What is Holy Week All About?
The single most important time for faithful Christians is The Great Week – The Holy Week, We urge you to enter into and experience the fullness of the traditional worship of this week, both for the spiritual health of the community as it gathers for worship on these sacred days, and for the enriching and empowering spiritual experience it will bring to your own life.
We take Jesus’ invitation seriously as we walk, once more, the way of the cross with our Lord; we ride with him in triumph into Jerusalem and turn on him with the crowd to shout, “Crucify.” We set a Table and will be beside our Lord as he bears the burden of our sin up Calvary’s hill to the cross. Finally and joyfully we are witnesses to the empty tomb and the glory of Jesus’ resurrection. On Easter Day we hear our charge to “go and tell” the Good News that Jesus lives
Palm Sunday. The Lenten Array vestments, reminiscent of sackcloth, with passion red orphreys and black crosses change to passion red vestments reminding us that it is through the blood of Jesus that we have been redeemed. The Liturgy of the Palms centers on Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the people’s shout of “hosanna,” but quickly – as quickly now as then – our shout turns to a cry of “crucify,” as the congregation takes the part of the clambering crowd in the reading of the Passion Gospel. How fickle we are! Our beginning notes were of joy and triumph, but now we turn to a more somber tone as we enter into the experience of the last days of our Lord’s life. Yet, even here, ours is not a period of mourning over a great loss, but it is a solemn joy that in Christ’s death salvation has been accomplished for all humankind.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Holy Week special celebrations of the Holy Eucharist recall the events of Jesus’ earthly life that led up to his last three days.
THE TRIDUUM SACRUM – THE THREE SACRED DAYS
The Triduum includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. These are not three unrelated services, but one great liturgy that begins with Maundy Thursday Eucharist and concludes with the Great Vigil of Easter. From each part of the Triduum we take leave to attend to our secular responsibilities only to return to continue our work of worship. While our job as Christians is to be “in the world” representing Christ throughout the year, on these three days that focus changes. During the Triduum our Christian work is to be “in the church” participating in retelling the old, old story of our salvation. It is from the retelling of this most important story of our faith along with its weekly remembrance, that we draw strength to live the rest of our life as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
For the Christian there can be no more important place to be nor thing to do during these Three Sacred Days.
Maundy Thursday we recall the Institution of the Lord’s Supper. The Passion Red vestments, veiled crosses and other art work remain to remind us that while we celebrate the strengthening gift of the Body and Blood of Christ we are yet but a step away from his death and burial. Following the sermon, we wash each others’ feet remembering the “mandatum,” – the command of humble servanthood – that Jesus gave his friends…to do for others as he had done for them. After we receive our Communions, our emotions heighten as we join in singing the great “Tantum ergo” (Hymn 329, stanza 5: “Therefore we before him bending, this great Sacrament revere”) while the Blessed Sacrament is taken in solemn procession from the high altar to the place of repose where faithful Christians keep watch through the night until the hour of crucifixion. The altar is stripped of its raiment and we are put in mind of the cold, barren tomb that awaits the body of the crucified Jesus.
On Good Friday our attention is drawn, in a somber and solemn manner, to the death of Jesus, the Christ. The dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel, the ancient Solemn Collects and Veneration help us focus on venerating the cross, the instrument of our Lord’s most painful death. The Holy Eucharist is never celebrated on Good Friday nor on Holy Saturday until after sundown. On Good Friday, the faithful make Communion from the Sacrament reserved for that purpose at the celebration the night before. All the Blessed Sacrament is consumed. Jesus is dead. The absence of the sacramental Presence of Christ is profoundly felt by the worshippers. While Good Friday is the blackest of all days in Christian memory, it is not without joy – joy born of the hope that is won for us on the day of resurrection. Again, we leave the church quietly to return on Holy Saturday.
Holy Saturday is marked by a brief and quiet liturgy said in the barren church, reminder of the starkness of the Garden tomb.
The Great Vigil of Easter. In the evening of Holy Saturday we gather in darkness to keep vigil. That darkness is soon broken by the Lighting of the New Fire and the light of the Risen Christ entering our lives and, with exhilarating relief, the faithful sing a loud, “Thanks be to God!” The Great Vigil of Easter has been known for centuries as the “Queen of Feasts.” It is the primary feast of the Christian year and we literally “pull out all the stops!” as the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is first announced and we proclaim this central fact of faith. We are gathered to conclude the Three Sacred Days, to hear again the story of our salvation, to renew our baptismal promises and welcome the newly baptized, and to greet the morn of hope with a shout of joy that can only come from the lips of those who have walked the way of the cross, who have followed death’s dark pathway with our Lord, and who know themselves to be risen with him. “Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”
The celebration continues. Easter is not a single day, but a lengthy celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Known as the Great Fifty Days of Easter, the feasting, rejoicing and alleluias continue on Easter Day with multiple celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, stretch through seven Sundays and the Feast of the Ascension and culminate in the commissioning of the new Church to evangelize on the Day of Pentecost.