d like to reckon however that, even if there were no COVID-19, like before, multitudes of Catholics are yet wont to spend the Holy Week via an out-of-town getaway, frolicking into the beaches and countryside resorts.
Which queasily makes me think thus whether the Holy Week has run out of its meaningfulness or simply that we have lost or stopped making sense of this supposedly sacrosanct period of the year.
Hence, it behooves re-asking again: Why do we celebrate the Holy Week? What sense or significance, if at all, can we derive from it?
Yes, never mind the tendency for oversimplification, there’s a need re-telling the answer: Holy Week remembers and celebrates the final week of Jesus’ life on earth, beginning on Palm Sunday, which marks his entry into Jerusalem; then the celebration of his Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday; his passion and death on Good Friday; and finally, his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.
Ok, we knew that already – the central point is Christ’s passion and crucifixion on the cross.
But, on deeper pondering, have we ever thought why was it necessary for Christ to die on the cross for our sins?
Why couldn’t just God be merciful and simply forgive our sins without Jesus enduring such a cruel and brutal death?
Is the cross a sine qua non or necessary pre-requisite to our redemption? How could we imagine the implications of a “Crossless Christ”? Or of a “Christless Cross”?
As it were, a “Christ without a cross” (i.e. he didn’t suffer and die on the cross) would imply that there was no redemption – or that perhaps God would have devised other means of saving us.
But again, it begs the question: why precisely did God choose the “cross” for his son to save us? On the other hand, a “cross without a Christ” would but remain a pagan tradition of capital punishment for hardened criminals.
Pray tell then, why is the cross or why was Christ’s passion necessary?
That indeed God willed or intended that our redemption be effected by sending his son Christ and allowing him to suffer and die on the cross has been affirmed by the Sacred Scriptures as well as by the Catholic Church Magisterium (or teaching mandate).
The apostle Peter, in Acts 2:23, explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost:
“This Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) # 601 avers that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures:
“The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of ‘the righteous one, my Servant’ as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin (Is. 53:11-12; J. 8:34-36; Acts 3:14).
Citing a confession of faith that he himself had ‘received’, St. Paul professes that ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance wi6th the scriptures’ (1 Cor. 15:3; Acts 3:18, 7:52, 13:29, 26:22-23). In particular, Jesus’ redemptive death fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering Servant (Is. 53:7-8).
Indeed Jesus himself explained the meaning of his life and death in the light of God’s suffering Servant (Mt. 20:28). After his Resurrection, he gave this interpretation of the Scriptures to the disciples at Emmaus, and then to the apostles (Lk. 24:25-27, 44-45).”
Furthermore, Christ’s death is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices (CCC #614).
Hebrews 10:10 rightly says: “Now, by this will of God, we are sanctified at once by the sacrifice of the body of Christ Jesus.”
But, pray tell still, from our ordinary understanding, what sense does it make for a loving and merciful God to allow, or will, a brutal and torturous death of his son in order to save us?
To my mind, the answer lies in the two attributes of God as both “loving” and “just”. God is perfectly loving, and he is also perfectly just. God’s love requires his justice, and so also the other way around.
God’s overwhelming love (John 3:16) is manifested in his encompassing desire or plan to save us and be with him in heaven.
On the other hand, God’s justice requires that due reparation is made in order for us to be saved. But we will never fully feel the love of God unless we realize the seriousness of our sins and justice of the punishment we are due.
If God was not just, there would be no need for his son to suffer and die. If God was not loving, there would be no willingness for his son to suffer and die.
But God is both just and loving – and therefore his love is willing to satisfy the needs of his justice.
In sum, because God is both loving and just, Christ paid the highest price possible to give us the greatest gift possible, that is eternal life.
In closing, let me quote what Pope Francis said in his homily during the holy mass for the 500th year of Christianity in the Philippines last March 14, 2021:
“God loves you so much that he gave you his entire life. He is not a god who looks down upon us from on high, indifferent, but a loving Father who becomes part of our history. He is not a god who takes pleasure in the death of sinners, but a Father concerned that no one be lost. He is not a god who condemns, but a Father who saves us with the comforting embrace of his love.”