The week preceding Easter is known as Holy Week. This year, Holy Week began on March 25, Sunday and will end on March 31, Saturday. It is the last week of Lent before the celebrations of Easter Sunday, running from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday. It is a time to commemorate, reflect upon and re-enact specifically the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Over the years, this week has been considered the most important and holy time in the life of the church – especially what is known as the ‘Triduum’ – or Great Three Days – of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Read on to find out the significance of each day in Holy Week.
Palm Sunday: It is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week. It commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. In the Gospels, as Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a young donkey, the people welcomed him by laying palm branches and their cloaks across the road, giving Jesus royal treatment and as a sign of homage. Palm branches are widely recognised as symbol of peace and victory, hence the preferred use on Palm Sunday. The use of a donkey instead of a horse is symbolic as it represents the humble arrival of someone in peace as opposed to arriving on a steed in war. The colours of the Mass on Palm Sunday are red and white, symbolising the redemption in blood that Christ paid for the world.
Maundy Thursday: Also known as ‘Holy Thursday’ is the day before Good Friday. On this day, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, known as the Last Supper. Two important events are the focus of Maundy Thursday. First, Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples and thereby instituted the Lord’s Supper, also called Communion. Second, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet as an act of humility and service, thereby setting an example that we should love and serve one another in humility. The word Maundy is derived from the Latin word for command. It refers to the command Jesus gave to the disciples at the Last Supper that they should love and serve one another.
Good Friday: Good Friday is commemorated to mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the cross and his death at Calvary. The Gospel states that the Christ was put to death after he was betrayed by Judas and sentenced to death. Christians believe Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and rose again three days later. The word ‘good’ in the Good Friday stands for pious or holy. It is a solemn day of mourning. Christians observe this day with fasting, prayer and repentance on the suffering of Jesus. Churches also conduct meditative services and remove all the decorations on the statues. Each member of the Church tries to understand the cost at which the Christ has won redemption for the people.
Holy Saturday: It is the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Some Christians recognise Holy Saturday as the day on which Jesus ‘rested’ from his work of providing salvation. After his crucifixion, Jesus was laid in a nearby tomb and his body remained there the entirety of Holy Saturday. The disciples had scattered when Jesus was arrested, and they spent the first Holy Saturday hiding for fear of also being arrested. Some churches celebrate Holy Saturday by observing a day of sombre reflection as they contemplate the world of darkness that would exist without the hope of Christ’s resurrection.
Easter Sunday: Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is celebrated on Sunday and marks the end of Holy Week, the end of Lent, the last day of the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday). The Gospel states Jesus rose from the read on the third day following his crucifixion. His resurrection marks the triumph of good over evil, sin and death. Easter also symbolises forgiveness, rebirth and God’s saving power.
Over the centuries, this practice of remembering the last days of Jesus’ earthly life spread throughout Christianity – and this time of remembering is called the Holy Week. The week recalls the events of the week that led up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.