Holy Week refers to the week that begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. For Catholics, it is the most sacred week of the year. There are specific traditions that are celebrated during the week, both in the Masses that are celebrated in church, and in homes of faithful Catholics.
The First Day of Holy Week
Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, commemorates the day that Jesus returned to Jerusalem after his 40 days in the desert, which is celebrated by Catholics as Lent. As he rode into town, Jesus was welcomed by throngs of people who laid palms at his feet in his honor. In the church, palms are typically available at the Palm Sunday Masses, and parishioners carry them and wave them during the Mass. The palms are taken home and kept on display throughout the week. Often children are encouraged to weave them into crosses to represent the connection between the palms of Palm Sunday and Jesus’ death on the cross later in the week.
The liturgical colors worn in the Catholic Church for Holy Week are red, symbolizing the blood shed by Jesus’ death on the cross. The entire week is a period of sober reflection for Catholics. Holy Thursday is the day that celebrates the Last Supper, when Jesus held Passover with his disciples. Some Catholics may even eat a meal that resembles traditional Passover fare, such as lamb, unleavened bread and haroset salad. The emphasis at the Mass is on humility; the priests wash the feet of their parishioners, just as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. The Mass on Thursday is the last Mass celebrated until Easter.
Good Friday commemorates the death of Jesus on the Cross, and the worship is focused on remembering the pain and sadness of his death. There is usually a formal Veneration of the Cross, and some churches will use the Stations of the Cross as part of their worship; this refers to the 14 steps that detail Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, and subsequent trial and crucifixion. Communion is not usually offered on Good Friday because communion is a celebration, and Good Friday is a day of mourning. Good Friday is a day of fasting for Catholics, and no meat is allowed to be eaten.
Holy Saturday is the official end of Holy Week. It is a time of waiting, and no Mass is offered on this day. However, the celebration for Easter typically begins after sundown on Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil. The faithful gather outside the church, typically in darkness, and then proceed in to light a new fire. New members of the Catholic Church are baptized at the Vigil, and present members are called to renew their baptismal promises. The next day is Easter Sunday, which marks the first day of the Easter Season, a period of hope and renewal in the Catholic Church.
Easter Vigil: Rite of Initiation – Candidates
On the First Sunday of Lent, we joined 100+ other people and their sponsors at St Peter’s Cathedral in Erie where Bishop Persico in the Rite of Election welcomed catechumens (unbaptized) and candidates (baptized Christians) to the period of Purification (season of Lent). This is a final time of preparation for the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, celebrated in most of our diocesan parishes at Easter Vigil, April 15th.
Please keep in your prayers our candidates – Edna Gibson and Gale Kocis as they continue to listen to God in their hearts. We are keeping them in our prayers & look forward to their Easter celebration!
At the Vatican:
Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is celebrated on Sunday, and marks the end of Holy Week, the end of Lent, the last day of the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday), and is the beginning of the Easter season of the liturgical year.
As we know from the Gospels, Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion, which would be Sunday. His resurrection marks the triumph of good over evil, sin and death. It is the singular event which proves that those who trust in God and accept Christ will be raised from the dead.
Since Easter represents the fulfillment of God’s promises to humankind, it is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar.
In the Gospels, the precise details of the Easter narrative vary slightly, but none of these variances are critical to the main story. In fact, it is argued that the variances are simply matters of style and not substance. Despite the variances, the key aspects of the Easter story all match. Above all, they agree that the tomb of Christ was indeed empty, which is the most essential fact.
The Easter date is movable and always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. Easter in the Roman Catholic Church is always on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.
Resources: Classroom Articles by Pam Lobley
Edited by: Evan Macklin