Holy Week

Great Week

General Information

Holy Week, in the Christian liturgical year, is the week immediately preceding Easter, beginning with Palm Sunday. Solemn rites are observed commemorating the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Special observances recalling the institution of the Eucharist are held on Maundy Thursday; Scripture readings, solemn prayers, and veneration of the cross recall the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday. Holy Saturday commemorates the burial of Christ; midnight vigil services inaugurate the Easter celebration of the resurrection. Holy Week is sometimes called the "Great Week" by Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians because it commemorates the great deeds of God for humankind.

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Holy Week

Advanced Information

Holy Week is the week preceding Easter, observing in a special manner the passion and death of Jesus Christ. It may also be called the Greater Week in remembrance of the great work performed by God during that week. It may be called the Paschal Week in reference to the coming resurrection. Athanasius of Alexandria used the phrase "Holy Week" in the fourth century. It is sometimes referred to as the week of remission because confession is one of the experiences asked of some Christians in preparation for the celebration of Easter. Eastern Christians sometimes call it the week of salvation.

In the early development of Holy Week only Good Friday and Holy Saturday were designated as holy days. Some areas referred to a triduum of three days, including Easter Sunday morning within Holy Week. Holy Thursday officially became a holy day in the fourth century. Wednesday was added to commemorate the plot of Judas to give Jesus over to his enemies. The other days of the week were added by the middle of the fourth century. In general, most of the Holy Week observances originated in Jerusalem and were adopted by Europe. Before the Council of Nicaea the great feast which was celebrated was the Christian Passover on the night of Holy Saturday.

After the medieval period Holy Week lost quite a bit of its appeal. Pius XII attempted to give it central importance to the church in the 1950s. It is now considered by many to be the heart of the Catholic Church's yearly celebration of the events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The central mystery of redemption is relived during Holy Week.

Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, as part of Holy Week is properly called Thursday of the Lord's Supper. It commemorates the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Mass on Holy Thursday is celebrated in the evening.

Good Friday is the anniversary of the crucifixion of our Lord; it is a day of sorrow. Its full title is "Friday of the passion and death of the Lord." The liturgical section includes (1) the reading service, (2) the veneration of the cross, (3) the Communion service. The service of the stations of the cross is optional.

Holy Saturday is usually a quiet day of prayer and reflection in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.

T J German
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

W. J. O'Shea, The Meaning of Holy Week; C. Howell, Preparing for Easter; J. Gaillard, Holy Week and Easter; L. Bouyer, The Paschal Mystery: Meditations on the Last Three Days of Holy Week; M. Tierney, Holy Week: A Commentary.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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