Holy Week is my favorite liturgical period of the year. Christmas is my favorite season because, well, it’s Christmas, and not only is the story itself a good one, but it subsequently prompted It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. But the liturgies of Holy Week — especially now that they’ve wrung all the grotesque anti-Semitism out of the Good Friday services, which always made me wonder, when they were going after Jeremiah Wright, whether good Catholics like Tim Russert, and Peggy Noonan, and Chris Matthews were listening back when they were kids (or dozing, like I did) — are the most moving because the one thing they’re not about is authority.
Authority is the villain during Holy Week. Secular authority, in the person of Pontius Pilate. Religious authority, in the institution of the Sanhedrin. What matters most throughout the season is the individual conscience. As Garry Wills never tires of pointing out, Christ did not make priests. He did not make a Church. And he sure as all hell didn’t make a Pope, draped as the office is with the sad detritus of medieval royalty. What the pope said in his homily above has no basis in the gospels of the season. Christ does not ask his disciples to be “radically obedient.” He washes their feet and tells them, according to the Gospel of John.
Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him.
What stands out in the Holy Week services is humility in the face of unreasoning authority. What stands out, ultimately, and whether you believe in the Resurrection or not, or think the whole thing is a bunch of hooey imported from the Egyptian mystery cults or somewhere, is that, in the story of Easter week, unreasoning authority loses. It loses badly. It makes a fool and a scandal of itself through the ages, so resoundingly that we eventually had ourselves a Reformation, and the secular explosion against unreasoning authority that came after it in Scotland, and France, and, most important to us, in the British colonies of North America.
Sometimes, I think I stay in the church just to be one of the stubborn people who say this stuff. Anyway, Happy Easter to y’all.