What is Holy Week?

We are in the midst of Holy Week, which is celebrated by many Christians around the world. This is the week leading up to Easter — and the last week of Lent. Because of the way the date of Easter is set, the timing of Holy Week varies. The point of Holy Week is to celebrate the events of the last week of the life of Jesus Christ. There are three main days to Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It is worth noting that Easter Sunday is not considered part of Holy Week; rather, Easter Sunday marks the beginning of The Great Fifty Days.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday always falls on the Sunday before Easter. The day is designed to celebrate the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem. According to the account in the Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding a donkey, and the people hailed him as the Messiah, waving palm branches and throwing them on the ground before the donkey. Great figures were honored by having the road covered in some way as they passed. In some accounts of Christ’s entry, the covering is clothes and rushes. In others, it is palm branches, which symbolize victory.

In some Christian congregations, church-goers receive palm branches. However, if palm branches are hard to come by, some make do with native trees, including willow or yew trees.

Maundy Thursday

Other names for Maundy Thursday include Covenant Thursday and Holy Thursday. This is the day that Jesus had his Last Supper with his Apostles. At this time, Jesus explained the symbolism of the bread as his body and the wine as his blood. This is also the time at which Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another. Theories suggest that the “new commandment”, provides the name of the day, since “mandatum” is translated as commandment. In some Christian sects, the washing of feet is observed on this day as well.

Good Friday

Sometimes, Good Friday is also referred to as Great Friday or Holy Friday. This is the day that many Christians fix as the day to remember the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. In some traditions, particularly the Roman Catholic, Good Friday is a day of fasting. Good Friday is somber day, since it commemorates the death of someone many view as God — and the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

Easter Vigil

If you celebrate the Easter Vigil, you do so from sunset on Holy Saturday to sunrise on Easter Sunday. The vigil is celebrated differently, depending on the sect. The Indian Orthodox Church actually has the Easter Vigil beginning after the evening service on Good Friday. There are many different traditions surrounding the celebration of Easter throughout Christianity. In liturgical calendars, though, the mass celebrating Easter is considered the most important of the year.

Note the date for Easter is different between the Eastern and Western churches. However, the celebration of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday are observed in many Christian sects throughout the world — no matter the actual dates on which they are commemorated.

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