Holy Week is here. It follows what seems like the fastest Lent of my life. Usually, these 40-plus days drag on and on because of some penitential practice or the general dreariness of late winter. But this year I raced through Lent at a breakneck pace. I need not elaborate on the various professional and personal reasons that made it so. You know the feeling well.
So now that the Triduum is upon us, I want to reflect on the rituals of these most holy days of the year and ask what they might say to those of us who are sprinting headlong through the doors of the church.
I was perusing the Good Friday liturgy and noticed the prominence of a particular word: behold. The texts for this day feature this word several times. It appears during the Gospel reading of the Passion: “Behold, the man!”; “Behold your king!”; “Woman, behold your son!” and at the showing and adoration of the Holy Cross: “Behold, the wood of the Cross.” We hear it again before receiving Holy Communion, as always: “Behold the Lamb of God.”
What does it mean to “behold”? The Latin “ecce,” from which this word is translated, is more often used as an interjection, as if to say, “Hey! Look! Wow!” Italians use the word “Ecco!” in this same way, to draw one’s attention to something out of the ordinary.
To behold, then, is to move oneself from an active posture to a receptive one. It means stopping to look and stopping to listen. This is no easy task in the modern world. Most days go by without a single moment of wonder, contemplation or mystery.
This lost art of beholding requires so little of us. We must simply be present and aware of our surroundings, living in the moment. The phone camera held up to the sunset or at a concert (or Mass!) is the antithesis of beholding. It is living precisely outside of time. In our desire to possess the moment, we lose it forever. The sunset never looks the same in pictures.
In our beloved Church, “Ecce!” Is Latin for “Hey! Put the phone down!” The rites for the Triduum — Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday — cry out for our attention. There is plenty to behold with our eyes and ears, sweet smells and extraordinary textures to beckon us away from busy schedules and draw us close to Jesus.
Wonder at the holy oils. Lose yourself in the wood of the cross. Be awestruck by Easter fire. Let the processions captivate you. Let the chants wash over you. Marvel at darkness and light.
Rituals are not just nice things that happen. They remind us, as Pope Benedict XVI says, to “witness the beauty of holiness, witness the splendor of truth.” There’s something wonderful to behold this week. Christ himself will be present. You need only go and be.