Holy Week: The Darkness Before the Resurrection

The holy season of Lent ends this week with perhaps the most significant collection of days in the liturgical year, the Great Three Days also known as the Triduum: beginning on the evening of Maundy Thursday, continuing through Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and leading into the Great Vigil of Easter on Easter Eve and the Sunday of the Resurrection (Easter Day).

The dramatic triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday quickly changes, as we know. All four Gospels record the triumphal entry but differ slightly with the descriptions of the first half of Holy Week, namely the days known as Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday. For these days, the Gospel of John records the anointing of Jesus at Bethany and a foreshadowing of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial, while the Gospel of Matthew retells Judas arranging the betrayal of Jesus with the high priests.

Another longstanding tradition of the Church during Holy Week is the Chrism Mass, when all the priests of the diocese gather to reaffirm their ordination vows, restate their allegiance to their bishop and receive from the bishop the blessed oils to be used in their parish ministries that year. Two separate oils are blessed and distributed: the oils for the Anointing of the Sick, and the chrism (perfumed oil) that is used for the anointing in Baptism. The Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee celebrates this Chrism Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Holy Tuesday each year.

The liturgy for Maundy Thursday is sometimes known as the Maundy Thursday Ceremonies, as this liturgy contains a number of elements that again trace the life events of Jesus: the footwashing, the celebration of the Eucharist and the stripping of the altar.

On the night before he was crucified, Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the apostles at which he washed their feet and instituted the Eucharist (“This do in remembrance of me”) by blessing, breaking and serving bread and wine. After the supper, Jesus went out into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (“Father, let this cup pass from me”), where he was then arrested and taken to be judged by Pontius Pilate. The scourging and mocking of Jesus is commemorated by the stripping of the altar.

The liturgy for Good Friday also contains a number of specific elements commemorating the Crucifixion: the reading of the Passion Gospel, the solemn collects, the veneration of the cross and the singing of hymns and anthems specifically extolling the cross. This liturgy is stark and completely unadorned, framed by silent processions at the beginning and the end.

The Triduum ends gloriously and triumphantly with the Great Vigil of Easter and the Easter Day celebrations. At the Easter Vigil the new fire is kindled (the regeneration of life in the tomb); the Paschal Candle (symbol of our baptisms) is lighted; the Exsultet, the greatest prayer of the Church, is chanted; and the first Eucharist of Easter is celebrated. The celebrations of the Resurrection continue on Easter Day with triumphant hymns and the reading of the Gospel account of the women discovering the empty tomb and encountering the Risen Lord.

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 1:33 PM
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