How to Allow for Your Sorrow This Holy Week
Lent allows us to have Easter. But someone said it better—“Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday” (Venerable Fulton Sheen). Without observing Lent, we cannot experience the fullness of joy that mirrors the triumph of Christ’s Resurrection. The season may seem bleak to those unfamiliar with its purpose, but there is a part of this purpose that all humans can relate to: Lent lends legitimacy to sorrow. Not only do we all know sorrow, but we all know it in its truest connotation—deep sadness at the wrongs we have committed.
O were I like a feathered dove
And innocence had wings,
I’d fly and make a long remove
From all these restless things!
During these six weeks of Lent and Holy Week we lament over sin, but what is not apparent to outsiders is the security with which we do this. No amount of lamentation can change the ending of this liturgical season. So why do we “go through the motions,” someone might ask. The easiest thing to start with is to say, “Because our God did.” During this season we read the Gospel about the resurrection of Lazarus, when Christ weeps just before raising him. We read the Agony in the Garden and the Passion at least two times. We read the temptations of Christ in the desert.
Christ did not need to go into the desert for 40 days in order to detach from sin and the things of the flesh, but we need to. Whether or not we read the Passion two times does not change its outcome, but it could radically change our lives. (Read: It should radically change our lives.) The entirety of Scripture is an example written and lived by God for us. In the Agony of the Garden, we have an example of complete obedience to the Father and perfection of the will; and in the Passion, undeniably the most radical example of Love that we can conceive.
When we read the Passion during Lent, we play the part of the crowds, the crowds that chose to crucify Christ. While Jesus could not feel sorrow at His own sin, having none, the sin that caused His suffering we have already participated in, and continue to participate in. This is not the 4th of July. It is not a memorial of a date on which oppression ended two hundred years ago. The Revolutionary Army accomplished many things, but freeing the whole world for all time was not one of them. While Jesus purchased eternal life for us with His Blood and Body once and finally 2,000 years ago, we continue to be saved by him as we look into His face and shout “Crucify Him!” If that’s not worth spending 40 days contemplating, I don’t know what is.
His ransom is outside of time, just like the Consecration of the Eucharist. The Sacrifice of the Mass is the Sacrifice at Calvary—the unbloody Sacrifice at Calvary. They are one and the same. Let us remember that in our observation of this great beginning of the Easter Triduum, Holy Thursday, the first Mass. (For all these reasons, the requirement of receiving the Eucharist once a year during Eastertide is almost self-explanatory.)
It is the human condition to feel sorrow about things we have done. In fact, I think that is the least affirmed part of people in today’s culture. There are very few things that qualify for a legitimate sense of guilt and sorrow these days, and most of them are social wrongs. The interior life is not addressed and the underlying vice is never named. While Lent seems foreign, even morbid to many people, it is actually something they have a very near desire for. It is similar to the reaction many have to Confession. The concept is so alien, and yet even when they do the smallest thing that causes guilt, the first remedy for relief is usually telling someone, and seeking forgiveness a close second. So too with Lent. We actually desire to do penance and atone for sin. We desire to lend legitimacy to our sorrow, and solemnness to our mortality. Our Lord did that by “emptying" Himself, and making us only "a little lower than the angels.” (This does not remove the sacrificial aspect of Lent, but motivate it.)
Here are some hymns and other works of Sacred Music to accompany you on the road from the Upper Room to Calvary to Christ’s tomb on Easter morning—they certainly lend legitimacy to sorrow.
Let’s Talk about Handel’s Messiah
Everyone, or almost everyone, knows of the Hallelujah chorus from Messiah. But if you haven’t listened to the Passion section of Messiah, you are cheating yourself out of 30 minutes of pure joy. If you have, revisiting it will be a pleasure, or, a pleasant sorrow, so to speak. Here are some selections from the Passion.
He was Despised "A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief!" This is twelve minutes long but absolutely gorgeous (great for putting on in the background while going about your work!) Hear the incredible contrast at the words "He gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair."
Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs Again, notice the beautiful contrast in the music at the words "He was wounded for our transgressions." I always find the text "the chastisement of our peace was upon him" particularly moving. (It helps to think of it as "The chastisement [that brought about] our peace was laid upon him.")
He Trusted in God—I can’t imagine a setting that communicates the meaning of the text better than this one. For me, it is almost visual in its accuracy; how amazing that English was not the composer’s first language!
For Easter morning, the Hallelujah chorus never fails to capture the triumphant joy, but I encourage you to listen to the last song, Worthy is the Lamb, which is a kind of three-in-one type of deal at 7 minutes long, and worth every second. I had the great privilege of singing Messiah with my college choir—I can tell you that no experience has ever come close to it.
An Introduction to Anonymous 4
If you haven’t heard these ladies sing yet, prepare to be amazed.
Other Lenten Songs