For Catholics, as well as many other Christians, the celebration of Easter isn’t an isolated event that happens on one Sunday each spring. Every Sunday is, in fact, an Easter for us, a celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. But the observance of Easter itself is the culmination of a whole week of significant religious observance and spiritual renewal.
Holy week really begins with Palm Sunday, also know as Passion Sunday. This commemoration of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the events leading up to his death, set the stage for the week to come. For people unable to attend the services later in Holy Week, Passion Sunday encapsulates much of what is to follow.
At some time during Holy Week, often on Tuesday or Wednesday, most dioceses will celebrate the Chrism Mass. At this celebration—usually at the diocesan cathedral—the bishop will bless and distribute the three holy oils used at churches throughout the year: The oil used to anoint the sick, and the oil of Catechumens and Sacred Chrism used when new members are initiated into the church.
Thursday of Holy Week marks the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, at which the church celebrates the establishment of the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood present each time we gather and receive holy communion. This liturgy also features the washing of the feet, a symbolic action in which the priest and other ministers wash the feet of members of the congregation as a sign of humble service of God’s people.
Good Friday is the day for observance of the Lord’s Passion. This liturgy—which is not a mass—consists of reading the Gospel account of Christ’s trial, suffering and death, as well as the veneration of the cross, an opportunity to prayerfully approach the cross and place there all our repentance, our sorrows, and our hopes.
Holy week culminates in the celebration of the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. We’ll look at that celebration next time.