All the liturgical seasons of the Church are important: the Advent Season; the Christmas Season; the Lenten Season, the Easter Season; and the Ordinary Season that is usually interspaced between some of the other festive Seasons. One could argue about their equal importance in the salvific mission of the Church.
But no one can argue about the dominance of the Lenten Season which culminates into the Easter. The aura, the effervesce, the awe-inspiring and adorable liturgical celebrations of the last week of that Lenten Season known as Holy Week are comparable to no other Season. The Holy Week is like the apogee of our Christian faith. Let us now have a look at the Holy Week.
To understand the Holy Week, it is good to remind ourselves of one or two points about the Season of which it crowns. The Lenten Season is a forty day period – excluding the Sundays in between them. It is a time when Christendom across the world commemorates the forty days that Our Lord Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness in prayer and fasting before his crucifixion on Calvary.
It is a time when Christians grow in prayer, fasting/abstinence and almsgiving. The Holy Week crowns the Lenten Season. The beginning of the Holy Week is the Palm Sunday also called the Passion Sunday. It marks the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem which is an event reported by the four evangelists (Matthew 21: 1-11; Mark 11: 1-11; Luke 19: 28-44; and John 12: 12-19).
In that historical event, when Jesus rode on the donkey, people cut branches of palms to spread on the road for him. Today, in places where palms are not available, or where palms are expensive to procure, people use olive branches, and other local leaves to spread in commemoration of the first triumphant entry.
In that historic entry, he was truly hailed as King, as Hero, and as Messiah. The celebration also commemorates the passion of Christ. After the procession of palms, one of the lengthy readings of his suffering and death is read.
The following two days of the Holy Week have no peculiar events. The next in the celebration is the Paschal Triduum. These are the three last days of the Holy Week: Holy Thursday also called Maundy Thursday; the Good Friday; and the Holy Saturday. Two big events take place on Maundy Thursday/Holy Thursday: In the morning, during the Chrism Mass, the Bishop of the diocese blesses the sacred oils that would be used for the next one year in the sacramental life of the Church.
The Bishop blesses three sets of oil: the oil of the sick; the oil of catechumen and the chrism oil. By evening that Holy Day, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. This celebration commemorates Jesus’ establishment of the Holy Eucharist where he transforms bread and wine to be his Body and Blood. It also recaptures our Divine Mandate to serve our brothers and sisters because Jesus washed the feet of his apostles and enjoined them to do the same. At the end Christians adhere to Christ’s invitation to his disciples to keep vigil with him for at least an hour.
You may think it is parody to call that day when Christ was killed “good”. If we are left to name it, perhaps, one may call it the “Darkest Day”, the “most Gruesome Day”, and so on. But it is Good Friday because on that Day, Christ paid the greatest ransom on all those who believe in him. In the Church’s liturgical celebration, on Good Friday, three major events are celebrated.
The usual Friday Stations of the Cross are done once more; another commemoration of his passion as another lengthy reading of his suffering and death is read after the Stations of the Cross; and the Veneration of the Cross is also done. On Fridays of Lent, fasting and abstinence are observed by all Catholics from the age of reason and above, except those who are sick or below that age.
The solemn and thick silence by which the Good Friday activities end is highly remarkable. This silence metaphorically laces the faithful into the mysterious death and resurrection of Christ. And it is part of what makes the Holy Week great.
The Holy Saturday continues the great silence of the Good Friday. It is a pity some people even fix their traditional wine carrying on such a solemn day of grave silence as humanity waits at the tomb for the resurrection of the Messiah. The major events of the Holy Saturday are the celebration of the Light of Christ; the singing of the joyful song – the “Exultet”; and the rebirth of baptisms.
The darkness that is dispelled by the Light of Christ is another metaphor that ropes the faithful to the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. True, the Light of Christ drives away the darkness of the world, and radiates the rays of liberation from the shackles of sins.
The vigil of the Holy Saturday ushers in the glorious celebrations of the Lord’s Resurrection during the Easter. Enjoy the Holy Week! Happy Easter!!!