Your Guide to Holy Week
This weekend we move into Holy Week, the most sacred part of the Liturgical year. Though we've been preparing for Christ's death and resurrection throughout Lent, our preparation becomes even more focused during this short time. There's so much that goes on during Holy Week, we thought a guide to the special traditions and liturgies would be useful.
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion
On the Sunday before Easter we remember Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which the Gospels place as happening about a week before his Passion.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a simple donkey, he was received as a King. The people shouted 'Hosanna!' and laid down palms (a symbol of triumph) and their cloaks in Jesus' path to honor him. We imitate this by holding palms up as we hear the Gospel reading before the processional, and as the priest processes. The people of Jerusalem joyfully acclaimed Jesus, but days later condemned him to death.
In stark contrast to the reading we hear at the start of worship, this Gospel reading takes a bitter, somber turn. We, who minutes ago were acclaiming Jesus, now send him to his death. Many congregations read this passage from Scripture in dialogue, with the priest speaking the words of Jesus and the congregation speaking the words of the crowd. Hearing the Passion reading on Palm Sunday helps us stay mindful of what we are moving toward in the coming week.
On Wednesday of Holy Week, we remember Judas's betrayal of Jesus - when he sold his friend and teacher for 30 pieces of silver and set off the chain of events that led to Jesus' Passion and death.
There's no liturgical custom for this dark day, but it serves to remind us that we, too, have sold out Jesus at times in our lives. Though Judas eventually regrets his betrayal of Jesus and returns the silver, he ultimately does not have faith in God's forgiveness and takes his own life. We are sinners just like Judas, but we should take heart because we know God is merciful and offers us forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Holy Thursday primarily marks the Last Supper - Jesus' Passover meal with his disciples. Traditionally, however, there are two liturgies celebrated on Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday also begins the Triduum - the holiest 3 days of the year.
Annually at the chrism Mass, chrism and two other types of oil are blessed by the bishop for use in his diocese throughout the coming year. The chrism and oils are used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders. After Mass, the newly blessed oils and chrism are given to each parish in the diocese.
Mass of the Lord's Supper
The evening of Holy Thursday marks 3 important events: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and the capture of Jesus by the authorities. In the Old Testament reading, we hear about the Passover of the Lord, which will be fulfilled in Christ's crucifixion.
Following that, we hear Paul's account of the first Eucharist: on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” These, of course, are the words we will hear during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Finally, in the Gospel reading at Mass, we hear about the washing of the feet. At the Last Supper, Jesus taught his disciples the type of service they were to give by washing their feet - an act of great humility. At the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the celebrant commemorates this by washing the feet of representatives of those present. After the washing of the feet, we move into Liturgy of the Eucharist, obeying the command Jesus gave his disciples.
We know that after Jesus and his disciples broke bread together, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. It was there that Jesus was arrested by the authorities. He was taken before the Sanhedrin and interrogated. The court agreed that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy and deserved to die. Just outside, Peter was asked three times whether he knew Jesus, and three times he denied it.
On Friday of Holy Week we remember the death of our Lord. The events of Good Friday are a continuation of the events of Thursday night. After being condemned by the Sanhedrin, Jesus was taken before Pilate, the Roman prefect. Though Pilate found him innocent, he left Jesus' fate to the crowd who desired to crucify him. Jesus was scourged, crowned with thorns, and forced to carry his cross to Golgotha where he was crucified. At 3pm, Jesus died.
On Good Friday there are no Masses celebrated anywhere in the world. However, many Christians gather to pray the Stations of the Cross followed by the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion, in which we hear the Scriptural account of Jesus' condemnation and death. The Liturgy of the Lord's Passion includes Adoration of the Holy Cross, during which the faithful can venerate the wood of the Cross. Afterward, the celebrant distributes the Communion that was consecrated the night before.
As on Good Friday, no Mass is celebrated on Saturday of Holy Week. On this day we meditate on Jesus' death in mourning, empathizing with his disciples who had just buried him the night before. Though we know the story has a happy ending, we meditate on his absence, grieve his suffering and entry into Hell, and watch for his Resurrection.
On the evening of Holy Saturday, both the Triduum and Holy Week conclude with the Vigil of the Lord's Resurrection.
We pray that you have a prayerful Holy Week and a joyous Easter celebration. We invite you to join CatholicTV for broadcasts of all these liturgies throughout the week.