Holy Week Celebration in Bigard

Akwusie Onyedikachi, in his work ‘The Holy Week Commentary’, wrote: “In the Christian liturgical calendar there is a week that is unique; it is called ‘Holy Week’. It is so named not for the mere sake of conceding such a designation, but because of the importance and centrality of the events celebrated and commemorated to our salvation story”. St. Augustine, giving a summary to the solemn paschal mystery that wrought our salvation said: “We are the resurrection people and Alleluia is our song”. According to Catholic tradition, the paschal salvific mysteries are reenacted by the ceremonies of the Holy Week.

This week is the most holy and solemn week in the life of the church, within which we re-live and recount the events of the salvation mystery. The week commenced with Palm Sunday and concluded with Easter Sunday. The Easter Triduum, which is the liturgy of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, is the culminating point of the ceremonies of the Holy Week. The Holy Week this year started on Sunday 13th April, 2014 (Palm Sunday) and ended on Sunday 20th April, 2014 (Easter Sunday). Bigard as usual joined the universal church in this most sacred and solemn celebration.

Palm Sunday

The Palm Sunday of this year was on 13th April, 2014. The ceremony normally has three parts: The blessing of the palm, the procession and the Holy Mass. The blessing of the palm, took place outside the church, precisely in front of the Auditorium. The chief celebrant, Rev. Fr. Dr. Anthony Eze, in a brief reflection reminded all and sundry: “The ceremony today marks a double celebration: Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday”. He went further to reflect that significantly the feast brought into fulfillment, the prophesy of the old; “the son of God shall ride in a horse“.

He enjoined all, to imitate the humbling humility of Christ Our Savior. Furthermore Palm Sunday is of great significant to the history of the church, because it is a commemoration that foresaw the salvation of man. Finally, “Jesus riding on a donkey showcases, that he is a king of peace, because donkey signifies peace unlike horse which is a sign of war“. After the brief reflection, there was a procession from the seminary auditorium to Bigard main chapel where the Mass for the day continued.

The mass continued with the liturgy of the Word. Very Rev Fr. Dr. Anthony Ezeh, the chief celebrant, in his homily remarked that the Mathew’s narration shows Jesus as one who has journeyed into the Life of Sin and darkness in order to triumph over sin and darkness. He went further to mull over the different areas of human experiences made vivid in the readings of the day and how they affect the life of a Christian.

He said: “spiritual power is the courage to take stand with Christ. Sin against the Holy Spirit is the refusal to accept God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness. Despair is the worst sin. We often neglect the sources of grace (Example: Sacramental confession)“. He went further to affirm: “Though betrayal, greed, slot, violence, false witnessing, cowardice, are ugly parts of human experiences, they have been enveloped by the sufferings of Christ”. Consequently, concerning the ceremony of the day, he insisted: “We should not focus on the sufferings of Christ, or our sins, but on the love of Christ that was given to us through the sufferings of Christ“.

After the spiritually challenging homily, the rest of the rituals of the Holy Mass went on normal. There were vote of thanks and announcements before the final dismissal.

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday also known as Maundy Thursday is the first day of the Paschal Triduum. The lauds were combined with the solemn catafalque candle light service and office of the readings. And this was the case for the other remaining two days of Triduum. After the lauds we went for Chrism Mass at the Holy Ghost Cathedral Enugu by 10:00 am.

The evening liturgy of Holy Thursday, which started at 5:00 PM, usually commemorated the Last Supper of Jesus and the institution of the Eucharist, together with the washing of the feet, which symbolically represents the ‘servant aspect of Christ’s love’; “I came to serve and not to be served” (Mt. 20: 28). During the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, precisely during the Gloria, the bells were rung and after that they were to remain silent, and clappers used in their stead, until the Easter vigil, when they shall be heard again to herald the triumph of Christ over death in the resurrection.

The Rector, Rev. Fr. Dr Theophilus Igwe as the chief shepherd of the house, was the president of the ceremony. In his homily he noted the confused state of our world which cut across socio-political, academic, and moral dimensions. In his words: “The world is saturated with confusion as seen in the various dimensions of human existence: socially, spiritually, morally, politically. People of this age find it difficult to distinguish between good and evil. This makes it difficult to identify the real Jesus: is it Jesus of the cross or of miracles- religious confusion“.

The problem of man today” he continued, “is that humanity is suffering metaphysical homelessness. This homelessness is not new to humanity however. The Israelites suffered slavery in Egypt but Yahweh saved them. And the meal of liberation was celebrated as a commemoration of this salvific event. Jesus celebrated this meal with his disciples and today we are celebrating the same meal. The celebration done by Christ gave a new meaning to this ancient meal of Exodus“.

Furthering his spiritually and theologically rich and enriching reflection on the ceremony of the Lord’s Supper, the Rector exhorted: “On this day Christ instituted the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood. What does it mean to be a ministerial priest? It is by knowing and practicing the fact that a leader is to serve. A leader is not a master but a servant. Let us learn how to wash the feet of one another and not to break the feet of one another.

In a gesture of humility and service and in imitation of Christ, the Rector tied a towel round his waist and washed the feet of twelve persons. Another remarkable part of the liturgy of the day, after the liturgy of the Eucharist, was the transfer of the Holy Communion to the Altar of Repose, conspicuously situated in the middle of the chapel. This was followed by the vigil in which the people of God waited in watchful prayer with the Lord ‘at least for an hour’ in turns, till mid-night.

Good Friday

Raniero Cantalamessa, reflecting on the liturgy of Good Friday celebration said: “There is a day in the year when for once, the high point in the liturgy of the church is not the Eucharist, but the Cross; in other words, the liturgy is not centered on the sacrament but on the event”. Accordingly, the Holy Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday according to the tradition of the church. The above reflections and exhortations of Fr. Cantalamessa vividly display the observations, experiences, practices and the events of the liturgy of Good Friday celebrated on 18th day of May, 2014 in Bigard.

The liturgical ceremony of Good Friday was made up of two major parts.

Part I. The Stations of the Cross.

Part II was divided into three parts:

  • The Liturgy of the word (which included the Intercessory prayers for the church and the entire world, Christians and non-Christians.
  • The Veneration of the Cross
  • Communion Service

The Stations of the Cross which was dramatized started at 3:00 PM. This was followed by Lenten fast collection.

The second part of the highly solemn and somber ceremony of Good Friday, started with a grave silent and solemn procession, from the sacristy through the main entrance of the main chapel to the sanctuary. On arrival at the sanctuary, the Chief celebrant, Rev. Fr. Dr. Blaise Emebo and the two Deacons flanking him, arrived solemnly and prostrated before the altar to reflect on the exceedingly great love of Christ. This prostration theologically is a sign of man’s desperate and desolate condition before being redeemed. It is also a powerful sign of recollection of the mystery commemorated on this day. At the beginning of the services, there were no lights burning, for Christ the light of the world has died. The cross on the altar was still covered.

The service proper began with a profound silence followed by an opening prayer which ushered in the liturgy of the Word. Worthy of note was the wonderful rendering of the passion in Igbo, by Rev. Utazi Justin, Rev. Eduzor Daniel and Mr. Duru Henry. It was really ad rem to the mood of the ceremony. The chief celebrant in the course of the homily explained the reason behind the nomenclature of the ceremony: “Today is called Good Friday because Jesus opted to die for humanity”. In other words, it was a day that our salvation was wrought. He observed that Christians often do not accept suffering.

Hence the slogan: “Suffering is not my portion”. On the contrary Jesus accepted suffering as his portion and that is why he opted to die for all. Thus Jesus said: “If anyone wants to be his follower, he or she should carry his cross and follow him“. Fr. Dr. Emebo insisted; “God does not allow one to carry crosses that are heavier for him or her to carry. Crosses are indispensable in one’s life and the crosses have different sizes. For instance, a man who married a nagging wife and a woman who married a drunkard are already carrying crosses“.

He warned: “Christians should reject those who promise them a cross-less Christianity“. He demonstrated that Rose flower which in German culture means, ‘You are the only one I love‘, has thorns which blends its beauty. Finally he advised the worshipping community thus: “If anyone thinks that his or her cross is too big for him or her to carry, he or she should listen to the voice of God which says, ‘my grace is enough for you’“.

The veneration of the cross succeeded the homily. After the priests, Deacons, the minor ministers and six lay faithful, might have venerated the cross through the normal kiss, others came out in a file to venerate by touching the cross. There was the reception of Holy Communion. Announcements and a short prayer, which included a prayer over the people, concluded the celebration. And all departed in silence.

Holy Saturday / Easter Vigil

St. Augustine called the Easter Vigil celebration “The mother of all vigils”. This was indicative of the uniqueness of this celebration. So it was a night of watching with patient expectation of the resurrection of the Lord. This was foundational as well as fundamental to Christian faith and hope: “For if Christ had not risen from death our faith would have been in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

The solemn liturgy of this Holy night was usually categorized into four ritually related and complementary parts: The Service of light, baptism and renewal of baptismal vows and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The whole surroundings of Bigard Main Chapel were shrouded in darkness as all lights were put off during the service of light. The ceremony which began outside the chapel, continued in the Chapel when all the faithful, led by the ministers entered in a procession into the Chapel, with only the paschal candle lighted, as a solemn confession of the Risen Christ as the light of the world. The Exulted was then solemnly and sonorously rendered by Rev. John-Paul Nwachukwu.

The liturgy of the word continued with the invitation given by the Chief celebrant, Rev. Fr Dr. Albert Ikpenwa, for all to listen attentively to the word of God. After three readings with their corresponding responsorial psalms, the Alleluia was sung by the chief celebrant melodiously. This was followed by the Gloria and the introduction and ringing of the bells once more, since the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Then, another reading from the epistle of St. Paul was taken before the Deacon proclaimed the Gospel.

The homily of Fr. Ikpenwa bothered on bondage and liberation: the experience of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. He masterfully introduced the homily with words from the scriptures thus: “When God delivered Israel from Egypt, it was like a dream“. Going rhetorical he said: “What does it mean to be delivered from bondage?” “Is our idea of deliverance from bondage the idea of the end justifying the means?

Bringing the message down to the social context of our country he said: “Bondage is a familiar issue with the people of Nigeria even though there are reports that Nigeria has the highest growing economy in Africa and the Giant of Africa. Nigeria is said to be the giant of Africa, but where is the evidence? We are fighting effect and not the cause. In our country, those that are wealthy cannot move freely. They go with escorts“.

In furtherance with, he observed: “Our society is highly demonized“. He quoted Prof. Godfrey Onah saying: “Those who move from one prayer house to another believe that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the devil“. According to Fr. Dr. Ikpenwa “John-Paul II, in his theology of the body traces our fear to our first parents- original sin. Adam was afraid of God because he has committed sin“.

The nakedness Adam spoke of is a sign of vulnerability” he explained. “Nakedness is not the physical nakedness but spiritual one. Adam lost the original justice and he became naked thereby being vulnerable. Most of us are suffering of metaphysical nakedness. We are so afraid of everything even our shadows. Cowards die many times before their death, but the valiant tests death only but once.”

He described Christ’s Resurrection as “an event that has released us from bondage.” Particularly he invited those who would be baptized to have it in their mind that their spiritual nakedness would be covered with the spiritual garment of Christ as they receive the Sacrament of Baptism. Thus he concludes: “Only Christ can cover our nakedness.”

After the homily, eight candidates for adult Baptism were baptized. This was followed by the renewal of baptismal promises by the rest of the faithful. After the renewal of baptismal promises, the Mass continued normally till the end.

Easter Sunday

Announcing the celebration of Easter the official calendar of the Western Church solemnly proclaims: “This is the day which the Lord has made, the feast of feasts, and our Pasch; the resurrection of our savior Jesus Christ according to the flesh“. Bigard family and friends on Sunday 20th April, 2014, joined the universal church, as they commemorate the resurrection of Christ. The liturgical affairs of this celebration, which commenced at 7:30am, were piloted by Rev Fr. Kenneth Ugwu.

In his homily Fr. Kenneth reflected: “We may imagine what Jesus was doing for the three days he was in the tomb. We may also imagine what was in the mind of the apostles and the disciples when Jesus died. They were already vying for positions in the kingdom of God. And Christ disappointed them by succumbing to death. We can then also imagine what life could be for them now that Christ resurrected“.

He then observed: “So many people were convinced about this resurrection that they died for it“. Are we really convinced that Jesus died and resurrected? Do we act it out in our life? The conviction according to him “could only be manifested from ones way of life“.

He then cautioned: “No one should believe the teachings of some philosophers like Nietzsche who announced the death of God. We all should emulate the good examples of Saints: Maximillian Kolbe, Thomas Moore, Maria Gorethy and others who offered their lives for the sake of Christ. Let us pray that we become convinced Christians. For when we are convinced we will always follow Christ through his suffering death and resurrection“.

Thus he called on all, to proclaim the birth, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Finally, the liturgy of the Word was supervened by the liturgy of the Eucharist. The Mass was also colored with the candidates who received their first Holy Communion.

The Bigard family wishes all and sundry Happy Easter Celebration!

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