Thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square today to attend Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly General Audience and catechesis. The Holy Father discussed Holy Week, describing the period as “the most important week of the year, offering us the chance to immerse ourselves in the central events of Redemption, to relive the Easter Mystery, the great Mystery of the faith."
The Pope explained how Jesus "did not wish to use the fact of His being God, His glorious dignity and His power, as an instrument of triumph and a sign of distance." Out of love for us, "He wished to 'empty Himself' and become our brother. For love, He shared our condition, the condition of all men and women."
The Holy Father described the Chrism Mass, which was celebrated on Tuesday, as "a prelude to the Easter Triduum which begins tomorrow." He explained that at that Mass, "priestly vows pronounced on the day of Ordination are renewed," and that it “has particular significance this year because it comes as a kind of preparation for the Year for Priests.” Pope Benedict added that he called for the year to “mark the 150th anniversary of the death of the saintly 'Cure of Ars,'” and that it will begin on June 19.
During Holy Thursday Mass, also called the “Lord's Supper,” the Church "commemorates the institution of the Eucharist, the priestly ministry and the mandatum novum (new commandment) of charity which Jesus left to His disciples," the Pope said. It “is a renewed invitation to give thanks unto God for the supreme gift of the Eucharist, which must be welcomed with devotion and adored with living faith."
The Pope proceeded to discuss Good Friday, “the day of the passion and crucifixion of the Lord.” “Christ's death recalls the mass of pain and evil weighing upon humanity in every epoch: the crushing weight of our own mortality, the hatred and violence which still bloody the earth today. The Lord's passion continues in the suffering of mankind," Benedict XVI said.
"If Good Friday is a day full of sadness,” he added, “it is at the same time the best day on which to reawaken our faith, to strengthen our hope and the courage to carry our cross with humility and trust, abandoning ourselves to God in the certainty of His support and His victory."
The Holy Father noted how “this hope is nourished in the great silence of Easter Saturday as we await the resurrection of Jesus." “The Church keeps prayerful vigil, like Mary and with Mary, sharing her feelings of pain and of trust in God,” he stated. “Rightly we are advised to spend the whole day in an atmosphere of prayer, one favorable to meditation and reconciliation. The faithful are encouraged to avail themselves of the Sacrament of Penance so that, thus renewed, they can participate in the Easter celebrations."
The Easter Vigil, which Pope Benedict called the “mother of all vigils,” proclaims to the faithful "once again the victory of light over darkness, of life over death.” At the Easter Vigil, said Benedict, “the Church will rejoice at the meeting with her Lord. Thus will we enter the atmosphere of Easter Day."
Pope Benedict concluded by inviting Christians "to enter into the Cenacle with the Virgin Mary, to stand with her at the foot of the cross, to watch over the dead Christ, hopefully awaiting the bright dawn of the day of resurrection."
Following his reflections on Holy Week, Benedict XVI switched from Italian to Spanish and greeted 4,300 students currently attending the UNIV international congress, being held this week in Rome under the auspices of the Prelature of Opus Dei.
"Dear friends," said the Pope, "I encourage you to respond with joy to the Lord's call in order to give full meaning to your lives: in your studies, in your relationships with your colleagues, in the family and in society. 'Many things depend,' St. Josemaria Escriva said, 'on whether you and I live our lives as God wants,' an important teaching.”