Holy Week: Meaning and Traditions
After the 40-day Lent, most Christians around the world will greet their biggest holiday on Sunday – Easter. Holy week has a great meaning for Christians and is accompanied by many traditions. Preparations for Easter have started with past Palm Sunday and the culmination of preparations are Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Sunday before the actual holiday, which is the feast of joy and hope for the believers. Among the best known traditions is the preparation of Easter dishes.
Easter, the day people celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the foundation of the Christian faith. Resurrection from the dead, which Jesus repeatedly announced in his earthly life, means liberation from the hopeless situation of man in the final earthly life. The old name for Easter is Passover, which means the transition to the City of God, where people on the streets sing hallelujah. Pasha is otherwise a Jewish holiday, on which the believers remember the exit from Egypt, where their people suffered in slavery. This event is described in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Each year, the date of Easter is determined according to the moon phases and is celebrated on the first Sunday after first spring full moon. Some Orthodox churches that use a different calendar and a different way of calculating the date of Easter, do not celebrate the holiday on the same day as the rest of the Christians. But this year, Orthodox believers will celebrate Easter on the same day as Christians.
Preparations for the holiday begin on Ash Wednesday, when 40-day Lent also starts. Last week before the holiday, called Holy Week, is the time for the direct preparation for the holiday. It begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter triduum, which consists of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Easter triduum message talks about setting the Eucharist Sacraments, ordination engagement and about Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. The meaning of Holy Week is also described in the Bible and so it is common for Christians of various denominations, although they differ in their traditions.
On Holy Thursday, people reminiscent Jesus’ Last Supper with the Apostles, which represents the beginning of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Catholic Bishops, along with the priests and the people gathered in the cathedral, donate Chrism masses, which are named after the consecration of olive oil in a holy Chrism. During that Mass the priests renew their priestly promises. Evangelic do not have any masses on this day. They understand the Eucharist on a more symbolic level and this is what separates them from the Catholics since the Reformation onwards. On Holy Thursday, Orthodox churches hold morning liturgy and evening worship, called the vigil, during which they read 12 Gospels.
On Good Friday, when strict post is ordained, Christians are remembering Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. This is the only day in the year when the Catholic Church does not have masses. During the worship, people pray the Way of the Cross, read Gospel stories of Jesus’ suffering and worship the cross as a sign of gratitude and respect. Orthodox churches also do not have the liturgies on this day, but they do have worship associated with a message of suffering. They cover the altars in churches with black cloth and put crown of thorns on them.
Holy Saturday is the day when throughout the whole day Catholic Churches worship Jesus in God’s tomb, where he was put on Good Friday. Early in the morning the priests bless the Easter fire and water, with which believers bless their homes. The fire is believed to help chasing the darkness and winter away but is also a symbol of fertility, since the ashes that were scattered over the meadows fertilized the soil. Evangelicals also light up the Easter fire, which brings light and predicts joy. In some places around the world they bless the Easter dishes, such as Easter eggs, ham and horseradish which they eat for Easter Sunday breakfast. The Orthodox Church also has a tradition of blessing food, while the Evangelicals do not bless it.
Catholics begin the Easter celebration with the Easter Vigil worship service on the eve of the holiday, which will this year also be traditionally led by Pope Francis in the Vatican Basilica of St. Peter. During the Easter Vigil, believers renew their baptismal promises and bless the Paschal candle, which represents the risen Christ. Orthodox Christians begin the celebration of Easter with the morning worship, which begins at midnight.
On Easter Sunday, all churches prepare solemn Masses and worship. Pope Francis will deliver a Mass on St. Peter’s Square and give the traditional blessing of the city and the world (Urbi ET Orbi). Easter ceremonies will also take place in Jerusalem. Regardless of the fact that believers around the world have a variety of traditions, Holy Week has a great meaning to all of them, as Easter is considered as the biggest Christian holiday.
By Janette Verdnik