I’m Not Christian– Why Should I Care about Holy Week?
Imagine being in a group of people, many of them talking about something you know little about. You overhear a familiar word here or there, but much of the dialogue mystifies you. Do you “tune in” to learn something new? Or “tune out”, oblivious to any footholds?
We rarely face clearly either/or scenarios. We choose our associations based on commonalities with other group members. Some level of comfort exists beforehand, based on mutual beliefs or expectations.
Yet this week, given that a large percentage of the world professes Christianity, encountering this situation remains a possibility. Practicing Christians regard this week as holy. Some denominations, like Catholics, recognize it as among the holiest of the entire liturgical calendar.
If you get stuck in an elevator with a crowd of Catholics this week – knowing a bit about Holy Week gives you something to talk about.
Holy Week – What is it?
Holy Week consists of a series of liturgical celebrations leading up to Easter Sunday. An abbreviated overview follows:
Palm or Passion Sunday
The Sunday one week prior to Easter we celebrate Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. Palms are blessed, used in procession, taken home and used as a sacramental. We hear the first reading of the passion narrative (one of few events appearing in all four gospels).
The third to last day of Lenten season. Scripture focus – Jesus anointed at Bethany. Larger dioceses sometimes celebrate the Chrism Mass this day, when oils are blessed and distributed. These then go to each parish for use throughout the year.
The second to last day of Lenten season. Scripture focus – Jesus predicts His own death.
Spy or Holy Wednesday
The last full day of Lenten season. Called Spy Wednesday because the scripture proclaims Judas arranging betrayal of Jesus. Some parishes celebrate Tenebrae or service of light.
Maundy or Holy Thursday
The first day of Triduum (three days). Maundy Thursday refers to feet washing ceremony. Commemorates Last Supper & Institution of the Eucharist and the Institution of the Priesthood.
The second day of Triduum. We arrive & leave in silence. This is the only day of year when Mass not celebrated. Called Good because it is day Christ atoned for our sins. Consists of three part ceremony – Liturgy of the Word, Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion.
The final day of Triduum. Easter Vigil Mass begins at sunset (following traditional Jewish reckoning of days). Singing of “Alleluias” returns. Consists of four main parts – Service of Light, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of Baptism, and Liturgy of the Eucharist.
A wealth of information exists to fully explain meanings and traditions surrounding these celebrations. One interesting fact concerns the Triduum. Though stretching over three days – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – it’s actually one very long and beautiful service.
Easter Season officially starts after the Vigil Mass begins on Saturday night. We celebrate for the next 50 days, starting with the Easter octave. ( Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday – eight days right up on up to the 2nd Sunday of Easter – now known as Sunday of Divine Mercy) But that’s a different post.
A Holy Week Rhyme
This little meditation, offered RhymeLovingWriter™ style, aims to aid reflection in the week ahead:
A week we mark as holiest, in mem’ry of our Lord,
commemorating highs and lows recorded in His Word.
We walk each year these steps with Him in hopes that we have grown
into God’s worthy people, by the blood of martyrs sown.
The greatest sacrifice, by far, was Him upon the cross,
which all the world, who knows Him not, regards as utter loss.
Yet here is vict’ry of the One who overcame the grave.
We follow, and remember, as all errant ways we stave.
With humble hearts wide open, we adore as death’s vile sting
is overcome by Love incarnate – Jesus Christ, Our King.
May you keep Holy Week well – rhyme and all!