Holy Week & Easter
“In Holy Week, the Church celebrates the mysteries of salvation accomplished by Christ in the last days of the earthly life, beginning with his messianic entry into Jerusalem”
Palms, olive branches and other fronds
139. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, or “Passion Sunday”, which unites the royal splendour of Christ with the proclamation of his Passion”(142).
The procession, commemorating Christ’s messianic entry into Jerusalem, is joyous and popular in character. The faithful usually keep palm or olive branches, or other greenery which have been blessed on Palm Sunday in their homes or in their work places.
The faithful, however, should be instructed as to the meaning of this celebration so that they might grasp its significance. They should be opportunely reminded that the important thing is participation at the procession and not only the obtaining of palm or olive branches. Palms or olive branches should not be kept as amulets, or for therapeutic or magical reasons to dispel evil spirits or to prevent the damage these cause in the fields or in the homes, all of which can assume a certain superstitious guise.
Palms and olive branches are kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic king, and in his Paschal Victory.
The Paschal Triduum
140. Every year, the Church celebrates the great mysteries of the redemption of mankind in the “most sacred triduum of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection”(143). The Sacred Triduum extends from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper to Vespers on Easter Sunday and is celebrated “in intimate communion with Christ her Spouse”(144).
Visiting the Altar of Repose
141. Popular piety is particularly sensitive to the adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the wake of the Mass of the Lord’s supper(145). Because of a long historical process, whose origins are not entirely clear, the place of repose has traditionally been referred to as a “a holy sepulchre”. The faithful go there to venerate Jesus who was placed in a tomb following the crucifixion and in which he remained for some forty hours.
It is necessary to instruct the faithful on the meaning of the reposition: it is an austere solemn conservation of the Body of Christ for the community of the faithful which takes part in the liturgy of Good Friday and for the viaticum of the infirmed(146). It is an invitation to silent and prolonged adoration of the wondrous sacrament instituted by Jesus on this day.
In reference to the altar of repose, therefore, the term “sepulchre” should be avoided, and its decoration should not have any suggestion of a tomb. The tabernacle on this altar should not be in the form of a tomb or funerary urn. The Blessed Sacrament should be conserved in a closed tabernacle and should not be exposed in a monstrance(147).
After mid-night on Holy Thursday, the adoration should conclude without solemnity, since the day of the Lord’s Passion has already begun(148).
Good Friday Procession
142. The Church celebrates the redemptive death of Christ on Good Friday. The Church meditates on the Lord’s Passion in the afternoon liturgical action, in which she prays for the salvation of the word, adores the Cross and commemorates her very origin in the sacred wound in Christ’s side (cf. John 19, 34)(149).
In addition to the various forms of popular piety on Good Friday such as the Via Crucis, the passion processions are undoubtedly the most important. These correspond, after the fashion of popular piety, to the small procession of friends and disciples who, having taken the body of Jesus down from the Cross, carried it to the place where there “was a tomb hewn in the rock in which no one had yet been buried” (Lk 23, 53).
The procession of the “dead Christ” is usually conducted in austere silence, prayer, and the participation of many of the faithful, who intuit much of the significance of the Lord’s burial.
143. It is necessary, however, to ensure that such manifestations of popular piety, either by time or the manner in which the faithful are convoked, do not become a surrogate for the liturgical celebrations of Good Friday.
In the pastoral planning of Good Friday primary attention and maximum importance must be given to the solemn liturgical action and the faithful must be brought to realize that no other exercise can objectively substitute for this liturgical celebration.
Finally, the integration of the “dead Christ” procession with the solemn liturgical action of Good Friday should be avoided for such would constitute a distorted celebrative hybrid.
The Easter Vigil (also Paschal Vigil, Easter Vigil Mass or Mass of the Easter Vigil) is held after nightfall on Holy Saturday, it is the first Easter Mass to celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the most important feast in the church’s liturgical year.
In the Catholic Church the Easter Vigil begins with a Service of the Light that starts outside or just within the main entrance the church. The Easter fire is lit in a brazier; then the Paschal candle—a tall candle inscribed with the cross and other Christian symbols—is blessed and lit from the Easter fire. In a procession into the church the flame from the Paschal candle is passed on to other candles, culminating in the lighting of candles held by the entire congregation after the celebrant sings “The light of Christ” and the people answer “Thanks be to God” for the third time. Throughout the Easter season, concluding seven Sundays later with Pentecost, the Paschal candle is lit during Mass.
Unlike most Masses, the Easter Vigil features up to nine Scripture readings— six more than on major feasts and seven more than on lesser feasts or weekday Masses with no feast. Also during the Easter Vigil, following the celebrant’s homily, baptismal water is blessed for use in the church throughout the year.
After that, previously unbaptized youth or adult converts to Catholic Christianity (called catechumens, then referred to as the elect during Lent) are baptized and confirmed, and in certain circumstances, baptized members of other Christian denominations are received into full communion with the Catholic Church (called candidates or candidates for full communion) and confirmed. At this Mass, the newly initiated receive their First Communion.
Whether or not new catechumens are baptized and confirmed, or candidates are admitted to full communion, this is a service at which all Catholics renew their baptismal vows and are sprinkled with holy water.
Lord, we pray to you for all the peoples of the earth: you who have conquered death, grant us your life, grant us your peace! Christus surrexit, venite et videte! Christ is risen, come and see! – Pope Francis, Easter Homily
The Easter Vigil is the “Mother of All Vigils.” Easter Sunday, then, is the greatest of all Sundays, and Easter Time is the most important of all liturgical times. Easter is the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, culminating in his Ascension to the Father and sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. There are 50 days of Easter from the first Sunday to Pentecost. It is characterized, above all, by the joy of glorified life and the victory over death, expressed most fully in the great resounding cry of the Christian: Alleluia! All faith flows from faith in the resurrection: “If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, is your faith.” (1 Cor 15:14) More.
Content courtesy of the USCCB; photo, Catholic News Service