Today is known as Spy Wednesday, which, according to the tradition of the Church, commemorates Judas' betrayal of Jesus on the eve of the last supper. Greeting thousands of young pilgrims in Rome for Holy Week, Pope Benedict XVI gave a catechesis on the Easter Triduum, three days that are celebrated as a single event that form the heart to the Church and of the liturgical year.
"We have arrived at the eve of the Easter Triduum," he said. "The next three days are commonly called holy because we are reliving a central event of our redemption that leads us back to the core fact of the Christian faith: the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Lent, the Pope said, prepares us to enter these days in the same spirit that Jesus entered Jerusalem. In that spirit, he said we awaken the memory of the suffering that Christ bore for our sake so that we might celebrate with joy next Sunday, "the real Easter, which the Blood of Christ covered with glory, Easter when the Church celebrates the true origin of all feasts."
Speaking first of Holy Thursday, the Holy Father said the Church recalls the Last Supper during which, on the eve of his passion and death, established the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood. On that same night, he said, "Jesus left us the new commandment, the commandment of fraternal love."
Before entering the Holy Triduum, every diocese celebrates the Chrism Mass, during which the bishop and priests renew their promises, the promises they made at ordination. During that Mass, oils are also blessed for the celebration of the sacraments: oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick and holy chrism.
The Holy Father said the Chrism Mass is very important in the life of every diocesan community, which gathers around its pastor’s fidelity to Christ. Following this moment, the Last Supper, recalls the time when "Christ is given to all of us as nourishment of salvation, as the immortal remedy. The mystery of the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life."
"In this sacrament of salvation the Lord gave for all those who believe in Him the most intimate possible union between our and his life."
In concrete gesture of washing the feet of the apostles, the Lord also expresses the primacy of love that is both a service and gift of oneself to another. At the same time, it anticipates the supreme sacrifice of his life on Calvary.
The Pope said that according to a beautiful Holy Thursday tradition, the faithful hold a vigil of prayer and adoration to experience more intimately the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane.
Holy Friday is that day that recalls the passion, crucifixion and death of Jesus when Christians gather to meditate on the great mystery of evil and sin that oppress humanity. With the Light of the Word of God and aided by moving liturgical gestures, the community meditates on the Passion event, and prays for all the needs of the Church and the world, venerates the Cross and receives the Eucharist, consuming species retained by the Mass of the Lord's Supper the day before.
Other expressions of piety, such as the way of the Cross, have developed across centuries and cultures to help the faithful recall the painful journey that led the Jesus to the Cross, a mount of love to the end.
Holy Saturday, Pope Benedict said, is marked by a profound silence. The Churches are bare and there are no special liturgies. The faithful, while awaiting the big event of the Resurrection, persevere with Mary in praying and meditating.
"We actually need a day of silence to meditate on the reality of human life, the forces of evil and great force for good stemming from the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. Great importance is given on this day of participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is an essential way to purify the heart and prepare to celebrate Easter with renewed hearts. We need this inner purification of renewal at least once annually," Pope Benedict said.
Saturday's silence, meditation, forgiveness, and reconciliation leads into the Easter Vigil, which introduces the most important Sunday of history, the Sunday of Easter of Christ.
"With his death, Christ defeated evil forever and has given to all men of the very life of God."
According to ancient tradition, catechumens receive Baptism during the Easter Vigil to emphasize the participation of Christians in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. From the bright night of Passover, the joy, the light and peace of Christ in the life span of the faithful of all Christian communities and reach every point of space and time.
In the end, the Holy Father encouraged all present to embrace the Triduum as an opportunity to realize more fully the depth and value of our Christian vocation, and to make generous gifts of ourselves.
In the current events of history, he added, dramatic events afflict so many of our brothers and sisters in every part of the world.
"We know that hatred, divisions, and violence never have the last word in the events of history. These days renew in us great hope: Christ crucified and risen won the world. Love is stronger than hatred…So we must start afresh from Christ and work in communion with him for a world based on peace, justice and on love. But…let us be guided by Mary, who has accompanied the Son of God on the path of the passion and of the cross and took part, with the strength of faith, in realizing of his plan of salvation."