Holy Week is one of the most important weeks within the Catholic Church. It is a week in which we commemorate the Passion and death of Jesus.
The week begins with Palm Sunday, which occurs the Sunday before Easter. The significance of the day is that this was the day Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeted by the crowds, many of whom had palm branches. The Mass celebrated on this day begins with a blessing of palm branches which is followed by a procession into the church building. The rest of the Mass is the same as usual. This year at the Student Mass at St Leo in Murray KY, we began with the blessing and distribution of the palm branches in the parish hall, then processed outside and on into the main church.
The next major occurrence during Holy Week is the Chrism Mass. This is a Mass where the oils that are to be used during some of the Church’s sacraments throughout the following year are blessed by the diocese’s bishop. There are options for when this Mass is held during the week, either on Holy Thursday or some day earlier in the week. Within the Diocese of Owensboro, the past couple of years we have had the Chrism Mass on the Tuesday of Holy Week in Owensboro.
The Chrism Mass is followed then by Holy Thursday, which is the beginning of the Triduum. The biblical significance of this day is that it is the day where Jesus institutes the Eucharist at the Passover meal with his Apostles and he also washes the Apostles’ feet. The Mass on Holy Thursday remembers this particular day by having the priest wash the feet of twelve (12) of the parishioners. The reason 12 parishioners are used is in remembrance of the 12 Apostles. How this happens within the Mass is that the priest will wash the parishioners’ feet after the homily.
The way this has been done at St Leo the past couple of years is the Knights of Columbus bring 12 chairs from the front row and put them in a row in front of the altar facing the rest of the congregation. The priest will then go down the row of people, washing at least one of their feet and drying their foot/feet off. After the washing of the feet, the parishioners then return to their seats, the chairs are returned to their places, and the priest washes his hands. The Mass then continues as usual.
Also on Holy Thursday, the priest consecrates enough hosts during the Liturgy of the Eucharist in order to be able to use on Good Friday. Another few traditions that are done on Holy Thursday are that the altar is stripped, decorations are taken down, and the Basptismal font is drained. The picture below was taken during this process on Holy Thursday of this year at St. Leo.
Something that happened after Mass was a procession of the Hosts into the Daily Mass Chapel (the open area to the right of the main altar) for Adoration. The priests, deacon, and altar servers went around the church before going into the Chapel. The procession was led by one of our priests with incense, followed by a server with the cross, two other servers following with candles, (the deacon?), and our other priest carrying the Hosts.
The Triduum continues with Good Friday. This is the day on which Jesus suffered his passion and died on the cross. Within the Church, the tabernacle is normally empty. The service begins with a procession into the church followed by the priest (and deacons if there should be any) laying prostrate in front of the altar briefly. Also included in the service is the entrance of the cross.
What was done at St. Leo this past Good Friday was our parish priest and one of our deacons brought the cross in from the back of the church, stopping three different times along the way. Each time, our priest would say/sing a certain phrase before moving on. This was then followed by the veneration of the cross. the priest(s) (and deacon/s) would venerate the cross first, followed by the congregation. Different ways to venerate the cross include simply kneeling in front of the cross and placing a hand on it. Another way that people could venerate the cross could be to kiss it.
Good Friday is then followed by Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is an important day within the life of the Church. This is the Mass where people who have been going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) can now enter the Church. These people receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and their first Holy Communion (as many or as few of these as are needed).
The Easter Vigil is different than normal Masses. This Mass begins outside, normally around a fire pit. The Paschal Candle is commissioned and lit, and the procession leads inside the Church. The procession first stops at the church doors, a prayer/words are said by the priest and his candle is lit from the Paschal Candle. The procession then leads further inside. There are two more stops, one inside of the church, and one in front of the altar. During this process, everyone’s candle is lit.
During this Mass, we have more readings than usual. After the priest’s homily concludes, the basptismal waters (the font has been refilled at this point) are blessed and the baptism(s) take/s place. The renewal of baptismal promises by the rest of the congregation comes after the baptisms. Confirmations follow. The Mass then follows almost the same structure as it normally does.
The day after Holy Saturday is Easter. This is the day believed to be the day of Jesus’s Resurrection from the tomb. Masses on this day typically follow the normal order. The only part that is different with the Masses that occur on Easter are the renewal of the baptismal promises.
Hopefully this blog post helps explain some of why the days are special and what some of the Catholic Church’s traditions are.
-Victoria the Catholic