Two Small Treasures for Holy Week

Holy Week is upon us, as we have just celebrate Our Blessed Lord’s Passion this past Sunday. The palm branches and the blazoned red vestments that we saw can have two possible effects.

On one hand, some of us might realize that we have been less than totally committed to this recent pilgrimage through Lent. Perhaps we never really began the journey of intensified prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; or perhaps we fell short within a week or two and never climbed back upon the proverbial wagon. If we are in this group, Palm Sunday might be an invitation for us, leading to a moment of decision: “Maybe I should actually do Lent, even if it’s only for a week.”

On the other hand, there are some of us who have been deeply committed to a Lenten regimen. We have prayed, fasted, and engaged in charitable works for the sake of drawing nearer to Jesus Christ. Those of us in this group might already consider Lent “successful,” but still Palm Sunday serves an invitation to immerse ourselves more deeply in the inexhaustible mystery of salvation.

No matter whether we find ourselves in the former or latter grouping, now is a time when we can double down on Lent. To do so, many of us will seek resources for prayer that have a unique combination of brevity and spiritual gravitas. Therefore, I propose two small treasures that will help any of us accomplish the goal of encountering Jesus and having a fruitful Holy Week and Paschal Triduum.

The first great treasure is St. Thomas More’s “Psalm on Detachment”.* Composed while the saintly Englishman was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1534, awaiting his martyrdom, this hymn is short enough that it can be read in just a few minutes. Yet still, it is so profound that it provides (well more than) a week’s worth of fodder for reflection. Reading and praying the whole thing daily during Holy Week, chewing on different phrases or stanzas each day, could really incite a spiritual conflagration.

Two points seem preeminent in More’s psalm, probably as reminders for himself before any readers in posterity. First, he expressed the need to overcome a preoccupation with the things and the ways of the broader culture of his era. In the first stanza, he prayed for the grace to “set the world at nought.” A few lines later, he asked for divine help “utterly to cast off the world,” and to “rid my mind of all the business thereof.” He prayed that “hearing of worldly phantasies may be to me displeasant”; and he acknowledged the need to cut off unnecessary recreations. Finally, toward the end, he sought a heroic strength:

Recreations not necessary—to cut off;

Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss
      at right nought for the winning of Christ…

There is no doubt that myriads of us who live five centuries later struggle still with this same tendency as More, and that we have the same needs

More’s second primary objective, which flows directly from the first, seems to have been finding a graceful acceptance of suffering and death. He sought to “bewail my sins passed,” and knew that he must suffer patiently to purge them. He prayed for courage, “Gladly to bear my purgatory here; to be joyful of tribulations….” He knew that the best way to meet grave trial and suffering was to focus on the higher good to be found on the other side, so to speak, a good that infused joy in everything on this side, despite the suffering. Such a not-so-subtle reminder of that reality is at least as helpful in our own day as it was in More’s.

The second fantastic treasure for Holy Week is Venerable Fulton Sheen’s The Seven Last Words of Christ. Published many times over in the last nine decades, it was originally given as a single radio address on Palm Sunday of 1933. The preacher’s purpose was to give his audience, saints and sinners alike, the opportunity to hear the Lord’s most poignant sermon His own pulpit on Calvary.

For the reader’s spiritual benefit, the text is broken into seven brief sections. Each section focuses on one of the seven phrases that Jesus spoke while he was crucified on Good Friday; and each provides a meditative prayer that applies the spiritual and moral truth to the reader’s life. This means that a seeker could spend ample time meditating on one section each day of Holy Week. Alternatively, the whole address could foster a lengthy meditation during the three hours from noon to 3:00pm on Good Friday, the span of time when “there was darkness overed the whole land…” (Lk. 23:44).

The sermon is chock full of amazing theological and spiritual insights. Many striking and memorable passages cause readers to pause and swim in the deep truth of divine revelation and love. In one such passage, detailing the fifth phrase from the Cross, Sheen preached,

Certainly, love has exhausted itself. There is nothing more that Christs could do for His vineyard than He has done. Having poured forth all the waters of His everlasting Love on our poor parched hearts, it is no wonder that He thirsts for Love. If love is reciprocal then certainly He has a right to our love. Yet, why do we not respond? Why do we let the Divine Heart die of the thirst for human hearts?

While Sheen preached many brilliant sermons, this one stands among the most masterful ever preached in English. Without a doubt, the young priest’s gift for oratory helped mightily, but most powerful was the fact that he connected Jesus’ suffering on Calvary to the pervasive suffering of humanity in the modern world. It would be difficult to fathom a reader not drawing nearer to Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified, after reading this sermon.

And that is the goal throughout this Holy Week: to connect with the Crucified Lord, specifically so that we can experience His Resurrection with Him more substantially. These two treasures provide an avenue for exactly that. One helps us detach from “all the treasure of all the princes and kings,” while the other allows us to converse with the King who can open paradise, even to late-repentant sinners. Perhaps the best news is that both of these will fit nicely into a few precious and spare moments that we have each day.

So, let’s take up these two treasures, and let’s pray that they will illuminate our path and steady our feet as we take the important last steps of this journey to Calvary and the Resurrection.

*Nota bene: More’s psalm can also be found within a larger work, The Sadness of Christ, in which the author provides an exegesis and reflection on Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and His arrest.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

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Derek Rotty is a husband, father, teacher, & free-lance writer who lives in Jackson, Tennessee. He has written extensively on Catholic history, culture, faith formation, & family. Find out more about him & his work at

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