A short guide to Holy Week

Every year Christians commemorate the week before Easter Sunday with special traditions and devotions that help them enter into the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a special time of the year, culminating in the biggest feast of the Church’s calendar – Easter. Here are the basics of what Catholics look forward to during the week that precedes Easter Sunday.

Palm Sunday. This day inaugurates Holy Week with the triumphal entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem. In the Gospels Jesus comes to the city riding upon a donkey with the people placing palm branches in front of him. At Mass on this day the congregation relives this event with a procession in the church and a solemn blessing of palm branches. The Passion narrative is also read on this day.

Holy Monday. Usually there are no special liturgies on this day, but in the narrative of Holy Week Jesus visits his friends at Bethany and Mary anoints him with precious oil, preparing him for his burial.

Holy Tuesday. The week continues closer to Jesus’ Passion and on this day the liturgy focuses on Jesus announcing Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. Here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg we celebrate the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude. During the celebration, the bishop consecrates the sacred oils used in the sacraments of Baptism, Anointing, Confirmation and Holy Orders. Each parish receives its annual supply of these oils at the Chrism Mass.

Spy Wednesday. The day before Jesus is betrayed, Judas visits the chief priests of the Temple and promises to give them Jesus in exchange for 30 pieces of silver. This day is traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” in reference to the “spy” or “traitor,” Judas.

Holy Thursday. Jesus makes his final preparations and celebrates the Last Supper with his apostles. Here at Sacred Heart, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated at 7:00 pm. The theme for today is the institution of the Eucharist and the sacrament of the priesthood. It is also called “Maundy Thursday” referring to the “mandatum,” Jesus’ commandment to love one another, symbolized by his washing of the feet of the apostles. At the conclusion of the Mass, the Eucharist is processed and placed on a separate altar, called the “altar of repose,” for private adoration until midnight in memory of Jesus’ agony in the Garden on that night.

Good Friday. Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate and condemned to death. He takes up his cross and is crucified on Mount Calvary. There is no celebration of Mass on this day. Here at Sacred Heart, we celebrate the Stations of the Cross at noon. The commemoration of Christ’s Passion is celebrated at 7:00 pm, with the recitation of the Passion narrative, veneration of the cross, and the reception of communion in the form of hosts that were consecrated on Holy Thursday and reserved. A special collection taken up on Good Friday goes to support the Church in the Holy Land. Good Friday is a day of fast and abstinence for all Catholics.

Holy Saturday. This day is a holy day of “waiting,” when Jesus is said to have “descended into the dead” to bring the just souls who died before his sacrifice on the cross to the glories of heaven. The only celebration is the Easter Vigil, which begins at 8:00 pm in the dark and ends in the light of Christ’s resurrection. It is a beautiful liturgy when those coming into the Catholic faith are baptized and confirmed. The Alleluia and the singing of the Gloria return to the liturgy, and church bells that have been silent through Lent ring joyfully.

Easter Sunday. Christ is risen! The joyous day of Easter and its liturgy reflect it with beautiful music, flowers and decorations. There is often a renewal of baptismal promises at this Mass and a sprinkling of holy water upon all those present. Easter Sunday begins the 50-day season of Easter which concludes with Pentecost Sunday.

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