THURSDAY, MARCH 24 and FRIDAY, MARCH 25 and SATURDAY, MARCH 26: Holy Week began on Palm Sunday, March 20, for more than a billion Christians around the world who follow the Western traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches. (Eastern Orthodox Christians just began Great Lent on March 14 and are about a month later in this traditional cycle of holidays, in 2016.)
Western Christians traditionally refer to the three-day cluster of holidays coming this week as the Easter Triduum. This period runs from Thursday evening through the evening of Easter Sunday. During this time, Christians will perform centuries-old rituals and review the final events in the life of Jesus. From foot washing to the Stations of the Cross, Christians lament the tragic events of Jesus’ final days. In the days of solemnity, the faithful prepare for the most joyous holiday of the year: Easter, which Christians mark as the Resurrection of Christ.
THE LAST SUPPER AND DIVERSE EVENTS
For Christians, Maundy or Holy Thursday recalls the Last Supper and Jesus’s washing the Apostles’ feet. In fact, the word “Maundy” is believed to derive from the Latin mandatum, meaning “commandment”: the first of the words the Bible says Jesus used to describe the purpose of washing his disciples’ feet. (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”)
Interestingly, Maundy Thursday is observed in a diversity of ways by American Christians. In evangelical and Protestant churches, Holy Thursday is barely observed. For Catholics, Maundy Thursday begins the intense series of Easter-related customs associated with the Triduum. Today’s liturgies include colorful services, the blessing of holy oils and the washing of the feet. Protestants and Methodists remember the institution of the Last Supper.
Did you know? Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the anniversary of the Last Supper on the first night of the Jewish Passover, because that was the night the first Last Supper was held. The date of Passover—Nisan 14—varies annually on the Gregorian calendar, and this year, it falls on the evening of April 22.
On Holy Thursday night, after Mass, some devout Catholics sit in Adoration. Many Protestants follow a related custom, and recall Jesus’s request that his disciples sit with him while he prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane. Following Maundy Thursday service, the altar is stripped in preparation for Good Friday.
Fast fact: On Holy Thursday, the Catholic Chrism Mass is celebrated in each diocese, during which holy oils are blessed. The blessed oils are used on Holy Saturday, at the Easter Vigil and for baptisms and confirmations.
GOOD FRIDAY: THE WAY OF THE CROSS
While in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night, Christian tradition tells that Jesus was located by Romans—led by Judas Iscariot—and arrested. This led to interrogations, torture and the crucifixion of Jesus. In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a fast day of the deepest solemnity.
Did you know? The Way of the Cross takes place at the Colosseum in Rome and in many other places around the world.
In many parishes, the Stations of the Cross recount Jesus’ journey to the site of the crucifixion. In countries such as Malta, Italy, the Philippines and Spain, processions carry statues of the Passion of Christ. In Britain, Australia and Canada, hot cross buns are traditionally consumed on Good Friday.
HOLY SATURDAY: STILLNESS IN THE TOMB
Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, ushers in with the darkness of Good Friday, commemorating the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. The altar remains bare, or is draped in a simple black cloth. In Catholic parishes, the administration of sacraments is limited. Holy Saturday is a time of suspense, quiet and solemnity, as Christians continue to mourn the death of Jesus Christ.
Fast fact: In Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows is given the title Our Lady of Solitude, for her grief at the earthly absence of her son, Jesus.
At approximately 6 p.m. on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins. A service that begins in darkness is illuminated, in Christian tradition, with the Light of Christ—the Paschal candle. After prayers, chants and biblical readings, “Gloria” is sung for the first time since Maundy Thursday. The church is flooded with light, statues covered during Passiontide are unveiled and the joy of the Resurrection begins.
HOLY WEEK NEWS 2016
- This year, Pope Francis will reportedly preside at all ceremonies of Easter (learn more here). Pope Francis will, once again, preside over the most intense papal liturgical periods of the year during this time.
- Don’t forget refugees during Holy Week, Pope Francis told attendees of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square earlier this week. According to Reuters, Pope Francis relayed, “I am thinking of so many people, so many marginalized people, so many asylum seekers, so many refugees. There are so many who don’t want to take responsibility for their destiny.”
- During Holy Week and in the Easter season, the Vatican will take part in several initiatives highlighting the importance of ecology and the care for creation, news sources reported. The tens of thousands of flowers brought in for Easter morning Mass will be repurposed and replanted; the Vatican will also participate in “Earth Hour 2016.”
- Interested in streaming Holy Week and Easter masses? Learn more here.