Imagine the scene at the time of Jesus: pilgrims gathering for the Jewish festival of Passover, large groups of family and friends converging on the roads outside Jerusalem and joyfully making their way through the gates in the city walls. The hustle and bustle, laughter, crying children, celebratory music and the loud conversation of reunited friends. 

For the Church, Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday. In Catholic churches all over the world, the Gospel story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem is retold and enacted. Palm leaves are waved, and hosannas are sung.

In some parts of the world, the re-enactment of Holy Week is a sight to behold. Worshippers cut down huge branches and wave them whilst a statue of Jesus, or an actor playing Jesus is processed on a donkey, through the streets to the church.

On Palm Sunday (and Good Friday), a long Gospel reading known as ‘The Passion’ is read. This tells the story of the Last Supper, His agony in the garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial of Jesus. It includes Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and death. Gone is the excitement of greeting the Son of David, riding on a donkey: this is a solemn moment, and the tone is set for the liturgy in the coming week.

The Triduum

The Triduum is a three-day liturgy including the celebration of Mass on Holy Thursday, the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and The Easter Vigil on the evening of Holy Saturday with celebrations continuing on Easter Sunday. It takes the worshipper on a journey from the intimacy of the Upper Room at the Last Supper, through the sorrow and the horror of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, to the elation experienced because of His resurrection from the dead.

On Maundy Thursday the bishop and priests of a diocese gather at the Cathedral for Mass, an expression of the unity of the priesthood. The three holy oils that will be used throughout the year for baptism, confirmation, anointing of the sick and ordination of priests and deacons are blessed by the bishop for use in the diocese.

Love one another as I have loved you.

John 15:12

In the evening, in each parish, Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. After the gospel reading of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, where Jesus commands them to “Love one another as I have loved you,” a re-enactment takes place expressing the depth of Jesus’ love.

After Mass, the Consecrated Host is taken from the tabernacle and placed on the Altar of Repose in a side chapel. Like in the Garden of Gethsemane there is an invitation to stay in church and ‘watch with Him’. In Italy, the tradition is for the Altars of Repose to be decorated with many plants to create the feel of a real garden and the tradition is to visit 7 ‘gardens’ (Altars of Repose) in 7 different churches throughout the night.

Good Friday

Good Friday is notably quiet, yet beautiful. Catholics join with other Christians from their local community. A large cross is carried and at the end of the procession, prayers are prayed in a public place.

Many countries, such as Spain and Italy, are known for their solemn parades. Hooded figures, dressed in purple as a sign of penance, carry large statues of Christ, the saints are held high and processed through the streets.

The 3pm service on Good Friday has an atmosphere of quiet reflection.

As a teacher, I have been asked the same question about Good Friday many times: “Why is it called Good Friday? It certainly wasn’t a good day for Jesus, so why does the Christian community dwell on His sufferings?

The Ten Ten Assembly ‘Our Journey to Jerusalem’ points us to the answer:

But God has shown us how much He loves us – it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!

Romans 5:8

Our Pilgrimage to Jerusalem

During our Ten Ten Year of Pilgrimage there will be many experiences and encounters but perhaps none so dramatic as Holy Week: Our Pilgrimage to Jerusalem – the final leg of Our Pilgrimage to the Cross. To use a fairground analogy, it’s a rollercoaster!

Go to Assembly

The pilgrimage of Holy Week, that Christians all over the world make every year, is not just TO the cross, but THROUGH the cross to something better. Through the Cross, we come to the resurrection of Jesus: an explosion of new life, joy, glory and radiance! Sins are forgiven, brokenness is healed, life can be lived to the full.

The Easter Vigil

If you’ve never attended the Easter Vigil, known as “the mother of all vigils!” (St. Augustine), I highly recommend it. Easter begins literally with fire! There is a light ceremony, a fertility ritual and new life! Adults are baptised and received into the Catholic Church and baptismal promises are renewed. Joyful music is sung, there are glorias and alleluias and much celebration!

Pope Francis summed it up beautifully in his Easter Blessing in 2021:

The risen Jesus bears the marks of the wounds in His hands, feet and side. These wounds are the everlasting seal of His love for us. All those who experience a painful trial in body or spirit can find refuge in these wounds and, through them, receive the grace of the hope that does not disappoint.

Pope Francis

Easter Blessing, 2021