Emily M. DeArdo


Catholic 101: Passiontide and Holy Week

Catholic 101Emily DeArdoComment

a continuation of the Catholic 101 series

Juan de Juanes, L'ultima cena (the last supper)

Juan de Juanes, L'ultima cena (the last supper)

I love Holy Week. It's my favorite week of the year. This may be because I was born on Good Friday and so it always feels like "birthday week" to me, whether or not it actually is, but there's something about the solemnity and pageantry of Holy Week that speaks to me on a deep level. 

"Passiontide" is what we're in right now, liturgically--the last two weeks of Lent. If your parish is like mine, all the statues and paintings that can be covered, are covered, usually in purple cloth. The closer we get to Easter, the more our liturgy is stripped--first, no Alleluia; then, no Gloria; music (should become) less prominent, and more stark in melody; there are no flowers in the sanctuary, and now the images are veiled. On Good Friday, the church will be bare of any decoration at all; even the Tabernacle will be empty. 

So, this week isn't really anything terribly unique, other than "the week before" Holy Week. Next week, things start to get interesting. 

We start with Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, where we commemorate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds waving palm branches and singing Hosanna. The passion is read at Mass. 

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week might have special observances at your parish. Mine has adoration in the afternoons and sung Vespers in the evenings. Wednesday is also called Spy Wednesday, because it's traditionally the day that Judas betrayed Jesus to the temple leaders. 

Lent ends at Sundown on Holy Thursday, and the triduum begins. In these three days, we reckon time the way the Jews do--by sundowns, not sunrises. So the Holy Thursday liturgy begins in the evening, usually around 7:00. 

Since these liturgies are loaded with symbolism and things we don't do the rest of the year, we give the kids a head's up in CCD so they know what to look for, and know what we're doing. 

Holy Thursday can contain the washing of the feet; at my parish, it's done with altar boys, the Dominican community members, and a few other men to reach twelve. The rite is optional, so your parish doesn't have to do it, and it might not. Of course the rite is done to remember what Jesus did to the apostles at the last supper; "you ought to wash each other's feet"--the idea of service to each other. 

After the Eucharist is distributed, things get pretty different. The Eucharist isn't put back in the tabernacle; instead, the Eucharistic procession begins, with the sung Pange, Lingua (written by St. Thomas Aquinas). The Mass celebrant carries the Eucharist to the altar of repose, and there is adoration there for a few hours--but not past midnight. At my parish, the Eucharist is taken to Patrick Hall, where it is surrounded by flowers and the altar candles, and adoration is until midnight. 

There is no dismissal, after either Holy Thursday or Good Friday services. It's all one long service, until the end of the Easter Vigil. 

Good Friday doesn't have a proper Mass. It's called the "Mass of the Presanctified"--the priest, on Holy Thursday, consecrates enough hosts to serve for the service the next day. 

There are no Introductory Rites, since the service is a continuation of the one the night before. We have my favorite passage from Isaiah for the first reading ("See, my servant shall prosper")--the Suffering Servant who will redeem the world. The Passion According to St. John is read as the Gospel. 

After the homily, the Veneration of the Cross takes place. A large cross of crucifix is brought before the congregation, and the members of the congregation venerate it in various ways--kneeling before it, kissing it, bowing, etc. The Dominicans do the venia before it, and venerate the cross in bare feet. 

After the veneration, communion is distributed and a prayer is said. Again, no dismissal. Some churches have the service of tenebrae on Good Friday (mine does).  It's a beautiful service, and if you have the chance to attend, I recommend it. 

On Holy Saturday, there are no Masses said. Holy Communion is only given as viaticum (to people who are in danger of death). It is a day of deep quiet and recollection. 

Of course, all that changes at sundown, when the Easter Vigil begins. But that's another entry. :) 

I hope this entry helped give you a deeper idea of some of the triduum customs. What Holy Week service is your favorite?