Holy Week is upon us…
In what can arguably be considered as the most important part of our liturgical year, Holy Week enacts multiple services to emphasize the trajectory of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem which eventually leads to his death and resurrection. But not everyone knows what each service means, or more importantly, why we do them. I hope that I can clear up some of the confusion or, in the least, allow for better understanding of why we do what we do during Holy Week.
Holy Monday: Clergy renewal of vows.
This service is a stand alone liturgy, separated from the rest of Holy Week, meant to revitalize and urge clergy to remember their vows. I’ve taken part in this service the last three years and, each time, I have left feeling rekindled and aware of the task set before me to care for, lead, instruct, learn from, and most importantly, love my congregation. It is truly beautiful to begin Holy Week in this way.
Tenebrae literally means “Darkness”. Originally designed to entwine Matins and Lauds into the three days’ service of the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and HolySaturday), which is the longest liturgical service of the year. It begins Thursday and ends at the coming of the light during the Great Easter Vigil. Tenebrae is introduced into this liturgy to serve as a not-so-gentle reminder that Jesus’ suffering and death leads to his departure from the world in human form—for a time. The service begins with psalms and antiphons, proceeds with Holy Scripture, and ends with Canticles and a silent departure from the Nave. During the service, candles are extinguished at specific times to reflect the departure of Christ’s light from the world, leaving it in utter darkness. At the end of the service, a loud sound is replicated to memorialize the sound of the earthquake that occurred immediately following Christ’s death. The people leave the Nave in the darkness, contemplating the loss of the Messiah…
Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday (Great Easter Vigil).
Maundy Thursday serves as an entrance into the final moments of Christ: His act of washing the disciples’ feet, his last meal with them, and the stripping of the table to signify that it was, indeed, the Last Supper. At the end of this service, The Altar of Repose is set in a separate place, created to house the body and blood of Christ much like that of a tomb. The altar is scrubbed and the people leave without dismissal, as the service has not concluded.
The solemn collects and prayers utilized during this service serve as lamentations and grieving for the loss of Jesus Christ from the world. He is, in effect, in the tomb during this service—not yet resurrected.
Holy Saturday (The Great Easter Vigil):
Considered by many to be the principle and most beautiful liturgy of the Church, this service begins before sundown on Holy Saturday. Starting with a procession in which the Paschal Candle is lit and brought back in to the Sanctuary, the beginning of this service signifies the return of Christ and the immanent Resurrection of his body—effectively proclaiming his journey back into the world after defeating death. The first half of this service is spent utilizing candle light, so to remind ourselves that Christ’s light is almost returned to us. Halfway through the service, the lights go up and the altar candles are lit—Christ has Risen! The rest of the service serves as the original Easter—the joyful exclamation that Christ has been lifted up and is the champion we have been awaiting.
This is a second act of the preceding service—the ‘in case you missed it’. I love all of these moments and, together, they paint a picture of Christ’s journey from life, to imprisonment, to death, to resurrection.
I hope this has helped a little, but mostly I hope that you will join me this week for all of these holy moments. Until then, have a blessed day and remember that Christ is on the move, as you are reading this, preparing to save the world from itself and continually bringing his light to shine upon us, forever.