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The Sorrow and Glory of Holy Week

Having suffered greatly in His absence, may we never take Him for granted again.
Holy week cross

Editor’s Note: As part of the TAC staff’s celebration of Western Easter weekend, we are resharing some thematically appropriate pieces from our archives.

In ages past, come Holy Week, the body would have been ravaged by fasting. That’s the point of Mardi Gras, after all: one last night of self-indulgence before starving oneself over a month and a half. Our ancestors in the faith didn’t give up little things like chocolate—they gave up whole meals and all animal products (which, in fairness, does include chocolate). Yes, it was miserable, but that’s the point. Lent is supposed to last for six weeks, not for three minutes until your Snickers craving subsides.

I say this in self-admonition more than anything. I didn’t keep the traditional fast. Instead, I tried to follow the modern Friday fast every day: one normal meal and two small meals sans meat. In America, that’s barely a diet. Considering that our medieval forebears burned twice as many calories as we do, and rarely consumed as much as they burned even on a good day, their Lents would have been utterly grueling.

But imagine what it did for their spiritual lives. Our most lucid and sincere prayers are offered up in hunger. I’ve seen die-hard ritualists become positively Pentecostal after skipping a meal or two. Even the most gorgeous formal prayers briefly lose their power. They come crawling to God with childish petitions like the girl in “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” by Flannery O’Connor. “Help me not to be so mean,” she pleads. “Help me not to talk like I do.” They’re ready to throw off their Brooks Brothers suits, don a camel hair tunic, and go savaging for locusts and honey.

And that’s the way it should be. We can find meaning in the rawness and brutality of Holy Week without tossing away the Church’s aesthetic patrimony during the rest of the year. In fact, it’s the contrast that makes this season so astonishing.

That material and spiritual poverty reaches its devastating climax on Holy Thursday. This year I went to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. The priest who celebrates the Latin Mass there is named Father David Taurasi; he’s a dear friend and as fine a man as you’ll find on this side of the Pearly Gates. He also speaks Latin with an Italian accent, which is the way Latin ought to be spoken. Best of all, he’s as thoroughly orthopractic as he is orthodox.

It’s because Father Taurasi is so liturgically “high” that his Mass on Holy Thursday is so effective. When you find a priest who truly loves and reverences the Blessed Sacrament, the Mass is unbearably sad. He dons the humeral veil and carries the Sacrament out of the sanctuary, as sorrowful and unworthy as Saint Joseph of Arimathea carrying Christ’s body to the tomb. By the same token, when such a priest strips the altar, he isn’t just folding tablecloths. He’s removing something beautiful from the world—a world that so badly needs true beauty.

After Mass I sat gaping at the chapel, fascinated and horrified by the desolation. Finally, I slid out of my pew, genuflected, and headed for the door. “There’s nothing there,” whispered the man sitting in front of me. I asked him what he meant. He pointed past the bare altar and the covered statues to the empty tabernacle. “You genuflected to nothing.”

He was right: Christ was gone. I was kneeling before an empty throne. It brought to mind that magnificent Jacobite song, Bonnie Charlie:

Bonnie Charlie’s now awa

Safely o’er the friendly main;

Hearts will almost break in twa

Should he no’ come back again.

 Will ye no’ come back again?

Will ye no’ come back again?

Better loved ye canna be

Will ye no’ come back again?

Our King was also exiled from His land. And we, His faithful, want nothing but to have Him back. We know that Holy Week has a happy ending, yet what can we do in the meantime? Only watch the horizon, waiting for His triumphant return.

But unlike the Jacobites, we don’t wait in vain. Christ our King will return on Easter, more glorious than when He was driven out. He’ll be clothed in light and armed with mercy. At His back will be a million-man army, newly liberated from their captivity in Hell.

On that day, the crucifixes, statues, and icons will be unveiled. The linens and fresh flowers will be returned to the altar. And Christ our King will preside over it all from His rightful seat in the tabernacle.

The Jacobites are a lingering fascination for reactionaries and romantics (I’m both). The simplicity and sincerity of their devotion is noble, even edifying. They loved the Young Pretender—loved him enough to feel his absence so deeply and personally. “Ye trusted in your Highland men/ They trusted you, dear Charlie,” as the song goes.

May Christ’s loyal followers know an even greater sorrow, born of unconditional devotion to our Prince. May we miss Him so badly that we can’t bring ourselves to eat. May we love Him so deeply that nothing in the world seems beautiful now that He’s gone. May we indulge the guilt of knowing that our own failures made His death inevitable.

Then may we watch as ten thousand ships sail over the friendly main carrying our Lord. Rush to the docks to greet Him. Kiss the soil where His foot falls. Sing songs of freedom and redemption. Carry His standard across the earth till every knee bows at the Liberator’s name. And having suffered so terribly in His absence, resolve never to take Him for granted.

Michael Warren Davis is author of The Reactionary Mind. Subscribe to his newsletter “The Common Man”on Substack.



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