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What is Holy Week?

 

Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Holy Saturday, comprises the seven days before Easter Sunday.

These are the days leading up to the great Easter Feast. The Lenten season of sacrifice and self-denial is about to come to an end, but this coming week is extremely important for all Christians. The greatest focus of the week is the Passion (suffering) and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the events that led up to it.

​Through Holy Week, as Christians we live through, experience  and are challenged by the events of this week in Jesus life.

The Introduction to Palm Sunday reads:

 

Dear friends in Christ, during Lent we have been preparing by works of love and self-sacrifice for the celebration of our Lord’s death and resurrection. Today we come together to begin this solemn celebration in union with the Church throughout the world. Christ enters his own city to complete his work as our Saviour, to suffer, to die and to rise again. Let us go with him in faith and love, so that, united with him in his sufferings, we may share his risen life.

 

We celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, through procession and action, we hear the excited voices of those who would proclaim him king and the dangerous voices of those who feel threatened by his arrival.

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Some History of Holy Week

 

Holy Week observances began in Jerusalem in the earliest days of the Church, when devout people traveled to Jerusalem at Passover to reenact the events of the week leading up to the Resurrection.

 

Egeria was a Christian who traveled widely during the period of 381-385 and wrote about Christian customs and observances in Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor. She described how religious tourists to Jerusalem reenacted the events of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday afternoon, the crowds waved palm fronds as they made a procession from the Mount of Olives into the city. Of course, the observances must have begun quite a number of years before Egeria witnessed them, or they wouldn’t have been so elaborate. It’s just that Egeria’s description is the earliest we still have. The tourists took the customs home with them. Holy week observances spread to Spain by the fifth century, to Gaul and England by the early seventh century.

 

The purpose of Holy Week is to reenact, relive, and participate in the passion of Jesus Christ.

The most ancient original core of Holy Week is the Easter Vigil, of which there were traces already in the second century of the Christian era. It was always a night of vigil, in remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ's resurrection.

To it was soon added the reception of the sacraments of Christian initiation: baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist, so that it became in turn the great sacramental night of the Church.

Subsequently, the Easter Vigil was extended in time and transformed into the triduum of the Lord's passion, death and resurrection, which St. Augustine already mentioned as a very generalized celebration.

This triduum added to the existing vigil other important moments of the celebration, specifically, the memorial of the Lord's death on Good Friday, and Holy Thursday (in England - Maundy Thursday).

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Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday because palm branches are blessed and carried in procession to commemorate the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem, and Passion Sunday because the Passion Narrative is proclaimed. It is the only Sunday when two separate gospels are read. The Passion is the longest Sunday gospel of the year. The Mass has two jarringly different moods, jubilation at the outset, then lamentation. Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem was exuberant as the people joyfully cheered Hosanna to greet him, but moments later all is somber, first with the Suffering Servant who gave his back to those who beat him (Is 50:6), then with Jesus who obediently accepted death on a cross (Phil 2:8), and then with the Passion and his agony, scourging, and crucifixion (Mt 26:14-27:66).

Amongst her travel diaries Egeria wrote of the scene in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when Christians celebrate Jesus’ entry into the city:

“…as the eleventh hour approaches, the passage from the Gospel is read, where the children, carrying branches and palms, met the Lord, saying; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, and the bishop immediately rises, and all the people with him, and they all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people going before him with hymns and antiphons, answering one to another: Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. And all the children in the neighbourhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old.”

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The Easter Triduum

The Three Days

Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

Holy Saturday

Easter Eve

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The Easter Triduum

The most ancient original core of Holy Week is the Easter Vigil, of which there were traces already in the second century of the Christian era. It was always a night of vigil, in remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ's resurrection.

 

To it was soon added the reception of the sacraments of Christian initiation: baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist, so that it became in turn the great sacramental night of the Church.

Subsequently, the Easter Vigil was extended in time and transformed into the triduum of the Lord's passion, death and resurrection, which St. Augustine already mentioned as a very generalized celebration.

 

In the present-day liturgy, the Easter triduum begins on Holy Thursday evening with the Mass of the Lord's Supper and is united to the first day of the triduum which is, in itself, Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord.

 

The second day is Holy Saturday of the Lord's burial, a day of silence, fasting and expectation. There is no Eucharist that day, as a sign of expectation. The Church pauses before the crucified Lord's sepulcher and awaits his resurrection.

 

With the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, the third day of the Easter triduum begins: Sunday of the Lord's resurrection.

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The Great Feast

of Easter