Understanding Easter observances

Published 3:31 pm Friday, March 27, 2009

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday of Holy Week is remembered as the time Jesus ate a final meal together with the disciples who had followed him for so long.

We do not have to solve these questions to remember and celebrate in worship what Jesus did and taught and modelled for us here, what Jesus was doing. The questions should not shift our attention from the real focus of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

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Traditionally in the Catholic Church, this day is known as Maundy Thursday. The term Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum (from which we get our English word mandate), from a verb that means “to give,” “to entrust,” or “to order.” The term is usually translated “commandment,” from John’s account of this Thursday night.

According to the Fourth Gospel, as Jesus and the Disciples were eating their final meal together before Jesus’ arrest, he washed the disciples’ feet to illustrate humility and the spirit of servanthood. After they had finished the meal, as they walked into the night toward Gethsemane, Jesus taught his disciples a “new” commandment that was not really new (John 13:34-35): ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, you also ought to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

The colors for Maundy Thursday are usually the colors of Lent, royal purple. The traditional washing the feet of members of the congregation as part of the Mass as well as receiving the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday is the means by which most Catholics observe.

Good Friday

Friday of Holy Week has been traditionally been called Good Friday or Holy Friday.

On this day, the church commemorates Jesus’ arrest, his trial, crucifixion and suffering, death, and burial. The traditional Good Friday Mass is held in mid-afternoon to correspond to the final words of Jesus from the cross at 3 p.m.: ‘My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?’

Usually, the Good Friday Mass consists of a series of readings, a short homily, and a time of meditation and prayer. Good Friday is portrayed as the Service of Darkness or Service of Shadows, usually held in the afternoon of Good Friday. The worshippers then leave in silence to wait.

Good Friday is not a day of celebration but of mourning, both for the death of Jesus and for the sins of the world that his death represents. Yet, although Good Friday is a solemn time, it is not without its own joy. For while it is important to place the Resurrection against the darkness of Good Friday, likewise the somberness of Good Friday should always be seen with the hope of the Resurrection.

Holy Saturday

This is the seventh day of the week, the day Jesus rested in the tomb.

In the first three Gospel accounts this was the Jewish Sabbath, which provided appropriate symbolism of the seventh day rest. It is also a time to remember family and the faithful who have died as we await the resurrection, or to honor the martyrs who have given their lives for the cause of Christ in the world.

While Good Friday is a traditional day of fasting, some also fast on Saturday as the climax of the season of Lent. An ancient tradition dating to the first centuries of the church calls for no food of any kind to be eaten on Holy Saturday, or for 40 hours before sunrise on Sunday. However it is observed, Holy Saturday has traditionally been a time of reflection and waiting.

Celebration Of The Chrism Mass

The Mass is a great gathering of the whole diocesan family, with people coming together from so many of our Parishes.

It is a wonderful celebration of the liturgy and liturgical music, with combined choirs from our various parishes. During this Mass, our Bishop blesses the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, and the oil of Chrism.

These oils are to form an important part of the sacramental life of our communities during the year. We use the oil of catechumens for adult catechumens and infants in preparation for baptism, the oil of the sick for anointing those who seek healing and wholeness and the sacred oil of Chrism for post-baptismal anointing, confirmation, the ordination of priests and the consecration of altars.

The three oils are basically olive oil, yet to the sacred Chrism is added balsam or oil of flowers, which fills the air with the scent of sweet perfume. One early church writer described the perfume of Chrism as “the Easter aroma, God’s grace incarnate through the sense of smell!” Bishops have blessed oil from the days of the early church. They baptised catechumens at the Great Easter Vigil and prepared Sacred Chrism fresh for the occasion.

Later on, rather than overburdening the Easter Vigil with the blessing of oils, bishops blessed these oils at the previous celebration of Mass on Holy Thursday. After this celebration, vessels of oil were then taken to all churches in the diocese.

In Rome, the one Mass of Holy Thursday served for the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper and the blessing of oils. By the 13th century, the priests gathered for the liturgy were invited to join in the prayers of blessing with the bishop. With relatively minor adjustments, the liturgy remained the same through to the 20th century. In 1955, the rites of Holy Week were revised for the universal Church.

Modern celebrations

The celebration of Holy Thursday became marked by two separate Masses, one in the morning for Chrism, the other in the evening for the Lord’s Supper. In many dioceses today, the Mass of Chrism is celebrated on the Morning of Holy Thursday and marks the start of Holy Week.

The celebration for our Diocese takes places at Cathedral St. John the Baptist in Savannah on Tuesday, April 7. Only the Bishop may consecrate the Sacred Chrism, therefore in a very special way the Chrism Mass highlights his ministry and our union with him. The Bishop is not able to baptise and confirm everyone in the parishes of the diocese, but his ministry is symbolically present in the chrism which the priests and deacons will use.

Also in recent years, this Mass has also acknowledged the ministry of priests and deacons. It invites them to renew their commitment of service and to receive the prayers and support of the people. The Mass of Chrism gathers the faithful of the diocese and helps us to prepare for celebrations of Christ during Holy Week and all our Easter Celebrations in all our churches throughout the diocese.

The holy oils are then solemnly received into our Parishes during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper or at another suitable time. The oils are placed in noble and dignified containers and stored near to the baptismal font in an ambrya wall safe. Through the liturgy of the Church, Christ acts to strengthen, protect, heal and restore us. The Chrism Mass serves to open up these realities to the community of faith.