(A Seminarian Speaks) Take a Friend to Church This Holy Week: It Could Change Their Life
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Each year during Holy Week, we celebrate the most fundamental aspects of our Catholic faith. We remember the love of God, the sacrifice of His Son Jesus for our sake, the institution of the Eucharist, etc. Perhaps most importantly, we rejoice at the end of Holy Week when Jesus, who died, rises from the dead, and in doing so releases us from our bondage to sin and gives us hope for eternal life.
Holy Week can be a great opportunity to evangelize a friend, especially someone who thinks that the Catholic faith is just a bunch of rules. We do not follow Jesus or abide by His teachings because He was an eloquent teacher, but we follow Him because by dying for us, He showed us how much He loved us and how a way back to the Father has been restored through Him. The unique liturgical services during Holy Week week help unpack and tangibly demonstrate the love, power and glory of Christ.
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So, if you have a friend or loved one who hasn’t been to Church for a while, consider inviting them to come to church with you during Holy Week. Throughout Holy Week, we are reminded about how sin once separated us from God, and how that relationship has been restored again through Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection. A few years ago, a friend of mine experienced a powerful conversion at a Good Friday service. As the priest preached about how Jesus died for each of us personally, and as he looked at the man on the cross—it all became real for him. My friend has been a changed man since then.
However, it’s not just what Jesus does, but during Holy Week, each of us can do something in return too. Actually performing certain actions can also play a role in someone’s conversion. For instance, reflecting on the Way of the Cross forces us to acknowledge our own sinfulness and how Jesus took our sins to the Cross with Him. Waving palms on Palm Sunday may feel silly, but they bring to mind the Messianic character of Jesus and His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The ‘washing of the feet’ by the priest, a reminder of Jesus washing the feet of His apostles before the Last Supper, shows us the depths of Jesus’ love, humility and servant-leadership. When we venerate the cross on Good Friday, we’re responding to Jesus’ love with our love. At Easter, when we renew our baptismal vows, we’re saying our yes to Him, who first said yes to us.
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Easter is the very core of our faith. It is the climax of the story of salvation that unfolds through the Old Testament and the Gospels. The Easter vigil, with its rich Bible readings, prayers, the lighting of the Paschal Candle, the renewal of our Baptismal vows, the administering of sacraments like Baptism and Confirmation, and so much more, can be a powerful experience for many. The Easter vigil has been instrumental in shaping my own walk in faith. It’s a regular reminder that I don’t have to live in darkness, but I am called to live in the light of Christ. We are usually asked to bring bells to the Easter vigil at my parish to add to the exhilaration at the Gloria. And truly, the joy is palpable as the lights come on at the Easter Gloria and the congregation bursts into song – it’s something I look forward to every year!
If you’re really hoping for your friend to experience a conversion or at least to open their hearts just a little to the beauty and richness of the Paschal mystery, it is important to plan ahead:
Go beyond the basics
Depending on your friend’s capacity and where they are in their spiritual journey, consider attending something that’s outside the main Holy Week liturgies. Most parishes usually have a time of Eucharistic adoration on Holy Thursday evening. The somber prayerful environment that helps us recall the agony that was to come upon Jesus could speak to someone’s heart, especially if they are carrying a lot of pain of their own. Participating in the Stations of the Cross can illustrate Jesus’ journey to Calvary, and being introduced to the different elements of his ordeal for our sake may appeal to a more intellectual person. Ultimately, you know your friend best – pick something at a parish that your friend will connect with.
Attend the Easter vigil
The Easter vigil is the richest and most solemn liturgy of the Catholic Church. However, it can also be the longest, so prepare your friend in advance about its length. At the same time, talk up the variety of things that occur during the vigil service. One thing that you should try to do is, if possible, greet a newly baptized or confirmed person after the vigil service. A quick word with a beaming, freshly-anointed person, who’s smiling from ear to ear, is bound to be contagious. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to get them to share a brief version of their conversion story and what led them to pursue the sacraments.
Give your friend a missalette
The prayers and Mass readings during Holy Week are very beautiful and could easily stir something in the hearts of anyone. However, those little gems could be lost if the priest/lector just breezes through them or if your friend gets distracted during the service. A missalette helps someone to follow what’s going on, as well as to go back and re-read anything that struck them. Encourage your friend to read the prayers for that day beforehand to familiarize themselves with the distinct flow of the liturgy for each day.
Let’s be honest, not all parishes have the most dynamic services. To evangelize, you have to be strategic. Taking a 22-year old to a parish that’s filled with elderly people may not achieve the objective of your mission. I’m not saying that you should take your friend to a place where Church norms are flouted, but I definitely recommend that you look around for places that are known to have more engaging services. Expect questions from your friend, so make sure that you read up on what the Church has to say about fasting, washing of the feet, and so on.
It would be hard for anyone to participate in the Holy Week liturgies without being moved even the slightest bit, whether that’s through hearing those powerful readings, praying those rich prayers or performing actions that make us personally respond to the saving act of Jesus. So, take a friend to church this Holy Week who has perhaps never been to Church before or has lapsed from the faith. It could change their life. And who knows, it may change yours too.