What are the Services like during Holy Week?
The Great Week
The Great Week is an ancient name for Holy Week. It is the most important and solemn week in our Christian lives. Our liturgical celebrations contain some wonderful rites and symbolism which we do see at any other time of the year.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. We remember the Entry of Christ into Jerusalem on a donkey. We are given palm branches which are blessed as we greet Jesus into our Church at the start of this week. There is a change to our normal pattern of Mass as we read the gospel account of Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Mass. This year (B) is the version from St Mark’s Gospel.
The other big difference on Palm Sunday is that when we come to read the Gospel, it is the full account of Our Lord’s Passion beginning with the Last Supper moving through what happened in Gethsemane, the trials before Caiaphas and then Pilate, the way of the cross to Calvary, the crucifixion, the death on the cross and the laying in the tomb. It is a lengthy piece of the gospel and it usually shared between 4 voices: (i) a narrator, (ii) Our Lord (usually the priest), (iii) a reader of the other single voices and (iv) the congregation who join in when the crowd is speaking as one. Again, as it is Year B, we read St Mark’s version of the Passion. This reading sets the scenario for the whole week and prepares us for the week ahead: we are entering into The Paschal Mystery.
The Easter Triduum
The word “Triduum” means three days: these three days we celebrate as a unity; as one liturgical celebration: Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, the celebration of the Lord’s Passion close to the hour of his death on Good Friday and the Easter Vigil after sundown on Holy Saturday. Note there is no blessing and dismissal at the services on Thursday or Friday and we are not “sent out” until the dismissal at the end of the Easter Vigil with a double Alleluia! The celebration cannot be interrupted by the celebration of other public sacraments , thus, there are no Weddings or Requiem Masses on Good Friday or Holy Saturday.
Mass of the Lord’s Supper
This has three important elements: (i) the institution of the Eucharist, (ii) the institution of the priesthood, and (iii) Christ’s command to love and serve.
Some things are different from a normal Mass: The Holy Oils which have been blessed by the Bishop for the sacramental life of the parish in the coming year are brought forward.
The gospel is the act of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper and giving the commandment to love one another and show this through their service towards each other. After the homily the priest usually performs a visual witness to that “Mandatum” of Christ to love and serve by washing the feet of some parishioners.
At the end of Mass, the priest goes in procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of Repose. There people are invited to watch and pray up until midnight commemorating Our Lord’s prayer and betrayal after the Last Supper in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The main altar is stripped and left bare and the tabernacle left empty.
Celebration of the Lord’s Passion:
This is not a Mass as the sacraments are not celebrated on this day. It is a solemn ceremony comprising of three distinct sections: (i) The Word; (ii) The Veneration of the Cross; (iii) The Reception of Holy Communion.
The beginning is in silence as the priest enters and lies prostrate on the ground at the hour that Our Lord died. The scriptures are read and the Gospel is the 4 part proclamation of the Passion of Our Lord from St John’s Gospel.
A large cross is carried into Church by the priest and held up for the people to adore. The people are then invited to come forward one by one and venerate the cross.
The priest then brings the Blessed Sacrament from where it has been reserved overnight and the people are invited to receive Holy Communion with hosts consecrated last night at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The service concludes in silence without blessing or dismissal.
The Easter Vigil
This, again, has three distinct parts: (i) A service of Light; (ii) Liturgy of the Word; (iii) Liturgy of the Eucharist. It should begin after sundown and the people gather outside church which remains in darkness. A fire is lit and blessed and the Paschal Candle is lit. This is carried into the church and people receive light passed on to them, lighting their own candles from the light of the paschal candle. The great Song of Easter, “The Exultet” is sung.
There is an extended liturgy of the Word telling the history of salvation with up to seven Old Testament readings, a New Testament epistle and culminating in the Gospel of the discovery of the empty tomb. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is then celebrated with unbounded joy in this most wonderful and amazing celebration of the whole year.
The Lord is risen; He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!
Come along and experience these beautiful and uplifting ceremonies and bring someone with you! As Jesus said: “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full”.