Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday: Christians mourn, prepare

THURSDAY, APRIL 2 and FRIDAY, APRIL 3 and SATURDAY, APRIL 4: Holy Week for the world’s 2 billion Christians began several days ago with Palm Sunday, but the week’s events culminate with the start of Maundy Thursday. For three days, 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. With prayer and fasting, the faithful prepare for the most joyous holiday of the year: Easter, the Resurrection of Christ.

Women smiling, one holding painting of Pope Francis in crowd

This Holy Week, St. Francis encourages humility. Photo of women at a prayer vigil, courtesy of Catholic Church England and Wales via Flickr

News on Pope Francis and Holy Week: Following on his two-year anniversary as pope, Francis remains phenomenally popular in the Catholic Church. The most recent Pew Forum poll ranked his approval rating among American Catholics at 90 percent, and this Holy Week, Pope Francis will not disappoint: He will begin the Easter Triduum by traveling to a prison in Rome to wash the feet of 12 inmates.

On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis declared to the thousands present at St. Peter’s Square that Holy Week is about humility—and that the humility of Jesus is what makes Holy Week so holy. (Read the story at Catholic News Agency.) Further, Pope Francis encouraged crowds to mimic this attitude of humility throughout the week, as “Only this way will this week be holy for us, too!” Pope Francis also gave examples of modern Christians who give selflessly and refuse to deny Jesus.

This week, Pope Francis will conduct a Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday; visit a Roman prison for foot-washing Thursday evening; head a service for the Passion of Our Lord at St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday, and lead thousands in the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum; conduct the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday; and celebrate the Mass of Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter.

Note: For Eastern Orthodox Christians following the Julian calendar, Palm Sunday 2015 will take place on Friday, April 5, and Holy Week will commence that week. Pascha (Easter) will fall on Sunday, April 12.

HOLY (MAUNDY) THURSDAY:
THE LAST SUPPER

Painting of  people gathered around table in structure with rock walls, man at center standing and lit, holding cup

An artist’s depiction of the Last Supper. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Easter Triduum is initiated with Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week. Alternatively known as Holy Thursday or Covenant Thursday, this day commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles. As Jewish days begin at sunset, most Maundy Thursday services take place in the evening. Some scholars believe that the name “Maundy Thursday” derived from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase stated by Jesus to describe the purpose for his washing their feet. (“A new commandment I give to unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”) In some churches, to this day, clergy ceremonially wash the feet of 12 persons as part of Maundy Thursday services. (Wikipedia has details.) Following the Maundy Thursday service, the altar is “stripped” in solemn fashion in preparation for Good Friday.

Did you know? 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.

Today, even outside of the church building, global traditions for Maundy Thursday are varied and colorful. In the United Kingdom, the Monarch offers Maundy money to worthy elders; in Malta, seven churches are visited on this single day; in Bulgaria, Easter eggs are colored and homes are prepared for the upcoming holy days. Holy Thursday is a public holiday in many Christian countries, including Costa Rica, Denmark, Iceland, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain and Venezuela. (Fish Eaters has information on popular customs and more.) At the conclusion of Maundy Thursday services, the attitude in the Church becomes somber, dark and mournful. Church bells fall silent until Easter.

GOOD FRIDAY:
THE WAY OF THE CROSS

Man dressed as Jesus with red cloak, men dressed as Roman soldiers, imitating carrying of cross down busy modern street with crowds watching

A Good Friday procession in Germany. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While in the Garden of Gesthemane on Thursday night, Christian tradition says that Jesus was located by the Romans—led by Judas Iscariot—and arrested. This led to interrogation, torture and eventually to Jesus’ death by the horrific Roman method of crucifixion.

Did you know? Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday of 1865.

In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a fast day of the deepest solemnity. The altar is bare, vestments are red or black and the cross is venerated. (Readings for the day are available from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

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:
DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

Congregation praying with priest sprinkling water over line of Easter baskets on center table

The Holy Saturday Blessing of Easter Baskets in Sanok, Poland. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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. (Wikipedia has details.) 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. (For families with children too young to attend a late Saturday Mass, Women for Faith and Family suggests at-home activities.) The Paschal candle, the largest and most exquisite candle in the church, is lit each day throughout the Paschal season.