Holy Week is the name given to the last week before the great feast of Easter and it is on these last days of Lent that our liturgical observances truly dwell upon the passion of our Lord. Just as Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert and only then was faced with an intense confrontation by Satan, so all forty days of our Lent are a time to walk with Christ through the desert which culminates in an intense few days of Passion before the relief of Resurrection Day.
Palm Sunday – 8:30 (spoken) and 11:00 (with music)
On Palm Sunday, the service begins in the parish hall with the Blessing and Distribution of the Palms. With blessed palm crosses pinned to lapels and with palm fronds in hand, parishioners begin a procession through the memorial garden and around the church entering the front doors and stopping at the doors to the nave where the doors are opened again and all find their seats while singing “All Glory Laud and Honor.” Symbolizing the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, the joy of this procession soon turns solemn as parishioners notice that all of the crosses in the sanctuary have been veiled with violet and the image of Christ on the cross has been obscured. Likewise, the gospel reading for the day recounts the Matthean account of the Passion of Christ and the account of his resurrection is left off. Just as the excited people welcomed Christ with shouts of “Hosanna!” but only days later were shouting “Crucify Him!” so our liturgy reflects the sudden changed of those of Jesus’ first followers. The cross, which for us has now become a symbol of life and peace, is veiled as we attempt to recall how bewildering it must have been to walk with our Lord these last days before the specter of the cross.
Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday – 12:00 PM
The liturgies of these three days move us through the Passion narratives of Saint Mark, and Saint Luke without any great fanfare such as Palm Sunday. Each of these days carry with them the sense that we are simply setting one foot in front of the other, plodding almost, towards the Golgotha. At Saint George’s, these services are all held at noon.
Maundy Thursday – 7:00 PM
The last three days of Holy Week each have special significance of their own and yet together as a unit have been given the latin name of the Triduum.
The Thursday of Holy Week is called “Maundy” after the Latin word for “mandate” since this is the night in which Christ’s farewell discourse to the disciples included His command that those twelve men “love one another” in the same way that He loved them. Having just washed their feet, insisting that everyone receive this ministry from Him, Jesus commanded in turn that they imitate their Master and so love one another.
Much like the liturgy of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday begins with great fanfare and joy. Flowers return to the sanctuary, the color is turned from violet to white, the Gloria is sung and all seems well with the world again since it is on this night that Jesus also instituted the sacrament of His Body and blood. Giving Himself to his disciples at that meal, He foreshadowed giving himself for the world. We rejoice as we are brought in to share the divine life of Christ but suddenly find that another reversal is upon us.
Symbolizing the manner in which the disciples fled from Christ when Judas and the temple soldiers came to take Him away, the altar area is stripped of all its contents as Psalm 22 is solemnly recited. In the end, even the tabernacle is emptied of the reserved sacrament and the faithful depart in silence, not even reverencing the altar since Christ’s sacramental presence is no longer there.
Good Friday – 12:00 PM and 7:00 PM
In a great irony, this day of Christ’ crucifixion takes the name “Good” since it is on this day that we may declare with Christ that when speaking of our atonement, “it is finished.” There are a number of ways to observe this day and most parishes observe some combination of the possible services.
At Saint George’s we commemorate the last seven words of Christ during the three hours from noon to three PM when Christ hung on the cross before his death. The Three Hours Devotion involves seven short homilies interspersed with periods of silence. One may stay for the entire time, but it has traditionally been considered a time when one may “drop in” for a period of time and depart again without remaining for all seven sermons.
In the evening, we return to the practice of the Stations of the Cross beginning at 7 PM which is followed immediately afterwards by the service entitled Tenebrae. While many churches observe this on Wednesday, Tenebrae is observed here on Good Friday as a way of completing the week’s scripture readings, for the service involves a reading of the entire passion narrative of the Gospel of Saint John. With lights mostly turned out except for seven candles near the altar, one candle is extinguished after each section of the narrative until all are extinguished symbolizing the literal death of Christ on the cross. One candle is relit to symbolize the hope that there always was for his resurrection. Nevertheless, the faithful depart in silence as they contemplate the darkness that must have hung over the whole world on that first night that Christ lay in a tomb.
Holy Saturday – 8:00 PM
Holy Saturday, the last day of the Triduum, is once again a day of reversal. During the daylight hours, Holy Saturday is the last day of Lent, and is to be observed just as other days of Lent, though the anticipation of the great feast of Easter is almost too much for some to bear. Since days were counted in the ancient world from sundown to sundown, at this sundown churches rightly begin the feast of Easter. The scriptures declare that the women arrived at the tomb before the sun came up and found that it was already empty. This means that any time during the night, including possibly just after sundown, Jesus rose from the dead.
The service is probably the most liturgically complicated of any, but it is perhaps also the most powerful. First, the service begins in total darkness as the priest blesses the “new fire” of the Paschal candle. Proceeding up the aisle with the candle and letting parishioners light little candles of their own from the new” flame, the priest chants “The light of Christ, thanks be to God!” Soon the light of every candle illuminates the dark room and one begins to see that a change has taken place at the altar. The veils are all gone. The significance of the resurrection of Christ begins to shine again. Lilies adorn the altar area and the priest or deacon turns to chant the Exultet, a Gregorian liturgy explaining the signification of the new light of the Paschal candle.
Before the service is through, prophecies pointing to Christ are read from the Old Testament, the baptismal font is blessed as a sign of new life, and the Eucharist is celebrated anew. Here, in the new light shining in the darkness of night, Easter has truly begun.
Easter – 8:30 (spoken) and 11:00 (with music)
Easter Day continues with the festivities begun the night before but now aided by the shining rays of the sun. Alleluia’s fill the air as incense and flowers and Gloria’s mark the greatest feast of our redemption. Here, we celebrate that Christ has not only suffered and died for us, but he has conquered the power of death by overcoming death with life, by overcoming evil with good. All of the austerities of Lent are over. The fast is done and the feast begins in earnest. Joy and relief and victory and celebration and fellowship are reveled in. In many churches, champagne is poured in the parish hall after the service as the many days of Eastertide are begun. As Christ was ministered to by angels after his 40 days in the desert, so are we ministered to on this feast day and all our spiritual strength is renewed.