A Beginners guide to Holy Week

  
Are there any who are devout lovers of God?

Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants?

Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?

Let them now receive their wages!”



So begins the Easter Sermon of the Golden Mouth (his nick name) Byzantine preacher Saint John Chrisostom. He is writing to the faithful, some very committed and others not so committed, to join in the Paschal feast. A Feast which Christians borrowed from the Jewish People and inserted their own experience with the Risen Lord Jesus. The old feast was a feast celebrating freedom from slavery and death. The new feast celebrated much of the same but with Jesus as the Paschal Lamb sacrificed and offered once and for all time for the salvation, healing and renewal of all the people of God.  
Christians for centuries have celebrated this Feast starting with the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on Palm Sunday, and leading up to the passion, death, crucifixion and resurrection of this  Jesus who was the new prophet after Moses. Today it is known as ‘Holy Week’.  
What makes this week so special?
Holy Week is Celebrated only once a year. It always falls during the Springtime in the Northern Hemisphere. For Christians it is the most solemn and sacred celebrations of the year…our High Holiday! In our churches we imitate activities that have been taking place in the City of Jerusalem for some 1800 years, or maybe longer. We know this because of a travel journal written by the Nun Egeria who visited Jerusalem years after the death of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Most of what we do today follows the same sequence of the events she experienced during her life changing Holiday in Jerusalem. Since few people can go to Jerusalem and live again the final days of the life of Jesus, these events have been re-membered and re-lived every year in local monasteries, churches and cathedrals since that first visit and they are celebrated every year. They have the same flavor and many of the same rituals that have gone on for centuries now.
{An Excerpt from The Pilgrimage of Egeria}

“HOLY WEEK AND THE FESTIVALS AT EASTER 

Palm Sunday. Procession with Palms on the Mount of Olives. “Accordingly at the seventh hour1 all the people The Old Arm. Lect. has: “On the same day, at the ninth hour, they go forth to the Mount of Olives with palm branches; and there they pray and sing psalms until the tenth hour. And after that they go down into the holy Anastasis, chanting Ps. cxviii.26 THEY
go up to the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, and the bishop with them, to the church, where hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, and lessons in like manner. And when the ninth hour approaches they go up with hymns to the Imbomon, that is, to the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and there they sit down, for all the people are always bidden to sit when the bishop is present; the deacons alone always stand. Hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, interspersed with lections and prayers. And as the eleventh hour approaches, the passage from the Gospel is read, where the children, carrying branches and palms, met the Lord, saying; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,1 and the bishop immediately rises, and all the people with him, and they all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people going before him with hymns and antiphons, answering one to another: Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. And all the children in the neighbourhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives,2 and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old. For all, even those of rank, both matrons and men, accompany the bishop all the way on foot in this manner…”

So, What are the highlights of Holy Week?
Palm Sunday- The Procession with Palms and the solemn reading or singing of one of the Passions according to Matthew, Mark or Luke.

Monday and Tuesday- Days of preparation remembering the last days of Jesus with his friends and followers before his betrayal.

Wednesday- (in some communities) A Celebration of a Service of Darkness called Tenebrae. An ancient practice of singing Psalms, Antiphons, and Hymns related to the Passion as 7-14 candles are extinguished. One is left, the Christ Candle. All depart in darkness after the loud ‘earthquake’.

Thursday- The Washing of Feet as Jesus did at the Last Supper (a great sign of Christan Service and Humility to each other in the world) and a Mass of Thanksgiving for the Eucharist, the greatest gift left to his people after his death and resurrection…Holy Communion, blessed and consecrated Bread and Wine.  

A continual living memory and presence of the Risen Lord with his church until the end of time. This Service is followed with three days of silence and solemnity to observe the passion, death and burial of Christ.

Friday- A day of solemn prayer, fasting and remembering the death of Jesus on the Cross. It combines readings of the Passion of Saint John, the Presentation of the Cross of Christ, and Prayers for the World, the Church, and the People of God. 

All churches, monasteries and cathedrals are bare this day in mourning for the man ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ who was executed and put to death unjustly. He would become the Risen Lord and Christ.  
Saturday- The Great Vigil of Easter, the queen of feasts.  

This is the invitation made by John Chrysostomos.  
If any have toiled from the first hour,

let them receive their due reward;

If any have come after the third hour,

let him with gratitude join in the Feast!

And he that arrived after the sixth hour,

let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.

And if any delayed until the ninth hour,

let him not hesitate; but let him come too.

And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,

let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.

He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,

as well as to him that toiled from the first.”

So Holy Week ends in a huge party. Divided in different courses.
Course 1. The lighting of the new fire and Easter Candle like the image in this article. Followed by the first Proclamation of Easter known as the Exultet. A kind of “we are the champions” anthem.

Course 2. Listening to the great stories of our Salvation from death, sin and slavery. Starting with Adam and Eve, then Noah, then Moses, then Abraham and Isaac, then the Prophets.  

Course 3. Baptism and Renewing of our Baptismal Vows as a people saved by the waters of Baptism.

Course 4. The Easter Gloria and alleluia that have been silenced for over 40 days in our churches so we can sing them again during the next 50 days of Easter.  

Course 5. The Easter Gospel and First Eucharist (Mass) of Easter. We partake in the Bread of Life, the promise of our own Resurrection from the Dead.   
The Easter Feast continues on for 50 Days until the Feast of Pentecost. 
Why all the fuss?

By celebrating Holy Week year after year we Christians go deeper and deeper into the Paschal Mystery of life itself. Life and death are the great cycles all human beings share together. Hardship, Loss, Death that eventually is renewed and brought back to life is at the heart of our human existence. It is the eternal cycle of our existence which repeats itself over and over again. When we Celebrate Holy Week together in Community we too are reminded again and again that we are an intimate part of that mystery by means of our Baptism and our association with Jesus.  
How can I make Holy Week special and different?

First, find the time and place to experience the drama, the worship, the liturgy of Holy Week. Also create a Holy Week space where you live. A place where you can sit and read, meditate and think on the mysterious events of the last days of Jesus on earth. Find a table, a chair, a candle, a cross, a table cloth, and a bible and anything else that might inspire you.

Share some special meals for Holy Week. A Jewish Sedar with a friend or at a nearby synagogue. Easter Eggs and Easter Bread from a local bakery. Plan an Easter meal and a Good Friday meal. How might they be different? Share the meal with someone special. Find a Christian Community to Celebrate the Special Days of Holy Week. Try to attend as many services as possible to get the best flavor of the week. If you are home bound, try and find the Holy Week services on the internet or U Tube to watch and observe. Plan your entire week. What can you do during your free time Holy Week? How can you make the most out of the week?  
At the end of this article are some links that might help you

Spend Holy Week and participate more fully.
So All are Invited to this Feast, there are no exceptions.

Why? because all of us can share in the same Feast and Party of eternal life. All of us!  

Christ is Risen and you O death are annihilated

Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!

Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is Rise. And life is liberated.”

  St John Chrisostom Easter Sermon

Helpful  Links onyour journey to Easter

Daily Prayer During Holy Week

http://dailyoffice.org/2016/02/18/home/
Pray as You Go (daily reflections on the Holy Week Readings with Music and Meditation)
http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/home/

Links to Help You Experience Holy Week
Holy Week

Palm Sunday

Wednesday Tenebrae

Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

Easter Vigil

A Joyfilled Easter!

Vincentosb

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