Since Holy Week falls at the beginning of this month, we present a brief overview in the hope that you will be moved to attend as many of the Masses as possible. This is the most important week of the entire year. Don't miss this opportunity to take part in the deepest mysteries of our Catholic Faith.
The two weeks which include Palm Sunday and the Easter Octave contain some of the most impressive, and certainly the most significant, Masses of the entire year. Through the symbolism of the liturgy, and the reality of the Sacraments, the Church is able to unite us with the redemptive act of our Lord Jesus Christ; even though we may be separated from the locale of the crucifixion by 2,000 years and many thousands of miles. The ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter recall the essential history of our salvation.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. The modern Mass still contains a vestige of an earlier day, when the Church offered two different Masses; one for the blessing of the Palms, and another to commemorate the Passion. Red vestments are retained for the blessing, which contains most of the elements of a Mass formulary.
We are impressed by the stark contrast between the attitude of the crowd as they wave branches and attempt to name Him king, and the attitude of the same people a few days later as they demand, "Crucify Him!" Perhaps we should be reminded of our own ambivalence -- our frequent wavering between sin and holiness. Matthew's version of the Passion is read on Sunday, Mark's on Tuesday, Luke's on Wednesday, with John's being reserved for Good Friday. These Gospel readings include the narratives of both the Last Supper and the Crucifixion in order to show the unbreakable connection between Holy Mass and the Sacrifice of the Cross. On Thursday we hear only St. Paul's, and St. John's accounts of the Last Supper, which are complemented and completed by St. John's Passion Gospel in the Presanctified Liturgy of Good Friday.
Years ago, the Church offered three different Masses on Holy Thursday. The first was a reception of those who had been doing public penance since Ash Wednesday, the second was celebrated by the bishop for the blessing of the Holy Oils, and the third was offered in the evening to commemorate the institution of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament. The Chrism Mass is still offered in cathedrals. In some churches the evening Mass contains a ceremony known as the Mandatum, in which the celebrant washes the feet of a dozen men, as our Lord washed the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper.
Two Hosts are consecrated on Holy Thursday, one to be consumed at Mass, and another to be reserved at the altar of repose for the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified on Good Friday. After Mass the main altar is stripped, and all attention is concentrated on the altar of repose, where the Blessed Sacrament is continuously adored until Friday's Liturgy.
"Liturgy" is the appropriate word, for no Mass is celebrated on Good Friday. The Passion Gospel is read, prayers are offered for the various estates of the Church, the Cross is uncovered and venerated, and then, the priest alone receives the Host consecrated the previous day. This Pre-Sanctified Communion demonstrates the link between the Last Supper when our Lord gave the Apostles His Body and Blood which would be broken and poured out for them, and the Crucifixion at Calvary wherein these things took place.
Holy Saturday is the Vigil of Easter. In some churches it is held in the morning. In others (since Pope Pius XII) it is offered around midnight as the first Mass of Easter Sunday. In either case, the Vigil begins in darkness, all the lights of the church having been extinguished after the Good Friday services. A new fire is blessed, from which the Paschal Candle is lit. Four to twelve Old Testament lessons are read. The Baptismal Font and water are blessed. The people are encouraged to take some of the water (set aside before it is anointed with the Holy Oils) home with them as Holy Water. The Litany of the Saints follows, (it is interrupted by a renewal of Baptismal Promises in some places), and finally the Mass of the Resurrection. Mass closes with Vespers or Lauds, depending upon the time of day. The expression of our Easter joy is prolonged from Sunday until the following Saturday, as Easter and its octave are observed.
Question: What is all this we hear about scientists discovering the tomb of Jesus and His family? How can we reconcile such scientific claims with the teachings of the Faith concerning Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, the claim that He was born of the perpetual Virgin Mary, and the claim that He lived a celibate life?
Answer: What needs to be reconciled is not Faith and science, but rather fiction and science. The fiction currently in the news is a piece by the Discovery Channel called The Lost Tomb of Jesus, produced by James Cameron (Titanic) and directed by Simcha Jacobovici. Filmed in the style of a documentary, The Lost Tomb claims that ten ossuaries (burial receptacles for bones) excavated in 1980 in the midst of a building project in the Talpiot suburb of Jerusalem constitute the family mausoleum of Jesus Christ and His family.
The Lost Tomb is simply this year’s attempt to denigrate Christianity, in the same style as The last Temptation of Christ: Holy Blood, Holy Grail; The daVinci Code; and the network documentaries that come out around Christmas or Easter explaining the confusion that led to Jesus being mistaken for a god.. Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln’s Holy Blood, Holy Grail had the feel of scholarship, which made it unsuitable for mass corruption. The daVinci Code was more or less a rewrite of Holy Blood in the guise of an action packed detective novel, and drew far more attention. From the publicity, The Lost Tomb seems to be one of those documentaries (along the lines of The Gospel of Judas) that will trot out scientific looking authority figures and apostate clergypersons to demonstrate that “Jesus was just a normal fellow like us.”
On one hand The Lost Tomb is almost beneath discussion. In bygone days when eighth-graders could read and write a coherent paragraph, it would have just been laughed away. Today, it fits too well into the modern attempt to abolish Western Civilization to be ignored altogether. We will briefly discuss the evidence pro and con.
Unlike most other world religions, Christianity is an historical religion, based on the testimony of multiple witnesses. The nay-sayer may claim that the witnesses are biased by their belief in Christ, but that is the same as saying that anyone who testifies to an event is biased by his belief that he saw what he claims to have seen (e.g. I am biased in my belief that a red car circled the block last night because I saw the red car). There are a number of witnesses to the truth of Christianity; some whose testimony is recorded in the Bible, or in the non-canonical writings of the biblical period. There are also “hostile witnesses”—those who were not believers—Josephus and Pliny are examples—who had no Christian bias that would cause them to record the fact that many were convinced by the claims of Christianity. Indeed, it is common knowledge that many people were so convinced by the claims of Jesus and His Apostles that they died violent deaths rather than deny the truths of the Faith—the martyrs.
It is significant, as well, that while Christianity has always placed great emphasis on relic gathering and burial site pilgrimages, not even the most greedy traders entertained a trade in first class relics of either Jesus or Mary—in spite of the profit motive, there are no fingers, no leg bones, no heads to display.
Cameron and Jacobovici make their claim based on extremely little and very tenuous evidence. The first claim is that some of the names inscribed on the sepulchers are names associated with the Holy Family: Jesus, son of Joseph; Maria; Mariamene e Mara; Matthew; Judas, son of Jesus; and Jose. Some of them may be, but not Matthew, Judas, or Jose; Mariamene is the Greek name Josephus used for any woman we would call Mary in English or Miryam in Hebrew, Maryam in Aramaic.
Jesus is the Latin name for Josue, who led the people into the Promised Land; of Jesus ben Sirach, who wrote the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiasticus; of Jesus ben Eliezer (a great-great-grand forebear of the Christ—Luke 3:29); and of Jesus called Justus (an associate of Saint Paul—Colossians 4:11). Several Marys are mentioned in the Gospels alone. Judah and Joseph were the names of Old Testament patriarchs.
All of the names were common Jewish names at the time of Christ.. To suggest, as Cameron did, that the names on the tomb positively identify Jesus Christ and family, just as “John, Paul, George, and Ringo” positively identify the Beatles is absurd.
Amos Kloner, the Israeli archeologist who examined the site in 1980 dismisses the similarity of names as being common for digs from this period and location. In 900 caves he found 71 Yeshuahs., including a few “sons of Joseph.” He further questions the modern look of the inscriptions on the ossuaries: “It is easy to see how the writer wanted to attract the attention of modern day viewers by using forms that are as similar as possible to current script. Their placement and design are ‘monumental’ and stand out. The vast majority of such ossuary inscriptions were carelessly written and schematic.”
Jacobovici had the DNA of bodies he found in one ossuary together, whom he identifies as Jesus and Mary Magdalen, tested for relationship. He claims that since they are not related through a common mother, they must be husband and wife. But there is no mention at all of a common father, which would make them half brother and sister; and no mention of the possibility that non-relatives might be buried together without benefit of matrimony.
The mention of DNA is a “red herring” that will confuse the naïve. “DNA” sounds very scientific, perhaps giving the impression that the Las Vegas Crime Lab backs up the conclusions. DNA tests would prove a biological relationship if one existed, but it says nothing about social relationships when there is no biological match. And, certainly, the body of Jesus Christ could not be identified by a DNA match, or a finger print match, for there is nothing to match it too. The Lost Tomb people could have just as well found the tomb to contain Jesus’ E-mail address and Social Security number.
If, in fact, the Apostles were trying to perpetrate a fraud, one has to question why they would have buried Jesus’ supposed body in the family plot. It would have been far easier to dump the body in the desert to be carried away by carrion, and far les risky than trying to sneak it into a family sepulchre.
One last thing. How could Mary Magdalene be buried with Jesus if she moved on to France to establish the Merovingian Dynasty, as everyone “knows” she did from the daVinci Code?
James Cameron’s earlier movie, (Titanic) has been picked up on by several commentators on The Lost Tomb, who are calling it Cameron and Jacobovici’s Titanic Fraud.
Are folks like Cameron and Jacobovici, Dan Brown, and Baigent and Leigh malicious, or ignorant, or careless, or greedy, or what? Perhaps more important: Why do they receive favorable mention in the media? Or any mention at all? ABC and CBS were less accommodating of Cameron and Jacobovici, but, as someone once said, “any publicity is good publicity.” Two or three minutes of being interviewed on a major network, or a half page in Newsweek or Time is worth an enormous amount—it is indeed, publicity that might not be for sale at any price if the media didn’t take an interest. And for the uncritical, media interest equates to truth.
Particularly revealing is the hypocrisy involved. We are continuously reminded by the media that we should say nothing that will insult this or that group of people, whether their behavior merits praise or condemnation. (“Jimmy the Greek” got fired for praising the abilities of Black athletes!) Just imagine the string of public apologies Matt Lauer would have touched off if he had interviewed the producer of a film that portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King in an unfavorable light and observed that “this is going to rock the Black Community to the core”! Or imagine the furor that would have followed the interview of someone with “evidence” that Hitler didn’t kill all those people, and a comment by Lauer that “this will rock the Zionists to the core”! In these United States such an interview would produce pandemonium—in several other countries it would lead to fines and imprisonment, with all evidence being inadmissible in defense
It is a thought crime to speak against those who behave immorally, a thought crime to deny the Holocaust, a thought crime to recognize that white men can’t jump. But it is just good business to write novels and make movies and publicize those who deny the divinity of Jesus Christ.
It is time to stop being “politically correct”—cultural Marxism has gone too far. Civilization cannot exist without God, and even a secular civilization depends on truth for its very survival. No one should be persecuted for presenting a well supported truth, no matter how painful it might be. And no one ought to profit by a half baked case against the truth.
Question: Why do Catholics and Orthodox celebrate Easter on different days? How was the date for the celebration of Easter established by the Church?
Answer: The Easter controversy is probably one of the most convoluted stories in Church history, yet it revolves around a few simple ideas. If the Last Supper was the celebration of the Passover Seder, it took place in the evening of the fourteenth day of the lunar month of Nisan (a.k.a. Abib or Aviv) of the Jewish calendar. One school of thought was that Easter should coincide with the Jewish Passover. The proponents of this plan were call “quartodecemians,” from the Latin rendering of “the fourteenth (day of the month).” Curiously, this drew more support than the third day following the Passover. As Passover can fall on any day of the week, varying from year to year, Easter would then also fall on any day of the week. The quartodecemians claimed to have received their practice from Saint John the Apostle, and it was common in churches established by the Apostle in Asia Minor, and by his disciple Polycarp (d.155) in the region about Marseilles.
Another school of thought held that since Christ rose from the dead on Sunday, Easter, which commemorates the Resurrection, should always fall on a Sunday. At Rome and elsewhere outside Asia Minor the practice arose of celebrating Easter on the Sunday following the fourteenth of Nisan—the consensus being that only Sunday was an appropriate day to terminate the Lenten fast. Rome was determined to have Her say in the matter, but we know that there were some negotiations conducted.
Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, quotes a letter of the Bishop Polycrates to pope Victor I (?189-199), citing all of the holy men who observed the fourteenth day. He notes that Pope Victor attempted to excommunicate the churches in Asia, but was dissuaded by the popular opinion of the episcopate, and by letters from Irenæus of Lyons (d.202), who reminded Victor that Pope Anicetus (?154-167 had reached peaceful agreement about the matter with John’s disciple, Polycarp. It is not completely clear how the Asian Churches fared after Victor, but the quartodecemians appear to have survived, even following the Council of Nicæa.
The (not very ecumenical) Emperor Constantine summoned the Council of Nicæa in 325, at which he encouraged the bishops to follow a rule for Easter less dependent on the Passover, declaring it “improper to follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this holy festival, because, their hands having been stained with crime, the minds of these wretched men are necessarily blinded.”
The Council itself was content with a rather vague ruling that in the future:
The understanding, then, by 325 AD was that Easter would be observed on the Sunday following the full moon, after the vernal equinox. But nothing is ever that simple!
The Romans held the vernal equinox to be the 18th of March, while the Alexandrians observed the 21st. Worse still, even if precise astronomical observations could be made, the precise moment of the vernal equinox and the full moon is ambiguous for different longitudes on the earth. Will the observations be made at, say, Jerusalem, or perhaps Rome, or Alexandria, or Constantinople?
But direct observation is impractical anyway, as one must know in advance when Easter will fall in order to begin Septuagesima and Lent on the proper day. Astronomers attempted to construct charts that would accurately predict the Easter date. It was acknowledged that the date ran in cycles—but, again, nothing is that simple—the cycles varied from one of 19 years, one of 84 years, another of 112, and yet another of 532 years.
About 525 AD a monk living in modern day Romania known as Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Small) produced a calendar which he claimed to be based on years counted since the birth of Christ (Anno Dómini), using the Julian calendar format, and predicting Easter according to the 19 year cycle favored by the well reputed astronomers of Alexandria. His calendar gained unofficial acceptance throughout most of the Churches except those of the Gallican Rite, which claimed to be following the instructions of Saint John (not as quartodecemians, but observing Easter on a Sunday predicted by an 84 year cycle or some other today unknown means. The Gallicans, except those of the British Isles, adopted the Dionysian calendar under Charlemagne.
Although weakened by the barbarian invasions, the Gallican rite existed for a few centuries in Britain, prior to the Roman rite apostolate of Saint Augustine of Canterbury in 579. Augustine began his work in the home of the pagan King Ethelbert of Kent. The King’s wife Bertha was a Catholic of the Gallican rite, a daughter of the Merovingian house of the Franks. When Ethelbert received Baptism from Augustine, it was in the Roman rite, and the court faced the strange situation of celebrating the Roman Easter with the King, and, several weeks later, the Gallican Easter with the Queen. Lent continued for some, while not for others. A similar situation prevailed throughout the Isles until the Synod of Whitby, summoned in 664 by King Oswy of Northumbria at the double monastery of Saint Hilda. Oswy was a Gallican, married to the Roman rite Queen Eandfleda, and the first king to control a substantial part of what today is called England. From the situation in his own household, Oswy recognized the need for a single rite in his domain. The Synod settled on the practices of the Roman rite; the dissenters retreated to Iona in Scotland which held onto the Gallican practices for a few more years. Oswy died in 670, and Eandfleda became abbess of Whitby from 680 until hear death in 685.
The Easter controversy lied dormant from roughly the tenth century until the calendar reform of Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Astronomers had determined that the Julian year then in use was slightly too long, and the equinox was drifting backwards one day in every 310 years—sometime in the far future Easter and Christmas would coincide! Pope Gregory’s adjustments eliminated 11 days from the month of October 1582, decreed a new set of Easter calculation charts, and eliminated the leap years that fell during century years not evenly divisible by 400.
Again, nothing is ever so simple. The Gregorian calendar was accepted in Catholic countries, but generally not in Protestant or Orthodox countries. Roughly, the Protestant countries adopted the Gregorian reform during the 1700s, while the Oriental and Orthodox countries did so only in the early 1900s. (This creates a nightmare for historians handling dates in these countries!) Among the Eastern Orthodox, even in Gregorian calendar countries, the Easter date is calculated separately, for the Roman tables sometimes violate the rule that Easter most fall after Passover—something it didn’t do when we all used the Julian calendar.
Question: Was the beggar Lazarus (Luke 16) a real person? If not, why does the Church invoke him in the funeral procession to the grave site?
Answer: The parables of the Bible belong to a literary style well known in the Middle Eastern culture of our Lord.
In general, the parables could be stories about specific real individuals, but are most likely stories fashioned around real principles of human nature and morality to illustrate some point that Jesus wished to make (or in some cases to conceal from the Pharisees) in His preaching. There could have been a specific man with a prodigal son, or a crime victim treated by a good Samaritan, or a beggar named Lazarus—but probably not. The truth of a parable is in the moral lesson it carries, and most likely not in its recounting of an historical event that involved specific people.
The Catholic Encyclopedia gives the following observation about the interpretation of this parable:
Lazarus is used by the Church as a representative of those in heaven after a long struggle on earth. He is one of the very few people mentioned by our Lord as being in Heaven. Among those, he is unique in being a simple man like most of us. If he is figurative, he will be found literally in the company of those souls who persevered in grace in spite of similar difficulties.
 David van Biema, Time, Feb. 26, 2007, “Is This Jesus’ Tomb?” http://jcgi.pathfinder.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1593893,00.html
 Solanco Area Online News, 28 February 2007
 Cf. Exodus xii. There is some question as to the day of the Passover during the week in which Christ died. See The Parish Bulletin, December 2004 http://www.geocities.com/pelicanlara/answers/qa122004.html or http://rosarychurch.net/answers/qa122004.html.
 Theoderet, Ecclesiastical History, I, ch 9: Epistle of Constantine to those not present at the Council of Nicæa http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf203.iv.viii.i.x.html