Apr 10, 2014
Some time ago, I had a conversation with a lady who had attended the Oberammergau Passion Play in the south of Germany in 2004. The play, enacted every ten years since 1634, involves 2000 performers, musicians, and stage technicians, all of whom are residents of the town. The play, which runs for seven hours, acts out in a highly dramatic fashion the final events of Christ’s earthly life.
She wondered why the Church does not incorporate the kind of vivid portrayal she saw at Oberammergau into its Holy Week liturgy. She thought a more dramatic liturgy might appeal to larger numbers of people, have a greater spiritual impact, and represent a more appropriate idiom for the Church’s worship in the twenty-first century.
My response was that while passion plays have a valid place in Catholic life, the official liturgy of the Church has a purpose and significance far beyond dramatic reenactments.
The Holy Week liturgy does not merely help the Church cast its mind back to Jerusalem and Calvary. The function of the liturgy of Holy Week is to celebrate what God in Christ is doing now, today among his people.
Holy Week begins officially with Palm Sunday. The liturgy of this day calls to mind the Lord's entry into Jerusalem. But Palm Sunday also entails a living proclamation of Christ's lordship over the Church and its people here and now. We carry palms not merely for historical reasons, but as a sign of our present commitment to Christ.
On Holy Thursday, the Church recalls the gathering of Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper, an event that inaugurated the Christian Eucharist. But on this day, the church celebrates more importantly its present identity as Christ's living Body, and it renews the centrality of Christ's sacrifice in its life.