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 all through 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 strikes a bitter, somber turn. We who, minutes ago, were acclaiming Jesus, now send him to his death. Many congregations will 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 Sunday helps us to be mindful of what we are moving toward through the 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.
There's no liturgical custom for this dark day, but Judas's betrayal directly leads to Jesus' being taken into custody, followed by the way of the Cross, and ultimately the crucifixion - all for 30 pieces of silver.
Judas eventually regrets his betrayal of Jesus. He returned the silver. However, Judas despaired and ultimately did not have faith in Jesus' forgiveness. Spy Wednesday reminds us that we too sell out Jesus. But take heart - because Jesus saves us from that very sin.
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.
The Mass of Chrism
Chrism is the anointed oil used in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Orders. Annually at the Mass of Chrism, these oils are blessed by the bishop for use in his diocese throughout the coming year. Representatives from communities around the diocese gather and return to their home communities with the oil blessed by the bishop, to be used in administration of the Sacraments.
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 as we always do into the 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, where Jesus prayed. It was there that he was pointed out to the authorities by Judas and arrested. He was taken before the Sanhedrin (the court) and interrogated. The court agreed that he blasphemed 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 the Lord. The events of Good Friday continue from the events on Thursday night. After being condemned by the Sanhedrin, Jesus was taken before Pilate, the Roman prefect. Pilate found Jesus to not be guilty, but left his fate in the hands of the crowd, who desired to crucify him. Jesus was taken, beaten, crowned with a crown of thorns, and mocked. He was then forced to carry his cross the long way to Golgotha, where he was crucified. At 3pm, he died.
On Good Friday, Mass (a celebration) is not to be prayed anywhere in the world. However, many Christians gather to pray the Stations of the Cross, followed by the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion, when we hear in Scripture the account of Jesus' condemnation and death. The Liturgy of the Lord's Passion includes Adoration of the Holy Cross, and the faithful are asked to come forward and reverence the wood of the Cross. Afterward, the celebrant distributes communion 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 hope this guide was helpful! We also encourage you to join us for CatholicTV's broadcasts of these liturgies.