Monthly Archives: March 2015

Christian Traditions 024: April 2015 Introduction


Depending on the date of Easter, which may fall anywhere from 22 March to 25 April, April may consist entirely of Eastertide on one extreme or consist mostly of Lent and Passiontide with only six days of Eastertide on the other extreme. If Easter falls as early as possible (on 22 March), the last day of April will be Ascension Thursday.


Because April always consists of some portion of Eastertide, white as a liturgical color will always be represented in April. If Lent and/or Passiontide fall during April, violet and/or crimson may be used in April as well; and if Easter falls as early as possible and the last day of April is therefore Ascension Thursday, April’s colors will be white. If Easter Sunday falls anywhere from 23 March to 1 April, all of April will fall in Eastertide and therefore use the liturgical color white. This year, Easter falls on 5 April, so April will encompass either the Lenten violet or the Passiontide red for 1-4 April and the Eastertide white for 5-30 April; therefore, the vast majority of April will be white. (Note that Good Friday may have a different color depending on the denomination.)


This year, because Easter falls on 5 April, April consists of 4 days of Passiontide and 26 days of Eastertide. Because there are 40 days of Eastertide through Ascension Thursday (inclusive), Ascension Thursday will not occur in April this year.

The last four days of Passiontide, which fall within April, include Holy Wednesday (1 April), Holy Thursday (2 April), Good Friday (3 April), and Holy Saturday (4 April). Interestingly, the Passover, 14 Nisan, falls on Good Friday (3 April) this year. (However, there will be no blog post for the Passover.) The Easter Triduum begins the evening of Holy Thursday (2 April) and ends the evening of Easter Sunday (5 April).

Eastertide starts with Easter Sunday (5 April) and stretches throughout the rest of April and into May. The Monday after Easter Sunday is called Easter Monday (6 April) and the first eight days of Eastertide are called the Easter Octave (5-12 April). Otherwise, there are no more moveable feasts that fall within April this year.

Immoveable feasts that occur in April include days for St. George, the patron saint of England (23 April), St. Mark, the author of the Gospel by the same name (25 April), and St. James, the brother of St. John and son of Zebedee (30 April), and the major Rogation Day (25 April). The minor Rogation Days are moveable feasts which fall in the week prior to Ascension Thursday; this year, Ascension Thursday is on 15 May, so the minor Rogation Days fall in May.

The Resurrection of ChristWHAT IS IT?

As discussed previously, Pre-Lent is a distant preparation for Easter, Lent is the proximal preparation, and Passiontide is the immediate preparation. Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent, focuses on Jesus’ last week prior to His crucifixion and more specifically on His sufferings. The last two days, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, commemorate His death and burial, with which His disciples’ hope died and was buried, and which undoubtedly was accompanied by intense confusion, grief, and mourning among His followers.

Easter, on the other hand, begins with the joyful commemoration of His resurrection and His next 40 days on Earth prior to His ascension. Eastertide continues for an additional 10 days of the early Christians’ earliest ministry and evangelism and concludes with Pentecost, which commemorates the event now considered the “Birthday of the Church.” (However, as noted above, April includes neither the Ascension this year nor Pentecost any year.)

Two thirds of the Easter Triduum is composed of Passiontide (Good Friday and Holy Saturday) and one third of Easter (Easter Sunday) and so it encompasses both the intense grief and mourning of Jesus’ death and burial and also the joy and celebration of His resurrection.


You should not require any special items or ingredients for any of the commemorative events of April in this year.


The calendar of events for April looks like this:

  • 3/30-4/4: Holy Week
    • 1: Holy Wednesday
    • 2: Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday
  • 4/3-4/5: Easter Triduum
    • 3: Good Friday
    • 4: Holy Saturday
    • 5: Easter Sunday
  • 4/5-4/30: Eastertide
    • 4/5-4/12: Easter Octave
    • 5: Easter Sunday
    • 6: Easter Monday
  • 23: Feast of St. George
  • 25: Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist
  • 25: Rogation Day
  • 28: Feast of St. James the Great




Christian Traditions 023: Holy Week

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria discusses Holy Week in “HOLY WEEK” under “PASSIONTIDE” in her book.


Holy Week encompasses the last week before Easter. As such, it is the last week of Lent and of Passiontide and encompasses some of the Easter Triduum. This week commemorates Jesus’ last major events (e.g., the Last Supper), crucifixion, death, and burial. This is perhaps the most solemn week of the entire liturgical calendar.


The Lenten violet or Passiontide scarlet continues through this time, with the exception of a brief appearance of white on Thursday.

30 March to 4 April 2015WHEN IS IT?

Some consider Holy Week to start on Palm Sunday whereas others consider it to start with Monday. Therefore, Holy Week encompasses either six or seven days and may fall in March and/or April since Easter falls anywhere from 22 March to 25 April. This year, Holy Monday falls on 30 March and Holy Saturday falls on 4 April. As discussed previously, I will discuss the Easter Triduum (which includes the evening of Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday) in a separate post, so this blog post will only cover the first part of Holy Week, Holy Monday (30 March) through Maundy Thursday (2 April).


Holy Week is the final week of Lent before Easter. In traditionally Catholic communities, the week may be filled to the brim with daily community celebrations. (Personal note: Though not Catholic, I wish I lived in such a community! I would love to start a practice of daily Holy Week events in my local church.)

Traditionally, the first three days of Holy Week (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) were dedicated to spring cleaning. Because it was such a massive undertaking in the days before the vacuum cleaner, there was little time for cooking and so meals were made of leftovers and all three days were required to complete the project.

Jesus_Curses_Fig_Tree_Ilyas_Rahib_c16253/30: Holy Monday

As discussed above, this day is given to spring cleaning.

This day is considered to be the day on which Jesus cursed the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:20-26), the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ authority (Matthew 21:23-27), and/or the Cleansing of the Temple occurred (Matthew 21:12-17, 23-27; Mark 11:15-19, 27-33; Luke 19:45-48, 20:1-8). However, some of these events probably occurred in different years, considering the facts that these events are tied somewhat or specifically to a Passover and that Jesus’ ministry spanned at least two or three Passovers.

3/31: Holy Tuesday

As discussed above, this day is also given to spring cleaning.

In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, this day commemorates the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), which teaches about vigilance in awaiting the Bridegroom, which is Christ. This would actually have been the day of the Last Supper, and sunset would have marked the day the Passover began since Jewish days begin at sunset (see my previous blog post on that topic).

ahriman-caiaphas-judas4/1: Holy Wednesday or Spy Wednesday

As discussed above, this is the last day of Holy Week given to spring cleaning.

This day commemorates two events: that of the sinful woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointing His head with perfume, and that of Judas agreeing to betray Jesus. In reality, both events would have occurred Monday because Matthew 26:1-16 and Mark 14:1-11 tell us it occurred two days before Passover, which fell on a Wednesday (see my previous blog post about that topic). This day is called “Spy Wednesday” because, depending on the source you read, it commemorates either Judas’ intention to betray Jesus and thus proceeding to spy for a chance to do so over the next few days, or specifically commemorates Judas spying on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Because the Orthodox Church holds that Judas agreed on a Wednesday to betray Jesus, it is a traditional practice among Orthodox Christians to fast on all Wednesdays throughout the year. (It is also traditional to fast on Fridays, but not for the same reason.)

In the Czech Republic, chimneys were traditionally swept on this day to be clean for Easter, hence the alternate names Ugly Wednesday, Soot-Sweeping Wednesday, or Black Wednesday.

Albrecht_Bouts_Simon_the_PhariseeIn some communities, as Maria tells, community-wide evening celebrations begin on Wednesday night; in Austria, it was known as the Feierabend (“evening celebration”). Every evening, work ends early and no unnecessary work is done so that the people can go into town and attend Tenebrae services. During these services, there are thirteen candles. After singing each of a dozen psalms, a candle is extinguished to remind us of how the disciples left Jesus one by one. Finally, only one candle is left lit, symbolizing Jesus left all alone. While the altar boy carries the lone candle away, leaving the church in darkness, the people sing the Miserere (Psalm 50). At the moment of darkness, a loud clash symbolizes Jesus’ death. At the end of the Miserere, the churchgoers engage in an ancient custom of banging the hymnals noisily, which symbolizes either the earthquake at Jesus’ death or the earthquake at His resurrection. After the “earthquake,” the altar boy brings the lone candle back into the church and sets it up on the candlestick, “a ray of hope anticipating the glorious Easter night.” (Trapp) In Malta, Holy Wednesday is also known as Wednesday of Shadows in reference to the Tenebrae service. Sometimes, this Tenebrae is celebrated on Maundy Thursday instead.

maundy-thursday-washing-desciples-feet14/2: Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday

Holy Thursday is also known as Maundy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Sheer Thursday, Thursday of Mysteries, and Green Thursday. None of the names are evenly distributed, with the “normal name” for the day varying by country and region, and even by liturgical and civil calendars. In fact, “Holy Thursday” is sometimes applied to the Feast of the Ascension, which commemorates Jesus’ ascension into heaven 40 days after His resurrection. According to some scholars, the term “maundy,” from which we get “Maundy Thursday,” originally comes from Jesus’ statement during the Last Supper, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) The words “a new commandment” in Latin are “Mandatum novum.” An alternative explanation is that “Maundy” comes from “maundsor baskets/purses” of alms that the king of England would distribute to the poor before Mass on that day, the old English “maund” meaning “to beg.” “Sheer” or “Shere Thursday” means “clean/bright Thursday” and refers either to the act of cleaning, or to the changing of colors from Lenten violet to Easter white, or because of a customary practice of shearing beards on that day. “Green Thursday” comes from the German word “greinen,” which means “to cry or moan.”

Holy Thursday commemorates the Maundy (Jesus washing His disciples’ feet) and the Last Supper that Jesus shared with His disciples. (In reality, the Maundy and Last Supper would have occurred on Tuesday evening since He died on a Wednesday and Thursday would have been the first day in the tomb, and coincidentally was also a high Sabbath. See my previous blog post about that topic.) In some churches, it is the practice of the bishops and abbots to kneel and wash the feet of the twelve oldest members of their communities. After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus stood and instructed them, “For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also.” This practice of washing the elders’ feet is meant to remind church members to take home this attitude of setting an example of putting others first and serving them. Interestingly, Maria comments, “because we Catholics [read: all Christians] have not awakened to this fact, we are rightly to be blamed for all the wrong and injustice and wars going on in the world!” (Trapp) It’s also traditional to commemorate the Lord’s Supper on this day.

last supperHoly Thursday also commemorates His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He prayed, “Oh, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but what You will.” (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36) That is, it commemorates the fact that Jesus “humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8) For this reason, the music begins as festive and the church bells ring “once more for the last time because, right afterwards, Holy Church, as the Bride of Christ, goes into mourning as she accompanies the Bridegroom through His hours of unspeakable suffering.” (Trapp) Because the bells are silent after the morning Mass of Holy Thursday, a children’s legend teaches that after the service, the bells fly to Rome, where the Pope blesses them; afterward, they fly back to the church just in time for the Easter service.

Since the 300s AD, Maundy Thursday has been considered the last day of Lenten fasting, though some churches continue the Lenten fast but relax it to allow oil and wine. It has (since the 300s AD) also been considered the day of reconciliation—i.e., the day on which those excommunicated could repent and be reconciled to the Church (see my previous post on Ash Wednesday for more information on the process of temporary excommunication and penance). There is also a tradition of visiting seven churches on this day, a tradition which probably originated in Ancient Rome. Today, different countries have traditions for visiting a different number of churches, ranging anywhere from one to fourteen (for each of the fourteen Stations of the Cross).

The altar is draped in white instead of Lenten violet on this day in honor of the Lord’s Last Supper. Certain cheerful hymns also return to this service. However, at the end of the service, the cheerful white is stripped from the altar, symbolizing Christ being stripped by the Roman soldiers prior to His crucifixion, and the sanctuary decorations are removed while the congregation reads or chants Psalm 22, a Messianic psalm that predicts His death.

The evening of Maundy Thursday begins the Easter Triduum, which will be discussed in the next blog post.


The Easter Triduum begins the evening of Maundy Thursday (2 April) and runs through Easter Sunday (5 April).


There are several traditional practices during this week, as explained above.

  • Readings. The readings for this week are:
    • Monday: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 36:5-11; Hebrews 9:11-15; John 12:1-11
    • Tuesday: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14; I Corinthians 1:18-31; John 12:20-36
    • Wednesday: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12:1-3; John 13:21-32
    • Thursday: Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
  • Spring Cleaning. The first three days of the week, Monday through Wednesday, are traditionally given to spring cleaning.
  • Tenebrae Services. This day usually begins the evening services of Holy Week. If you can, consider attending such a service. If you are unable or wish to recreate such a service in your own home or in a small group setting, you may replace any of the typical Catholic hymns with Protestant or Evangelical hymns with which you are more familiar (Catholics, please don’t take offense; remember that this series is aimed at Evangelicals who know little or nothing about Christian traditions), and you may consider having this service or family observance on Tuesday evening, which is when the first events symbolized (the disciples abandoning Christ) by the service would have occurred.
  • Church Visitation. On Thursday, it is traditional to visit 1-14 other churches, with 7 being the most traditional. The tradition is believed to have originated in ancient Rome, where most churches were actually house churches; therefore, there would have been many churches in one city. My mother told me that her adult Sunday School group would occasionally have a large party where they would travel to one person’s house for the appetizer, then to another’s for the first course, and so on, until they had been to several homes and eaten a full meal in one evening. If you are trying to follow the Christian traditions in a small group setting, consider traveling to each other’s homes rather than to seven churches.
  • Lord’s Supper. On Thursday, it is traditional to observe the Lord’s Supper. The Last Supper would actually have occurred on Tuesday, so you could alternately observe the Lord’s Supper on Holy Tuesday instead.
  • Décor. It’s traditional to briefly drape the altar with white cloth in honor of the Lord’s Supper and then to strip it from the altar, symbolizing Christ being stripped by the Roman soldiers prior to His crucifixion. In reality, the Lord’s Supper would have occurred on Tuesday evening and Jesus would have been stripped on Wednesday morning. In place of the Lenten violet or Passiontide scarlet, you may choose to both apply a white cloth and remove it on Thursday, the traditional day for this observance, or to apply it Tuesday evening and strip it Wednesday morning, the days the events would have actually occurred.
  • Interactive Reading. During the Thursday service, it is traditional to read or chant Psalm 22, a Messianic psalm predicting His death. You may choose to read or chant this psalm with your family or small group at any time this week, perhaps especially on Monday, since there are few practices for that day.


Frankly, there is so much that happens during this week and so little that occurs on the days they would actually have occurred in reality that I’m having difficulty coming up with appropriate projects. I asked myself whether I really want to knit something for every day of the eight-day week these events encompass (Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday), and I think I might, but I don’t have the time this year. I may update next year with projects for every day of this week, but for now, I’ve chosen only to have a project for Easter Sunday.



Christian Traditions 022: Palm Sunday

Von Trapp Follow-Along: As stated in the previous blog post, Maria discusses Passiontide at some length in her book under “Passiontide.” She also writes extensively about Palm Sunday specifically.


Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, during which we commemorate the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. Palm Sunday itself commemorates Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

palm branchSYMBOL

The symbol of Palm Sunday is, obviously, a palm branch. Traditionally, the palm branch is a symbol of joy and victory—in this case, it symbolizes victory over the flesh and the world or, more specifically, Christ’s coming victory over sin and death.

29 March 2015WHEN IS IT?

As discussed previously, Palm Sunday is the second Sunday of Passiontide, the last Sunday before Easter Sunday. It may occur as early as 15 March or as late as 18 April. This year, Palm Sunday falls on 29 March.

Palm Sunday is sometimes unofficially (in some places, officially) referred to as “Passion Sunday.” Prior to the 1969 Catholic reforms, the term “Passion Sunday” was only applied to the first Sunday of Passiontide in Catholic and non-Catholic churches. In this and all other posts on the topic, when I talk about “Passion Sunday,” I am referring to the first Sunday of Passiontide, and when I talk about “Palm Sunday,” I am referring to the second Sunday of Passiontide.

Palm SundayWHAT IS IT?

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is recorded in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19. In brief, the story is that Jesus came to Jerusalem before the Sabbath and sent His disciples into the city to obtain a donkey colt. Then, in fulfillment of prophecy, He rode the donkey into Jerusalem while the crowd threw their garments and palm branches on the ground before Him and waved palm branches, crying “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is He (or, the King of Israel) Who comes in the Name of the Lord!”

As discussed in a previous post, the Bible tells us that Jesus traveled to Bethany six days before His death and stayed with His friends there (Lazarus, Mary, and Martha), and that He traveled from Bethany to Jerusalem the following day (John 12:1, 12-15). As discussed in a previous post, Jesus died on a Wednesday afternoon, so that means He traveled to Bethany on Thursday and made His Triumphal Entry on the back of a donkey on Friday (in the evening of which, Sabbath would have begun). Therefore, celebrating His Triumphal Entry as having occurred on a Sunday is inaccurate, but probably not important from a theological perspective since, as I will discuss in a future blog post, it matters more that we obey God in faith (Romans 4:1-22, Galatians 3:6-9) than that we commemorate something on the exact day on which it may have occurred, especially given that there is no Scriptural command to observe Palm Sunday.

As discussed previously, Passiontide has been observed since the 200s AD, but the first recorded case of Palm Sunday being openly observed was after Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which reversed the declaration of Christianity as illegal, in 313 AD. The Christians in Jerusalem stood on the spot where the Triumphal Entry had occurred and read Zechariah 9:9 (“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion: shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”), then re-enacted the Triumphal Entry. They spread their garments on the ground, crying “Blessed be the King Who cometh in the Name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38; also Psalm 118:26) (Coincidentally, the crowd also cried “Hosanna” [Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9-10; John 12:13], which means “save now,” and is also found in Psalm 118, in verse 25.) The bishop, mounted on a donkey, rode up to the church on the Mount of Olives while the crowd surrounded him, carrying palms and singing hymns and joyful anthems. This practice spread to the Church at Rome, where the ceremony was preceded by a reading from the Bible describing the flight into Egypt because of Herod’s edict. This they did to remind “Christ’s people that Christ, the new Moses, in giving them the real manna, is delivering them out of the Egypt of sin and nourishing them in the Eucharist.” (per Maria Von Trapp)

We don’t know exactly when Christians began to annually observe Palm Sunday, only that it was observed at least sporadically since the 300s AD and that Christians began to observe it annually sometime between 600 and 1000 AD. In the 800s AD, the Church began to bless the palm branches prior to the Palm Sunday procession. In medieval times, the people met at a chapel or shrine outside of town, the bishop blessed the palms, and then the bishop and the people began their procession to the cathedral, often with the bishop riding on a donkey, with a crucifix carried ahead of them, or with the king carrying the Blessed Sacrament. Blessed palm leaves (or pussy willow, evergreen, olive, box elder, spruce, etc., depending on the area) are brought home and placed in every field or yard of the home, and sometimes in various places within the home (for example, Maria Von Trapp describes putting sprigs behind the pictures on the wall); this is thought to protect the property against evil spirits and damage from weather events. They may also be buried to preserve crops or used to decorate graves. Other blessed palm leaves are burned and their ashes preserved for the following year’s Ash Wednesday.

In some churches today, Palm Sunday has two foci: the Lord’s Triumphal Entry, and the Lord’s Passion. His Passion is also specifically observed later in Holy Week, regardless of whether it is observed on Palm Sunday. (Of course, this is only true if the church has services on those days.)


Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week. Next, I will publish a post about all of Holy Week minus the Easter Triduum. The Easter Triduum, which begins the evening of Maundy Thursday and ends the evening of Easter Sunday, deserves special attention and a blog post of its own. Easter Sunday will also have its own blog post.


There are many traditional practices for this day.

  • Readings. The readings for today are:
    • Isaiah 50:4-9a
    • Psalm 31:9-16
    • Philippians 2:5-11
    • Mark 14:1-15:47
  • Procession. Take part in a Palm Sunday procession, either in a church or in your own home or small group.
  • Décor. Save the palm branches and place them around your house.
  • Palm Branches. Traditionally, palm branches were placed or buried in all of the fields or yards of the home, and sprigs were often placed in various rooms of the house. This was thought to ward off evil spirits and protect from weather damage. Regardless of whether you believe in that, it might be fun and harmless to place the palm branches accordingly.


For today, we will craft palm branches.

  • Knitting Patterns. “Palm Tree” by Sunshine Knit Designs (here)
  • Crochet Patterns. “Palm Tree” by Amanda B (here) OR “Palm tree smoothie hat” by beffdizzle (here)



The True Date of Jesus’ Death: Part IV: Year of Jesus’ Death: Chapter 1: Year of Jesus’ Birth


As discussed in the previous blog posts on this topic, I decided to write an article on when Jesus died so I can shorten my other blog posts on Christian traditions by simply referring back to the article every time the topic comes up. However, there was so much information to go over that I was forced to divide it into several blog posts.

When considering the time of day, day of the week, year, and month and day of Jesus’ death, we find that these interplay deeply with each other and affect how we determine each. Previous blog posts addressed:

  • Part I: Facts from the Bible
  • Part II: Time of Jesus’ Death
  • Part III: Day of the Week of Jesus’ Death

To determine the year of Jesus’ death, we have to consider the interplay of the various possible dates for the years of His birth, His ministry’s beginning, other important events, and His death. The determination of the year in which Jesus died is too complicated to cover one blog post, so it will be divided into two “chapters.” The first chapter, offered in this post, will address the year of Jesus’ birth.


To determine the year of Jesus’ death, we have to consider the interplay of the various possible dates for the years of His birth, His ministry’s beginning, other important events, and His death.

It should be noted that His birth was traditionally dated at 1 A.D. by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century (there is no 0 A.D. or 0 B.C.), but that he set the date incorrectly. Specifically, he dated Jesus’ birth after the death of Herod the Great. Even the latest dates given for Herod’s death do not come in A.D., so Jesus had to have been born in B.C. In other words, if you thought Jesus was born in 1 A.D. and you’re basing your calculations of His birth and death on that concept, you should abandon that idea now.

Chapter 1. Year of Jesus’ Birth.

In Fact 1, we learned that Jesus was born after Caesar Augustus’s tax decree during or before the governorship of Cyrenius/Quirinius, and that this decree required people to return to their cities of origin.

The Greek verb translated “to be taxed” in Luke 2:1-3 is apographo and actually means to be enrolled or registered in an official listing of citizens. Essentially, it would have been a census taken for the purposes of counting the people and making them swear allegiance to the emperor and did not necessarily involve taxation to Rome. This was especially true in Judea because Judea did not pay taxes to Rome during all of Herod’s reign (they paid their taxes directly to Herod) and for roughly a decade past it until 6 or 7 A.D. Nevertheless, taxation to either Rome or to the local governorship likely occurred during a census. Oaths were normally ordered in conjunction with censuses, though Josephus records at least one instance in which 6,000 Pharisees refused to swear the oath to Augustus and Herod due to their belief in the coming Messiah, leading ultimately to Herod murdering many Pharisees, members of his own family, and others who sympathized with the Pharisees.

Among Roman citizens, the male head of a household had to travel to his home of origin for all censuses, though Joseph and Mary probably did not hold Roman citizenship, which was a rare and highly prized possession. However, in an Egyptian census document from 104 A.D., the male heads of households, citizens or not, were specifically instructed to return to their original homes for the census, so it makes sense that the same might have been true for non-citizens living in the province of Syria, such as the Jews. However, it’s especially important to note that both Joseph and Mary were descendants of King David and therefore claimants to the throne of Judea (should such a throne ever come to exist), and all claimants to a throne were required to make an oath of allegiance to the emperor. Therefore, although a wife would normally not be required to accompany her husband to a census and oath, Mary would have been thanks to her royal lineage. This was true regardless of the circumstances, but also most especially at this time in history, because the Jews had engaged in a few recent minor rebellions and loudly expressed expectation of the Messiah, Who would come from the line of David, according to prophecy. Therefore, although other Roman censuses did require non-citizen male heads of households to return to their original city—that is, the city where they were born—as descendants of King David and therefore claimants to the throne, Joseph and Mary would have been required to return to the City of David. (Bucher, N.d.; Martin, 1996)

Although Roman citizens were required to undergo Rome-sponsored census registration and oath-taking every five years, non-citizens were not, with few empire-wide exceptions and numerous local exceptions. The census mentioned in Matthew and Luke seems to have been one of those exceptions, as Luke specifically states that Augustus commanded that “all the [Roman] world be taxed [registered].” Caesar Augustus, whose real name was Gaius Octavius, reigned over the Roman Empire from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D. The Acts of Augustus lists three empire-wide censuses that Augustus ordered: in the years 28 B.C., 8 B.C., and 14 A.D. It would have taken several years for the bureaucracy of the census to reach Palestine, so the census ordered in 8 B.C. would not have been conducted in Palestine in 8 B.C. but at least a few years later. In fact, an ancient Armenian historian named Moses of Khorene reported that the Roman census agents arrived in Armenia in 3 B.C., five years after the census was ordered. It’s quite reasonable to think they arrived in Judea around the same time. (Bucher, N.d.; Martin, 1996)

The whole of the Roman Empire had to swear fealty to Augustus in 27 B.C., shortly after he became emperor, and 2 B.C. was his Silver Jubilee, so it seems quite reasonable that the Roman empire would again be made to swear fealty to him on such an auspicious occasion, which itself was accompanied by celebrations and senatorial decorations the likes of which had never been seen before or since. In 2 B.C., Augustus received the title “Father of My Country” due to actions possibly involving the census (which would therefore have to have been completed probably by late 3 B.C., which fits with the aforementioned Armenian historian’s report). Specifically, all people of the Roman Empire, citizens and non-citizens alike, had to swear fealty to Augustus, and it’s probable that this oath-taking was required during the census, especially considering that oaths to the emperor were required during all other censuses. Furthermore, as discussed above, censuses normally occurred for Roman citizens every five years, and as it happens, 8 B.C. was one of those years, which means 3 B.C. (five years later) was another. An inscription in Paphlagonia dated to 3 B.C. records that all inhabitants of Paphlagonia, both citizens and non-citizens, were required to take an oath of obedience to Augustus. Therefore, it’s quite sensible to think that the every-five-year requirement that all Roman citizens be registered in 3 B.C. was combined with the previously-announced requirement that all non-citizens be registered and make their oath. (Bucher, N.d.; Martin, 1996)

Jesus is generally accepted to have been born sometime between 7 B.C. and 1 B.C., for reasons I’ll discuss below. During this time, the provincial governor of Syria was a man named Saturninus until spring of 2 B.C., the governor for the summer of 2 B.C. is not listed (which is not surprising, since during this time, all provincial governors would have wanted to be in Rome for the celebration of Augustus’ Silver Jubilee), and Quintilius Varus took over governorship after the summer of 2 B.C. The historian Josephus mentions that there were multiple governors in Syria during the governorship of Saturninus as opposed to a single governor during each of the governorships of Titius and Quintilius Varus. (Martin, 1996)

As discussed in Fact 1, the Greek is a bit nonspecific and could mean that the census occurred during or before Quirinius was governor of Syria. Furthermore, the Greek word rendered “governor” in Luke 2:2 regarding Quirinius is hegemoneuontos, a verb which refers to someone who ruling or administrating his official duties from the highest to the lowest rank (Prof. Martin [1996] gives the example of “an exalted President” down to “the local dogcatcher for the city”). It is not a title of power or rank, such as “governor.” In fact, in the next chapter, Luke (3:1) refers to Pontius Pilate with the exact same word and grammatical structure, but Pilate was a Praefectus Judaeae, not a Legatus (governor). This makes it clear that Luke was not necessarily referring to Legatus (provincial governor) when he mentioned Quirinius, but rather to a leader or administrator of some sort. (Martin, 1996)

Quirinius’ sole (unshared), official governorship over the province of Syria started sometime in 6 or 7 A.D., long after Jesus was probably born. However, he was in Syria previously in another leadership role and Roman historical records indicate he was a “procurator” in Judea at the time of the 3 B.C. census—in fact, that he was probably responsible for administrating the census. Prof. Ernest Martin (1996) explains, “A procurator was normally a personal advocate of the emperor with special authority quite distinct from the residential governor.” (para. 8). Furthermore, according to the Cambridge Ancient History, “Each province had its equestrian procurator who in the eyes of the provincials was almost as important as the governor himself.” (Martin, 1996, para. 9). The procurators had so much power that there was usually a very icy relationship between them and the local governors. Therefore, it’s probable that Luke’s reference to Quirinius administrating his duties in Syria is more accurately a reference to him as procurator. (Bucher, N.d.; Martin, 1996)

To summarize the above, all evidence regarding Augustus’ decree for the Roman world to be registered and make an oath of fealty to him and regarding Quirinius’ administrative duties suggest that Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem for the census in 3 B.C.

In Fact 2, we learned that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great. Herod the Great was most likely king from approximately 37 B.C. to 1 B.C. (side note: he was appointed king by the Romans about three years before he began his reign over Jerusalem, and these dates are based on Josephus’s writings, which themselves contain contradictory dates). Some scholars have argued that Herod died in 8 B.C. However, as noted above, the census decree predated Jesus’ birth probably by a few years, Jesus’ birth predated Herod’s death, and the tax decree was issued in 8 B.C., so Herod certainly could not have died in 8 B.C. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Herod died between a lunar eclipse and the Passover (which takes place in March or April every year), and so, if this is true (scholars find some reasons to doubt certain things Josephus has written, so it may be the relationship between a lunar eclipse and Herod’s death is mythical), Herod probably died in the beginning of the Roman calendar year 1 B.C., in which year the lunar eclipse was January 10 and the Passover was April 11. (Akin, 2013b; Akin, 2013c; Conte, 2003)

As demonstrated by the fact that Herod ordered the deaths of males under the age of two, Herod thought that the Christ may have been born as early as two years before this event. However, since he probably died in the beginning of a Roman calendar year, he most likely ordered the Massacre of Innocents at the end of the Roman calendar year at the latest, so toward the end of 2 B.C. (Of course, it’s possible that Herod ordered the Massacre of Innocents and then died several years later, in which case he probably ordered the Massacre of Innocents no later than the end of 3 B.C. but probably still died in 1 B.C.) Therefore, Jesus may most likely have been born either in 3-2 B.C. at the latest according to Herod’s death year. Coincidentally, the majority of ancient Christian writers supported 3-2 B.C. as Jesus’ birth year, and that dating was most accepted among the earliest Christian writers and least accepted among the latest Christian writers (see Footnote 1).

As an additional note, Luke specifies that Mary was heavily pregnant at the time that she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for the census, so it’s probable that she gave birth shortly after arrival in Bethlehem. I’m sure there were many people in Bethlehem at the time—in fact, probably all the living descendants of King David, which generation was approximately 28 generations after King David and so had had plenty of time to expand to a very large number—and there may have been a rather long line to get registered and take your oath. We can’t know for sure, but it may very well have taken 2-3 months of waiting for your turn. At any rate, my point is that, since Mary was heavily pregnant at the time, they probably didn’t have to spend long in Bethlehem before Jesus was born and they were probably still going through the registration process at the time of the birth.

To summarize the above, all evidence regarding Herod’s reign over Jerusalem suggest that Jesus was born in 3 B.C. or 2 B.C.



To summarize what we know from just Facts 1 and 2:

  • the census ordered by Augustus and during which Quirinius was in Syria was likely completed in 3 B.C.;
  • Jesus was probably born while the census was ongoing;
  • the date of Herod’s death is probably the spring of 1 B.C.;
  • the Massacre of Innocents probably occurred no later than the winter of 2 B.C.; and
  • Jesus was probably not older than 2 years at the time of the Massacre of Innocents.

In conclusion, Jesus was most likely born in 3 B.C.

The next posts will address:

  • Part IV: Year of Jesus’ Death: Chapter 2: Year of Jesus’ Ministry
  • Part V: Full Date of Jesus’ Death



Footnote 1: Early Christian Writers on Jesus’ Birth Year. (Akin, 2013d)

Person/Group Date Century of Publication
Cassiodorus Senator 3 B.C. 5th to 6th
St. Irenaeus of Lyon 2-3 B.C. 2nd
Tertullian of Carthage 2-3 B.C. 2nd to 3rd
Julius Africanus 2-3 B.C. 2nd to 3rd
St. Hippolytus of Rome 2-3 B.C. 2nd to 3rd
Hippolytus of Thebes 2-3 B.C. 7th to 8th
Origen of Alexandria 2-3 B.C. 2nd to 3rd
Eusebius of Caesarea 2-3 B.C. 3rd to 4th
Epiphanius of Salamis 2-3 B.C. 4th to 5th
Orosius 2 B.C. 4th to 5th
The Alogoi 4 B.C. or 9 A.D. 2nd to 3rd
Dionysius Exiguus 1 B.C. 6th
The Chronographer of the Year 354 1 A.D. 4th

As seen in the above table, there’s good reason from other ancient sources to select 2-3 B.C. as Jesus’ date of birth. Out of 13 early Christian writers, 10 (77%) dated it to 3-2 B.C., and 1 each dated it to 1 B.C., 1 A.D., and 4 B.C. or 9 A.D. (See Footnote 1.) Of those selecting 3-2 B.C., 50% published in the 2nd-3rd centuries, 30% published in the 3rd-5th centuries, and 20% published in the 5th century or later. Of those selecting another date, 33% published in the 2nd-3rd centuries, 33% in the 3rd-5th centuries, and 33% in the 5th century or later. Another way of looking at it is that 83% publishing in the 2nd-3rd centuries agreed on 2-3 B.C., 75% publishing in the 3rd-5th centuries agreed on 2-3 B.C., and 67% publishing in the 5th century or later agreed on 2-3 B.C. Therefore, among early Christian writers, there was a great consensus (77%) that Jesus was born in 2-3 B.C., and that consensus was greatest among the very earliest of writers.



Akin, J. (13 April 2013b). “The 100-year old *mistake* about the Birth of Jesus.” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <;.

Akin, J. (17 April 2013c). “Jesus’ birth and when Herod the Great *really* died.” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <;.

Akin, J. (21 April 2013d). “What year was Jesus born? The answer may surprise you.” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <;.

Bucher, R.P. (N.d.). “Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, and the Census.” Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. Retrieved from <;.

Conte, R.L. (2003). “The Chronology of Herod the Great’s Reign.” Retrieved from: <;.



I will periodically edit this post to add links to the following posts in this series as they are published.

Christian Traditions 021: Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

Von Trapp Follow-Along: As stated in the previous blog post, Maria makes almost no mention of this period.


The Annunciation is one of the oldest Christian commemorations, being a bit younger than Easter and a bit older than Christmas and Candlemas, possibly around the same age as Passiontide but older than Palm Sunday. This makes it possibly the second-oldest Christian commemoration of all. Specifically, it commemorates the announcement Gabriel made to Mary that she would conceive and bear the Messiah. Therefore, it specifically commemorates the date Jesus was conceived.

25 March 2015WHEN IS IT?

The Feast (or Solemnity) of the Annunciation is observed on 25 March every year, regardless of the day of the week. Because Easter may occur as early as 22 March or as late as 25 April, the Annunciation may occur after Easter or, more commonly, during Lent or Passiontide. This year, it falls during Passiontide, which runs from 22 March to 4 April. Specifically, it falls during the first week of Passiontide, known as Passion Week. I personally think this is very fitting because the Annunciation, which commemorates Mary learning that she would bear the Messiah, falls on 25 March while the Friday of Sorrows, which commemorates Mary’s sorrow at Jesus’ death, falls on 27 March.

Paolo_de_Matteis_-_The_AnnunciationWHAT IS IT?

The Annunciation commemorates Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was to bear the Messiah: “Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God. And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end…. The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.” (See Luke 1:26-38.) Therefore, simultaneously, it commemorates Mary conceiving Jesus.

As I discussed in a previous blog post and will discuss in a future blog post (link to be added here when it is published; currently scheduled for 10 April 2015), Easter has been commemorated since the first century AD and possibly in the first year following Jesus’ death. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus died on Passover, which is 14 Nisan on the Jewish calendar. However, the Hebrew calendar is significantly different from the Roman calendar. As I will discuss in the future blog post mentioned above, there is good reason to believe that translates to 3 April, 30 AD. Nevertheless, Tertullian of Carthage (of the Western or Rome-associated Church) calculated in 200 AD that in the year of Jesus’ death, 14 Nisan correlated to 25 March and the Eastern (or Jerusalem-associated Church) calculated it to be 6 April. (Most likely, neither is correct because the Passover did not fall on either of those dates within 10 years of Jesus’ most likely year of death.) Therefore, the Western Church began to commemorate Easter on 25 March every year and the Eastern Church began to commemorate Easter on 6 April every year. Then in 221 AD, Julius Sextus Africanus suggested that Jesus entered the world (i.e., was conceived) and left the world (i.e., died) on the same day—therefore, that He was conceived on 25 March (per the Western Church) or 6 April (per the Eastern Church). Adding nine months to either date gives us 25 December (Western Church) or 6 January (Eastern Church) for His date of birth, which is when the respective churches now commemorate His birth. Nevertheless, the Annunciation has therefore been considered to have fallen on 25 March or 6 April since as early as 221 AD. When exactly Christians began annually commemorating it is unknown. The first mention of it as a Christian feast day dates to 656 AD, wherein it is stated that the feast was celebrated throughout the entire Church, so we know its commemoration is significantly older than the 600s AD.

(Side Note: This feast should not be confused with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is actually a commemoration of the Catholic sacred tradition belief that Mary was immaculately conceived as well. That is, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception commemorates Mary’s mother conceiving her, whereas the Feast of the Annunciation commemorates Mary conceiving Jesus.)

There are very few traditional or commemorative practices for the Annunciation. The first practice I found is an exemption from Lenten fasting, dating back to at least 1251 AD, wherein Solemnities are exempted from Lenten fasting, and the Annunciation is now considered a Solemnity. However, there’s some confusion about whether this actually applies to the Annunciation. Read here for more mind-numbing details. The only other practice I found is for farmers to pray for the success of the year’s crops due to the Annunciation’s coincidental occurrence close to the beginning of spring.

As a side note, if the Annunciation falls on Good Friday (whereupon it is transferred to the Monday following the Sunday after Easter Sunday), English folk tradition holds that it is a bad omen and bad luck will follow. The saying goes, “If Our Lord falls in Our Lady’s lap, England will meet with a great mishap.” In 2005, these dates occurred together and were followed by terrorist attacks on London’s subways. The next time these days will occur together is 2016.


This day commemorates Mary conceiving Jesus. In Luke 2, we read that immediately after Gabriel made this announcement to her, Mary set off to visit Elizabeth. Upon Mary greeting Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) leapt and Elizabeth made a prophecy and Mary responded with a song. The commemoration of this event, the Feast of the Visitation, is held on 30 March in the Eastern Church or 31 May in the Western Church.


There are few traditional practices for this feast day.

  • Readings. The readings for today are:
    • Isaiah 7:10-14
    • Psalm 45
    • Hebrews 10:4-10
    • Luke 1:26-38
  • Food. Today is an optional exemption from Lenten fasting. Technically, every Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (or, Rose Sunday), and St. Patrick’s Day are all exemptions. My husband and I felt that the special character of Laetare Sunday as an exception to the rule due to its status as the halfway mark in Lent and changing the character of Lent to looking toward Easter would be lost if every Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day, and the Annunciation were all exceptions. Therefore, we chose to use only Laetare Sunday as an exemption. (We ended up also making a tiny exception on St. Patrick’s Day in spite of our plans.) However, it really is up to you whether you make exceptions or whether you even fast on Lent.
  • Prayer. Traditionally, farmers pray for good crops on this day. If you live in the U.S., consider a prayer for our bees, which are responsible for much of our crops’ pollination (in fact, they’re necessary for pollination of 70 of our top 100 food crops, which supply about 90% of the world’s nutrition) and which were very hard-hit recently and have yet to recover. The number of bee colonies in the U.S. has declined by 90% since 1962, but colonies have died off in rates up to 60-90% in a single year in recent years. The two leading causes identified are loss of habitat (wild bees) and pesticides (wild and domesticated bees). Obviously, pesticides aren’t going away—they make our crop production much greater than without—but the effect on the bee population is very concerning. Other countries have found solutions suitable to their cultures and economies to stop or slow their bee population decline, but these solutions are generally rejected in the U.S. for various reasons. Consider a prayer that we can find a good solution to this issue that will save bees while preserving economic stability and implement it quickly.
  • Hymns. Consider learning and singing an Annunciation Hymn. Below is an example called Troparion of the Annunciation:
    • Today is the beginning of our salvation,
      And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
      The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
      As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
      Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: 

      Rejoice, O Full of Grace, :The Lord is with You!


Because this day commemorates the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, the project for today will be an angel.

  • Knitting Projects. “Angel Choir Set” by Cindy Polfer (here) OR “Angel Ornament” by Edie Eckman (here) OR “Tiny Angel Doll” by Mama Bear (here).
  • Crochet Projects. “Angel/Ängel” by Erika Olsson (here) OR “Angel in Flight Ornament” by Priscilla Hewitt (here) OR “Angel Bells” by Sue Childress (here)

Christian Traditions 020: Passion Sunday

(Note from Author: Sorry, readers! As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I fell behind in my blogging. This post describes Passion Sunday, which actually occurred two days ago. Apologies!)

Von Trapp Follow-Along: As stated in the previous blog post, Maria discusses several of the most important aspects of Passiontide under “PASSIONTIDE” in her book. She writes approximately one page on Passion Sunday.


Passion Sunday is the first Sunday of Passiontide and of Passion Week. It begins the weeklong commemoration of Jesus’ last year of ministry prior to His crucifixion.

22 March 2015WHEN IS IT?

Passion Sunday begins the two-week Passiontide period and always occurs two Sundays before Easter Sunday. It may occur as early as 8 March or as late as 11 April. This year, Passion Sunday fell on 22 March.

There are two weeks in Passiontide, the last two weeks before Easter Sunday, and so there are two Sundays in Passiontide. The first Sunday of Passiontide, which is the fifth Sunday of Lent, was officially known as “Passion Sunday” until the 1969 Catholic reforms removed any reference to this Sunday specifically or to Passiontide in general (though many Catholic and non-Catholic groups have retained the pre-1969 terminology and commemoration). The second Sunday of Passiontide, which is the sixth Sunday of Lent, is still officially known as “Palm Sunday.” However, Palm Sunday is sometimes unofficially (in some cases, now officially) referred to as “Passion Sunday.” In this post and all other posts discussing the topic, when I talk about “Passion Sunday,” I do not mean “Palm Sunday,” I mean the first Sunday of Passiontide, officially known as “Passion Sunday.”

Passion Sunday Ehler 01WHAT IS IT?

Passion Sunday, or “The First Sunday of the Passion,” is also known as Iudica Sunday or Judica Sunday due to the first word in the opening line of mass on that day (“iudica” or alternate spelling “judica”). “The Sunday is also known as Neomania, the Sunday of the new moon, because it always falls after the new moon which regulates the feast of Easter.” (Source) In Germany, this day is also known as Black Sunday because, although elsewhere the crucifixes are veiled with violet or scarlet cloths, in Germany they are veiled with black cloths. In northeast England, it is known as Carlin Sunday or Carling Sunday because of a tradition of eating carlin peas on this day.

As mentioned in the previous blog post, Passion Sunday has been specifically annually observed since the 800s AD, though Passiontide has been observed since the 200s AD. Furthermore, Passion Sunday begins the first week of Passiontide, “Passion Week.” Today, there are no other observances in Passion Week beyond Passion Sunday. This day “memorializes the increasing antipathy against Christ from the Jews who would not accept Him and accused Him of sorcery and of being blasphemous and possessed by a devil.” (Source)

Unless this has already occurred on Ash Wednesday, on Passion Sunday, statues and sacred images in the church and in the homes of adherents are veiled with purple or scarlet cloth (the cloth may not be translucent or decorated), and this veil remains until Eastertide begins. This veiling stems from the Gospel reading for Passion Sunday, John 8:46-59, wherein Jesus speaks in the temple, at the end of which the Jews take up stones to kill Him, but Jesus “hid Himself” and exited the temple by walking right through them. The veiling is also said to symbolize “the fact that Christ’s Divinity was hidden at the time of His Passion and death” (Source).


The first week of Passiontide has nothing unique to Passiontide going on. The second week of Passiontide, Holy Week, has quite a bit going on! Refer back to the previous post about Passiontide for the full calendar.


There are few traditional activities for Passion Sunday.

  • Readings. The readings for this Sunday for the year 2015 are:
    • Jeremiah 31:31-34
    • Psalm 51:1-12
    • Hebrews 5:5-10
    • John 12:20-33
  • Food. In northeast England, there is a Passion Sunday tradition for eating carlin peas (a.k.a., black peas, parched peas, maple peas).
  • Decor. If you have any statues, icons, religious paintings, etc., or even crucifixes or crosses in your home that have not been veiled, consider veiling them with violet or scarlet cloth until Eastertide.


One of the readings for Passion Sunday is John 12:3-7, wherein a sinful woman (often identified as Mary Magdalene) approaches Jesus, washes His feet with her tears and her hair, and anoints His head with expensive perfume. Therefore, one of the symbols of Passion Sunday is a jar of perfume. So for this activity, buy a small stoppered jar or bottle (you should be able to find these in most craft stores or online via eBay or Etsy) and knit or crochet a cozy. The size and shape of your bottle will dramatically alter the size and shape of your cozy, so I recommend finding a simple pattern for a candle, bottle, or jar cozy/cosie/cover on that works for you. Ideally, craft the cozy with scarlet yarn.



Christian Traditions 019: Passiontide

(Author’s Note: Hi, readers! Sorry, I’m falling behind. I have a tendency to get interested in something and research the heck out of it to the point of ignoring all my other projects, and that’s what I’ve been doing recently. So Passiontide actually started yesterday [Sunday, 22 March], but I’m just now getting around to posting this. Sorry for the delay!)

Von Trapp Follow-Along. Maria discusses several of the most important aspects of Passiontide under “PASSIONTIDE” in her book.


Passiontide, the final two weeks of Lent, step up the preparations for Easter. Whereas Lent focuses on Jesus’ life and ministry, Passiontide focuses on Jesus’ last week prior to His crucifixion and more specifically on His sufferings (“passion”).


Red. In the Catholic Church, which has officially abolished any commemoration of Passiontide, the color for this time period is still the Lenten violet. However, in some Catholic and Anglican churches, crimson is used in décor and vestments for the entirety of Passiontide or for the latter half of Passiontide.

veiled crossSYMBOL

The Veiled Cross. As described previously, crucifixes were once adorned not with the body of Christ but with jewels and intricate carvings. During Lent, they were veiled so as to prevent parishioners from being distracted from their penance and observance of Lent by the splendor of the crucifixes. If not veiled during Lent, they are veiled during Passiontide. The color of the veil varies from violet to crimson to black depending largely on locale and denomination. The veil is gauzy so that the outlines of the cross can still be seen, and so the cross remains as a reminder of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, but the shininess of the metal is dulled and the intricate details obscured so that the cross does not detract from penance and observance of the Lent or Passiontide period.

22 March to 4 April 2015WHEN IS IT?

Passiontide encompasses the last two weeks before Easter and so includes Passion Week (which includes Passion Sunday and Friday of Sorrows) and Holy Week (which includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday).

Because Passiontide starts two weeks before and ends the day before Easter Sunday, it may start as early as 8 March and end as late as 24 April. This year, Passiontide runs from 22 March to 4 April.

Palm SundayWHAT IS IT?

Passiontide has been observed since the 200s AD (therefore older than observance of Lent but younger than observance of Easter). Although Palm Sunday was first openly observed the year Emperor Constantine declared the practice of Christianity legal via the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, Christians only began annually observing it between 600 and 1000 AD. Passion Sunday has been specifically observed as such since the 800s AD.

“The Passion” or “The Passion of Christ” refers to the final brief period of Jesus’ life (beginning with His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem approximately one week prior to His death) and specifically His sufferings in and related to His crucifixion, hence the name “Passiontide” for this commemorative period.

Passiontide includes two weeks: Passion Week and Holy Week. The first commemorates His last year of ministry while the second commemorates His last week of life (see Footnote 1). Maria Von Trapp explains, “The purpose of Passiontide is to call to our memory the persecutions of which Our Lord was the object during His public life and especially toward the end. If Septuagesima season [Pre-Lent Season] acts as a remote preparation for Easter, and Lent the proximate one, the last two weeks of Passiontide are the immediate preparation.” (Source)

During Passiontide, the crucifixes are covered with violet cloth (crimson in some churches) if this was not done on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent (see my post on that topic). In some churches, the crucifixes are re-veiled with black cloth on Maundy Thursday. The Gloria Patri is not prayed and Alleluias are not sung during these two weeks of mourning.

Passion Week. The first week of Passiontide, this week commemorates Jesus’ last year on earth. It includes Passion Sunday and Friday of Sorrows. Passion Sunday will have its own individual blog post. However, Friday of Sorrows will not; it commemorates the sorrow Jesus’ suffering and death caused His mother Mary, and was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 as a duplicate of the feast on 15 September, which is known as The Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As mentioned multiple times previously, I am writing this series as an Evangelical’s study of Christian traditions, and so venerations of Mary are not appropriate to the series. I hope in the future to study some or all of the commemorations of Mary, but at this time I am focusing on those an Evangelical can celebrate. Although I don’t see anything wrong with considering or even commemorating the sorrow a mother feels or felt over the death of her child, there’s just too much to cover in this blog series at this time, so I’m generally focusing on commemorations that do not focus solely on Mary.

Holy Week. The second week of Passiontide, this week commemorates Jesus’ last week of life on earth (again, see Footnote 1). Some consider Holy Week to start with Palm Sunday, while others consider it to start on Holy Monday, leaving Palm Sunday, which commemorates His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, awkwardly sandwiched between Passion Week and Holy Week. (Some calendars consider Holy Week to start with the Friday before Good Friday). For simplicity, I consider Holy Week to start with Palm Sunday. Some calendars also recognize a separate tiny liturgical season called the Easter Triduum, which includes the evening of Maundy Thursday and all of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, in which case, Holy Week ends on Maundy Thursday. Because there is so much to discuss in the Easter Triduum, I’ve decided for bloggy reasons to use this separation and therefore will consider Holy Week to begin on Palm Sunday and end on Maundy Thursday. Palm Sunday will have its own individual blog post, but the rest of Holy Week (Holy Monday through Maundy Thursday) will be lumped together in one post and the Easter Triduum will be considered separate from Passiontide and be discussed in another individual post.


The calendar for Passiontide this year looks like this:

  • 3/22-3/28: Passion Week
    • 3/22: Passion Sunday
  • 3/25: The Annunciation (immoveable feast)
  • 3/29-4/2: Holy Week
    • 3/29: Palm Sunday
    • 3/30: Holy Monday
    • 3/31: Holy Tuesday
    • 4/1: Holy Wednesday or Spy Wednesday
    • 4/2: Maundy Thursday
    • 4/3: Good Friday
    • 4/4: Holy Saturday



Footnote 1: His Last Week. Holy Week is often described as commemorating Jesus’ last week of life on earth. This simplification may be a bit of misspeak, as many simplifications are. In reality, if using the consideration of Holy Week as beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Holy Saturday, it encompasses His death and burial, including three days and nights in the tomb (which I will discuss in more detail on the appropriate days), so it does not commemorate a full week of life. Furthermore, Jesus resurrected and lived another 40 days on earth before ascending into heaven, so the final week before His resurrection, and even the final week before His death (which would correctly run from Thursday to Thursday rather than from Sunday to Saturday) cannot be correctly understood as His last week of life on earth. Therefore, this reference to Holy Week as His last week of life on earth should be understood for what it is—a simplification which, like other simplifications, is not completely correct—and viewed as a symbolic memorial based on some history rather than as a 100% historically-accurate commemoration. Of course, this is true of virtually all commemorations of any sort, but I just wanted to clear up any misconceptions gained from the commemoration.