4/12/11

Looking ahead to Holy Week 2011



All of Lent is a preparation for Easter. One way of keeping a holy Lent, especially this late in the season, is to plan now to participate in the liturgies of Holy Week.

This post offers an overview of the liturgies of Holy Week. If you have a question about Holy Week, please feel free to submit it as a comment.
For Christians, our every year has its origin and its climax at a time determined by the earth and the sun and the moon and the human-made cycle of a seven-day week. The marvelous accidents of earth's place and sun's place, of axis and orbit make cycles within human cycles so that days can be named and remembered and rhythms established. First, we wait for the angle of the earth's axis to make day and night equal (going toward longer days in the "top" half of earth, longer nights in the lower half).Then we wait for the moon to be full. Then we wait for the Lord's Day and call that particular Lord's Day "Easter" in English, but in most other Western languages some word that is closer to an old name, "Pesach" or "Pascha," made into English as "Passover."2009LentPostCollection

In these generations, we are finding out how, on the night between Saturday and that Sunday, the church ends and begins not just its year but its very self.

We do not come to this night unaware. The church has spent the time since Thursday evening in intense preparation. Even more, we have had the 40 days of Lent to tear down and to build up toward this night.

And the night needs a week of weeks, 50 days, afterward to unfold. The 50 days are Eastertime; only after Pentecost does life return to normal.

The church came very early to keep something of the spring festival known to Jesus and the first followers. They were Jews and that first full moon of spring was Passover. For those who followed Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile, this was the time when the story of the deliverance they proclaimed in the death and resurrection of Christ was placed beside the story already told at this festival, the deliverance of the captive people from Pharaoh. Very early, that proclamation came to be made not in words alone but in the waters where those who were ready to stake everything on such a deliverance, on this Christ and this church, passed over in God's saving deed.

- Gabe Huck in The Three Days: Parish Prayer in the Paschal Triduum

In the week we call holy, the Church celebrates the most ancient and beautiful rites in its spiritual heritage. These are the most important days of the whole church year, even though they don’t get tagged as “holy days of obligation.”

Holy Week begins with Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday). With different degrees of solemnity and procession, parishes will commemorate the Lord's Entrance into Jerusalem and at this Mass each year, the story of the suffering of death of Jesus is recounted in the gospel. This year we will hear the Passion according to St. Matthew. This story is proclaimed on only two days of the year: Passion Sunday and Good Friday. 


Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week are the final days of Lent and most dioceses will celebrate the Chrism Mass early in Holy Week. At this Mass at the cathedral, the bishop blesses and consecrates the holy oils that will be used beginning at Easter.

Lent ends at sundown on Thursday of this week and we enter the Paschal Triduum (pronounced 'trid-oo-um, it means 3 days). The Triduum is one feast, celebrated over three days.

The “three days” are numbered from sundown Holy Thursday to sundown Good Friday; from sundown Good Friday to sundown Holy Saturday; and from sundown Holy Saturday to sundown Easter Sunday. The liturgical moments of that one feast are:

- The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday night, including the presentation of the holy oils; the Washing of Feet and the procession with the Eucharist to the altar of repose.  Prayer before the reserved sacrament may continue until midnight.

- The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Friday afternoon, including the Word liturgy, the Solemn Intercessions, the Veneration of the Cross and communion from the reserved sacrament.

- The Easter Vigil (the first and greatest Mass of Easter) on Holy Saturday night, including the lighting of the fire and the lighting of and procession with the Paschal Candle, leading to the sung Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet); the Liturgy of the Word which, in full, includes 9 scripture readings; the liturgy of baptism and/or, if no one is to be baptized, the renewal of baptismal promises; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Paschal joy overflows in the celebration of the Eucharist on Easter Sunday morning.

The Triduum closes with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday night.

Yes, these liturgies are lengthy but they are also rich and beautiful in symbol, ritual, prayer, and song. It is a shame that many Catholics go to their graves without ever having celebrated the most important feasts of their faith!

Know that you are invited to celebrate this great Paschal feast! 


Set aside these hours to give thanks and praise to the One who set aside his life for us that we might have forgiveness of our sins and the gift of God's peace.


We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
for he is our salvation, our life and resurrection;
through him we are saved and made free!
- Galatians 6:14
Entrance Song for Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper


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1 comment:

Linda Reid said...

"It is a shame that many Catholics go to their graves without ever having celebrated the most important feasts of their faith!"

Thank you for this preparatory meditation on the Triduum liturgy. It is my favorite time of the church year, even though it means mountains of work for a pastoral musician!
People NEED to be told, even exhorted, that they SHOULD be present for these beautiful, symbol rich liturgies as they are at the heart of our faith. They usually won't just come on their own.