What is Holy Week

Professor of Rhetoric à University of New Hampshire
24 Mar 2023

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What is Holy Week

  2. WHAT IS HOLY WEEK? • HOLY WEEK is the last week of Lent before Easter; Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Holy Saturday.
  3. MOVABLE FEAST • The dates for Holy Week vary, and are determined by the date of Easter, which is a “moveable feast.” In the Latin West, Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox.
  4. COMMEMORATION OF THE PASSION • Altogether, Holy Week is a commemoration of Christ’s passion and death, by which is accomplished the salvation of humanity through the atonement for our sins. The Gospels provide an unusually detailed account of these days, and Holy Week has been observed by Christians as part of the liturgical life of the Church from at least the 4th century. •
  5. COMMEMORATION • “Commemoration”— remembering together—but in a special way that we “make present” the events we commemorate and become, in a sense “present” ourselves as participants in those events.
  6. OF WHAT DOES HOLY WEEK CONSIST? • Holy Week includes the Sacred (or Paschal) Triduum (“three days”) which consist of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday (days being marked from evening prayer—or Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper—on Holy Thursday to evening prayer on Easter Sunday).
  7. PALM SUNDAY • Palm Sunday— Commemorates Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem: •
  8. FROM THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW—21:1-9. • When they drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphageon the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her.Untie them and bring them here to me. And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, ‘The master has need of them.’ Then he will send them at once.” This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: “Say to daughter Zion, ‘Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
  9. FROM THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW—21:1-9. • The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.”
  10. PASSION SUNDAY • Palm Sunday is also referred to as “Passion Sunday” because the Mass includes a reading of the passion narrative from the Gospel (typically done in the form of a dramatic reading by parts—in which the people of the parish participate as the voices of the crowd). The vestment colors of the priest and deacon are RED, signifying the martyrdom of Jesus in His crucifixion.
  11. HOLY THURSDAY • Holy Thursday— Commemorates the Last Supper, Christ’s institution of the Eucharist, and the establishment of Holy Orders (the ministerial priesthood). Vestment colors are WHITE, signifying joy over these great sacramental gifts.
  12. FROM THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW: 26:26-28. • While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.”
  13. MAUNDY THURSDAY • Sometimes called “Maundy Thursday” (from the Latin mandatum for “mandate” or “commandment”—Christ’s command to serve one another, and exemplified by His washing the feet of His disciples. This act of humility and service is commemorated by the pastor washing the feet of twelve parishioners.
  14. FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, 13:4-5, 12-14. • He rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. . . . So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.
  15. PROCESSION • Following the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the altar is stripped, and the people customarily process to a “garden of olives” to “watch and pray” with Jesus, and to commemorate his night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. •
  16. FROM THE GOSPEL OF MARK, 14:32-35. • Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.” He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him.
  17. VISITING CHURCHES • Visiting Churches—There are various customs associated with the visiting of churches on Holy Thursday. These may have originated with the seven pilgrim churches of Rome, or nine churches for a “novena,” or 14 churches for the Stations of the Cross. Some traditions move the visiting of churches to Good Friday.
  18. GOOD FRIDAY • The commemoration of the Lord’s crucifixion and death. No Mass is celebrated on this day. Instead, there is a liturgy that includes a reading of the Passion, the intercessory prayers, the veneration of the cross, and Communion (sometimes called the “Mass of the pre-sanctified”—as indicating that the consecrated hosts distributed come from the Holy Thursday Mass the night before). The vestment color is RED.
  19. FROM THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, 27:45-46. • From noon onward darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” •
  20. FASTING • Good Friday is observed as a Fast Day. Fasting is a sign of our contrition and our undertaking of penance in atonement for our sins. •
  21. STATIONS OF THE CROSS • Another customary observance for Good Friday is participation in the “Stations of the Cross” devotion. During the Stations of the Cross we walk the via dolorosa (way of sorrow), meditating upon the sacrifice made by Christ for our salvation (and often, too, upon the sorrows of Mary, His mother, who remained with him during his Passion).
  22. FROM THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, 23:26-27. • • As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him.
  23. HOLY SATURDAY • Holy Saturday—the day commemorating Our Blessed Lord’s repose in the tomb, his descent to the dead, and our anticipation of the “empty tomb”—His glorious Resurrection. • There is no Mass for Holy Saturday, but rather Holy Saturday ends with the Easter Vigil (the first Mass of Easter Sunday) in the evening.
  24. FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, 19:38-42. • After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.
  25. HE DESCENDED INTO HELL What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled. Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son. The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. --Ancient Holy Saturday Homily
  26. "THE HARROWING OF HELL” “. . . I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.”
  27. EASTER VIGIL • Easter Vigil—At this Mass is commemorated the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Vestment color is WHITE. • The Easter Vigil Mass has FOUR parts: • 1. Service of Light; • 2. Liturgy of the Word; • 3. Liturgy of Baptism; • 4. Liturgy of the Eucharist. •
  28. EASTER VIGIL MASS • The Mass begins with the blessing of the new fire and the lighting of the Easter (Paschal) candle. It continues with the Easter proclamation (Exultet) announcing the accomplishment of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and readings from Scripture covering all of salvation history. It continues with the blessing of the font, the litany of the Saints, the baptism of the catechumens, and the confirmation of the newly baptized and of the candidates. These are followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and first Holy Communion.
  30. EASTER SUNDAY • Easter Sunday— Commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus. Easter is the central fact and celebration of our faith.
  31. FROM THE GOSPEL OF MARK, 16:1-7. • When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’”
  32. FROM THE FIRST LETTER OF ST. PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS, 15:12-19. • But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.
  34. LAZARUS SATURDAY • “Lazarus Saturday”—a traditional name for the Saturday before Palm Sunday, referring to Jesus’s raising of Lazarus from the tomb in Bethany, prior to his entry into Jerusalem.
  35. FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, 11:17-26. • When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles* away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
  36. “FIG MONDAY” • “Fig Monday,”—Monday of Holy Week, corresponding to the day after Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem when he cursed the fig tree, and reminding us that we must “bear good fruit.”
  37. FROM THE GOSPEL OF MARK, 11:12-14. • The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs. And he said to it in reply, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!”
  38. “CHRISM MASS” • “Chrism Mass”—ideally celebrated on Holy Thursday, but now more frequently earlier in the week for pastoral reasons (such as Tuesday in Holy Week). At this Cathedral Mass, priests from the diocese join the bishop in commemorating the institution of the ministerial priesthood. The bishop also blesses and distributes the Holy Oils for use in Baptism, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick in the parishes of the diocese (oil of the sick, oil of the catechumens, sacred chrism). •
  39. “SPY WEDNESDAY” • “Spy Wednesday”—at one time the name associated with Wednesday of Holy Week, marking the day on which Judas entered his agreement with the Temple officials to betray Jesus. •
  40. FROM THE GOSPEL OF MARK, 14:10-11. Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went off to the chief priests to hand him over to them. When they heard him they were pleased and promised to pay him money. Then he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.
  41. EASTER CLEANING • “Easter Cleaning”—the 3 days after Palm Sunday are devoted to vigorous cleaning of the household in preparation for the great feast of Easter. •