Archive for the ‘Holy Week’ Category

Holy Saturday


From the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962:


 Holy Saturday is liturgically a day of deepest mourning, a day which the Church spends at our Lord’s sepulcher, meditating on His sacred passion and death.  There is no Mass; the sacred altar is bare.


The Solemn Easter Vigil service, for which Pope Pius XII gave permission in 1951 and made obligatory in 1956, is intended to show liturgically how life and grace flow to us from the death of our Lord: the Light of the World is exhibited under the symbol of the Paschal Candle, dispelling the night of sin by the light of grace; the Exultet – the Easter Proclamation – is the song that heralds Easter, singing of the brightness of the holy night of Resurrection; the Lessons taken from the ancient prophecies tell of God’s wonderful dealings with His people under the Old Covenant, faint typed of glorious happenings that were to come to pass under the New; the waters for Baptism are blessed – those waters in which those who have been buried along with Christ die to sin and with Him rise to walk in newness of life; this grace He has won for us, and in Baptism bestowed on us; by renewal of our baptismal promises we publicly announce our purpose to show forth this newness in our daily lives – and finally the Church Triumphant is called on to intercede for us, and the Mass of the Resurrection begins.


The hour for beginning this solemn service should be selected so that the Mass of the Resurrection may begin about midnight; but the Bishop of the Diocese may judge it better for special reasons to begin earlier; nevertheless, this earlier start should preferably be later than twilight, and on no account before sunset.

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Good Friday

Extract from General Decree restoring the liturgy of Holy Week:

“Let the faithful be led to understand properly today’s special liturgical act, in which the Passion of our Lord is solemnly chanted: prayers offered for the needs of the whole Church and the human race: the holy Cross, monument of our Redemption, is adored most devoutly by the clergy and faithful, the whole family of Christ: finally, as for hundreds of years, was the practice, all who wish and are duly prepared go forward to receive Communion with this as their chief intention, that by devoutly receiving the Body of the Lord (which He delivers this day for all men) they may enjoy richer fruits of that Redemption.  Let the priests urge the faithful to make this sacred day one of loving recollection, neither should they forget the law of abstinence and fasting.”

The instruction given by Pope Pius XII stipulates that Good Friday’s solemn liturgy take place after noon; the best time would be three o’clock, and on no account may it begin later than six o’clock.  The same Pope revives the old practice of all receiving Communion this day as a necessary part of the liturgical function.

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The Last Supper

Today, the disciples eagerly make last minute preparations for what they expect to be a joyous Passover meal.  Little do they know what will come to pass in only a matter of hours…

Extract from General Decree restoring the liturgy of Holy Week:

“Let the faithful be taught about the love with which Christ our Lord on the day before He suffered instituted the sacred and holy Eucharist, Sacrifice and Sacrament, the perpetual memorial of His Passion, to be offered day by day through the ministry of His priests.  Let the faithful be invited to render due adoration after the end of Mass to the most holy Sacrament.  Finally, wherever to illustrate the Lord’s commandment of brotherly love the Washing of the Feet is carried out according to the restored rubrics, let the faithful be taught the deep significance of this holy rite, and let them spend this day in works of Christian charity.”

The Mass today, which by order of Pope Pius XII should not begin before 5 p.m. or after 8 p.m., specially commemorates the Institution of the Blessed Eucharist at the Last Supper, and the Ordination of the Apostles, and is, therefore, a Mass of joy and thanksgiving.  Hence the Church lays aside for the moment the penitential violet, and assumes festive white vestments; the altar is decorated; the Gloria is said.  During the Gloria, the bells are rung, and from that time until the Easter Vigil they remain silent.

After the evening Mass the Alter is stripped in order to show that the holy Sacrifice is interrupted and will not be offered again until Holy Saturday is ending.

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A very enlightening article from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s What Does the Prayer Really Say blog (http://wdtprs.com/blog/2010/03/wdtprs-palm-sunday-2002mr/):

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  Palm Sunday – Station: St. John Lateran

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week.  The Sacred Triduum (triduum from tres dies – “three day space”) were once days of obligation when people were freed from servile work so that they could attend the liturgies, once celebrated in the morning.  In the 17th century, however, the obligation was removed under the influence of changing social and religious conditions.  As a result, the faithful lost sight of these beautiful liturgies and in general only priests and religious in monasteries knew them.  In 1951 Pope Pius XII began to restore the Triduum liturgies to prominence by mandating that the Easter Vigil be celebrated in the evening.  In 1953 Mass was permitted in the evening on certain days.  A reformed Ordo for Holy Week was issued in 1955 and took effect on 25 March 1956.   That is when the Sunday of Holy Week came to be called “The Second Sunday in Passiontide, or Palm Sunday”.  Matins and Lauds (Tenebrae, “shadows”) was to be sung in the morning.  Holy Thursday Mass was not to begin before 5 p.m. and no later than 8 p.m.  The idea was to make it easier for people to attend these all important liturgies.

The principal ceremonies of the Palm Sunday Mass include the blessing of palm branches (or olive branches in some parts of the world, such as Rome) and a procession around and into the church.  In the present Missale Romanum an interesting rubric about the procession harkens to ancient times: “At a suitable hour the “collect” is made (fit collecta)in a lesser church or in another appropriate place outside the church toward which the procession marches.”  Here is our word “collect” used to describe a gathering of people.  Ultimately, the prayer of this first gathering place is the origin of the name of the prayers of Mass we are examining again this year.

Also in the rubrics there is something helpful for our understanding of “active participation”:  “Then as is customary the priest greets the people; and then there is given a brief admonition, by which the faithful are invited to participate actively and consciously (actuose et conscie participandam) in this day’s celebration.”  Those words actuose et conscie are very important.  The Second Vatican Council, when using the term actuosa participatio or “active participation”, meant interior participation, the engaging of the mind, heart and will.  The Council Fathers did not mean primarily exterior participation. 

Of course, exterior participation is the natural result of interior participation: we seek to express outwardly what we are experiencing within.  However, there is a logical priority to interior participation, which is by far the more important of the two. 

Many people working in the area of liturgy today think that active participation means that everyone has to be doing something physically active, like carrying things and singing everything.  But active participation (made possible by baptism) is primarily active receptivity, listening and watching carefully, fully engaged with mind, heart and will.  This is where true active participation begins.  For participation to be authentic, it must begin interiorly.

At the end of the procession, when everyone is gathered in the church, the priest says the…

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
qui humano generi, ad imitandum humilitatis exemplum,
Salvatorem nostrum carnem sumere
et crucem subire fecisti,
concede propitius,
ut et patientiae ipsius habere documenta
et resurrectionis consortia mereamur.

The vocabulary of today’s Collect is incredibly complex.

We can only scratch at a fraction of what is there.  Our prayer was in older editions of the Missale Romanum and, before them, in the Gelasian Sacramentary.  In the Gelasian there is an extra helpful et: Salvatorem nostrum et carnem sumere, et crucem subire.  Wonderfully alliterative!  The editor of the Gelasian excludes a comma, which makes sense to me: qui humano generi_ ad imitandum…. There may be a touch of St. Augustine’s (+430) influence in the prayer.  In Augustine humilitatis appears with exemplum on close conjunction with documentum (ep. 194.3) and with documentum and patientiae in proximity to exemplum (en. ps. 29 en. 2.7).  In the context of the Passion Augustine says: “Therefore, the Lord Himself, judge of the living and the dead, stands before a human judge (Pilate), offering us a decisive lesson of humility and patience (humilitatis et patientiae documentum), not defeated, but giving the soldier an example of how one wages war (pugnandi exemplum): …”

There are two words for “example” here: exemplum…documenta. These words appear together in numerous classical and patristic texts. Our startlingly useful Lewis & Short Dictionary informs us that our old friend exemplum means, “a sample for imitation, instruction, proof, a pattern, model, original, example….”  Exemplum is a term in ancient rhetoric, an inseparable part of the warp and weft of the development of Christian doctrine during the first millennium. 

For Fathers of the Church, all well-trained in rhetoric, exemplum identified a range of things including man as God’s image, Christ as a Teacher, and the content of prophecy.   In Greek and Roman rhetoric and philosophy, an exemplum could have auctoritas, “authority”, the persuasive force of an argument.  When we hear today’s prayer with ancient ears, exemplum is not merely an “example” to be followed: it indicates a past event with such authoritative force that it transforms him who imitates it.  Today we hear humilitatis exemplum, the authoritative model of humility who is Christ – Christ in action, or rather Christ in Passion, undergoing His sufferings for our sake.  This becomes the foundational and authoritative pattern of the Christian experience: self-emptying in the Incarnation and Passion leading to resurrection.   Exemplum is augmented later in the prayer by documentaDocumentum is also a “pattern for imitation” like exemplum but also in some contexts having the meaning of “a proof”, that is, a concrete demonstration that what is asserted is true: evidence.   In this case it is a paradigm after which we are to pattern and shape our own lives.  But this pattern or model itself actually has power to shape us.  Christ transforms us the baptized who are made in his image and likeness, after his perfect exemplum, and who imitate His exempla and documenta, His words and deeds. 

Consortium (from con-sors… having the same lot/fate/destiny with something or someone) classically is a “community of goods” and “fellowship, participation, society.”  Habere has a vast entry in the L&S.  The common meaning is “have”, but it also indicates concepts like “hold, account, esteem, consider, regard” as well as “have as a habit, peculiarity, or characteristic.”  Habere is doing double-duty with two objects, documenta and consortia.  This is why I use both “grasp” for the first application of habere and “have” for the second.  The meanings of the two different objects draw our two different senses of habere.   Patientia is from patior, “to bear, support, undergo, suffer, endure”, and it carries all its connotations as well as the meaning “patience”.  This is where the word “Passion” comes from.  We could say here, “examples of His long-suffering” or “exemplary patterns of His patient forbearance.”  Finally, note that nostrum goes with Salvatorem and not with carnem: caro, carnis is feminine and the form would have to have been nostram carnem.

Almighty eternal God,
who, for the human race,
made our Savior both assume flesh and undergo the Cross
for an example of humility to be imitated,
graciously grant,
that we may be worthy to grasp both the lessons of His forbearance
and also have shares in the resurrection.

More can be said about that phrase patientiae ipsiusIpse, a demonstrative pronoun, is emphatic and means “himself, herself, itself”.  Could we personify patientia to mean, “grasp the lessons of Patience itself” or even “of Patience Himself”?   That would be poetically sublime. 

In the fullness of time the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, the eternal Word through whom all things visible and invisible were made, by the will of the Father emptied Himself of His glory and took our human nature up into an indestructible bond with His own divinity.  He came to us sinners to save us from our sins and teach us who we are (cf. Gaudium et spes 22).  This saving mission began with self-emptying (in Greek kenosis).   Fathom for a moment the humility of the Savior, emptying Himself of His divine splendor, submitting Himself to His humble and hidden life before His public ministry.   When the time of His years and His mission was complete He gave Himself over again, emptying Himself yet again even to giving up His very life.   Every moment of Jesus earthly life, every word and deed, are conditioned by humility.   This is our perfect example to follow, an example so perfect that it has the power to transform us. 

As Holy Week begins and the Sacred Triduum is observed, come to the sacramental observance of the sacred and saving mysteries with humble self-emptying.  Make room for Christ.

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Palm Sunday

From the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962:

The Second Sunday in Passiontide would be in any case a great and holy day as it commemorates the last triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ on earth and opens Holy Week.  On this day, the Church celebrates the triumphant entry of our Lord into Jerusalem; when the multitude, going before and following after Him, cut off branches from the trees and strewed then in His way, shouting “Hosanna (glory and praise) to the Son of David.  Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”  It is in commemoration of this triumph that palms are blessed and borne in solemn procession.

In fact, this Palm Sunday triumph of our Lord only led to His death.  But we know that this death was not a failure.  It was through His Passion and Death that He conquered the world and entered into His Kingdom.  “I, if I be lifted up…will draw all things to Myself” (Jn. 12:32).  So the Church asks the faithful to join in the triumphal Procession today as an act of homage and gratitude to Christ our King.  This triumphal beginning to Holy Week is full of meaning.  Although the violet Mass vestments and the Gospel of the Passion remind us that the Cross lies ahead, we already know that this is the means of victory.  So the Chuch asks us to begin Holy Week by joyfully and publically acknowledging Christ the King.

The principle ceremonies of the day are the Blessing of the Palms, the Procession, and the Mass, with the reading of the Passion.  The Blessing of the Palms used to follow a ritual similar to that of the Mass — having an Epistle, a Gospel, a Preface and a Sanctus.  The Epistle referred to the murmuring of the Israelites in the desert, and their sighing for the flesh-pots of Egypt.  The Gospel was the same as now, describing the triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  The prayers which followed the Sanctus asked God to “bless the branches of palm…so that whoever receives them may find protection of soul and body…that into whatever place they shall be brought, those there may obtain His blessing; that the devout faithful may understand the mystical meaning of the ceremony, that is, that the palms represent triumph over the prince of death…and therefore the use of them declares both the greatness of the victory and the richness of God’s mercy.”

Here we clearly have the remains of the early usage of having two Masses on this day: one for the Blessing of Palms, the other after the Procession.  The prayers of the Blessing, the Antiphons sung during the Procession and the Hymn Gloria laus make this one of the most impressive ceremonies of the liturgical year.

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