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.
WHEN 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).
WHAT IS IT?
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.
3/30: 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).
4/1: 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.
In 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.
4/2: 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.
Holy 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.
KNIT AND CROCHET ACTIVITIES
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.