Yesterday, Palm Sunday, we welcomed Jesus, waving palm fronds in a reenactment of Christ’s jubilant entrance into Jerusalem. This week will be full of reenactments from Jesus’ last week on earth, culminating with a jubilant celebration on Easter.
Holy Week—the week from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday—is a sacred time on the Catholic calendar, for it is the period when we commemorate the last week of Jesus’ life on this earth. These are the days leading up to the great Easter Feast. The Lenten season of sacrifice and self-denial is about to come to an end, but this coming week is extremely important for all Christians. The greatest focus of the week is the Passion (suffering) and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the events that led up to it.
As early as the fourth century, the Church celebrated this “Great Week” with profound sanctity. It begins with Palm Sunday, which marks Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with a procession of palms. At the Palm Sunday liturgy, the Passion narrative is read in its entirety.
Especially important for Catholics is the Easter Triduum, the three days just before Easter.
On Holy Thursday, we re-enact the Lord’s Last Supper, which He shared with His apostles on the night He was betrayed and arrested. At the Mass, the priest will wash the feet of twelve men, just as Jesus did. Also on this night, priests all over the world will renew their sacred vows. This is because at the Last Supper, Jesus not only instituted the Mass (Eucharist) but also the ministerial priesthood.
On Good Friday, the day of the Crucifixion and death of our Lord, Catholics participate in the veneration of the Cross. A service is held at three o’clock in the afternoon (the hour He is believed to have died) and another service is held later in the evening. We go forward and kiss Jesus’ feet on the Cross in order to show honor and respect for Christ’s sacrifice for our sake. There is no Mass, hence no consecration of the Eucharist on this day; and the Communion we receive will have been reserved in the tabernacle from the previous day.
On Holy Saturday, we keep watch expectantly for the rising of Our Savior. This was the day He went down into the netherworld in order to bring back up with Him into heaven those who had died before His coming. Up to this time, the gates to heaven were closed and no one could go there because of the original sin of Adam. Jesus changed that: By paying the price for our sins on the Cross, He gained for us our eternal salvation, and heaven was opened once more.
Also on this night, persons who have spent months of preparation will be received through Baptism and Confirmation into the Catholic Church for the first time. It is a joyous occasion.
Image: By Fer gutierrez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons