An Overview of Holy Week

The images above give us thumbnail sketches for the high points of Holy Week and this post offers an overview of the liturgies of Holy Week. While I hope you'll find these comments helpful,  you'll only begin to truly understand Holy Week by participating in it's liturgies.

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 are not days of obligation.

Holy Week begins this year on March 20 with Palm (Passion) Sunday. With different degrees of solemnity,  parishes will commemorate the Lord's Entrance into Jerusalem with a blessing of palm branches and a procession. At this Mass every year, the Passion, the story of the suffering of death of Jesus, is recounted in the gospel. This year we will hear the Passion according to St. Mark. The Passion is proclaimed on only two days of the year: Palm 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 and through the year until next 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 includes: the presentation of the holy oils; the Washing of Feet (as Jesus did at the Last Supper); and a procession with the Eucharist to the altar of repose.  Prayer before the reserved sacrament at this altar may continue until midnight.

- The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Friday includes: the Word liturgy;, the sung 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 includes: the lighting of the new fire and a candle light procession with the Easter Candle, leading to the sung Easter Proclamation; 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.

Easter 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.

And for a more in-depth look, spend a few minutes with Gabe Huck's reflection here:

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." 
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 Eastertide; 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 on, 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

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


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