Holy Week

Holy Week is the last week of Lent before Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Holy Saturday. In an older nomenclature, Holy Week is the second Sunday of Passiontide (Passiontide begins on the fifth Sunday of Lent). Holy Week is the part of the Church Year where Jesus’ final moments are commemorated. The final three days of Holy week are called triduum sacrum, i.e. the sacred three days. These days are commonly called the Paschal Triduum.

Palm Sunday:

On the sixth Sunday of Lent we commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Worship services include blessing of the palms and a procession. The liturgical color is red. Also known as “Fig Sunday.”

Spy Wednesday:

This is an old name for the Wednesday of Holy Week, which commemorates Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus (see Matthew 26:3-5, 14-16).

Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday):

The name “Maundy Thursday” is derived from Jesus “mandate” to love one another as he loves us. This day celebrates Jesus’ institution of the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Ordination. Also known as “Shear Thursday.”

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion:

A Fast day of the Church commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Worship customs include Veneration of the Cross, communion from the reserved Maundy Thursday host, and the singing or preaching of the Passion (reading or singing excerpts of the Passion story from John’s gospel). In the Catholic Church, the liturgical color was formerly black, but is now red.

Holy Saturday:

This is the final day of both Holy Week and the Triduum. There are few specific customs associated with Holy Saturday, except that it is the final night before the Feast of the Resurrection, which begins at the Great Easter Vigil.

Other customs and events, including Tenebrae, have developed as Holy Week customs. Generally Holy Week is a busy time for Catholic and Orthodox Christians, as we build up to the Queen of all Church Feasts, Easter (Pascha).

History

Holy Week, i.e. the series of pre-Easter festivities commemorating various events of the final days of Christ’s life, probably developed in 4th century Jerusalem, possibly beginning with St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Christians from all over the world would take pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and the Church of Jerusalem provided rites and worship dedicated to reenacting the final events of Christ’s life. The first account we have of such rites is the diary of the pilgrimage of Egeria to Jerusalem around AD 381. Gradually many of these customs and holy days spread to the wider Christian world.