Palm Sunday begins Holy Week

Published 7:02 pm Saturday, April 4, 2009

The week immediately preceding Easter Sunday is one of the most important weeks in Christianity.

Holy Week, which falls on the last week of Lent, begins with Palm Sunday. On this day the Church celebrates the entrance of the Messiah into Jerusalem. It is called so because of the palm leaves placed on the ground in front of Jesus as he rode humbly on a donkey, as told in the Bible.

Before a celebration of Mass, a priest traditionally blesses palm leaves or olive branches before a reading of the Gospel account.

The following three days are known as Holy Monday (or Fig Monday), Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday (or Spy Wednesday). The scripture passage associated with Holy Monday tells of the Anointing of Bethany and is found in John 12:1-9.

The Chrism Mass may be observed on either Holy Tuesday or Holy Wednesday, although its text falls under Maundy Thursday. In this Mass the bishop blesses oils used to anoint the sick.

Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper of Christ and his Eleven Apostles. This Mass includes the “Gloria,” during which all the church bells are rung but then fall silent until the Easter Vigil. Children are traditionally told that “the bells have flown to Rome.”

When deemed appropriate, the priest celebrates the rite of washing the feet. Twelve men usually participate in this rite.

On Good Friday, the Church remembers Jesus’ death on the cross by observing the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick. All items are removed from the altar so it is left bare, and the Passion of the Lord is celebrated in mid-afternoon.

Holy Saturday is spent in silence and prayer, and the candle that represents Christ’s presence is put out. This symbolizes the dead Christ in the tomb prior to the Resurrection.