Few actually realize that the season of Lent ends on Holy Thursday at sundown for that is when the Easter Triduum begins. This marks the end of the forty days. At the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday evening the priest, in an act of humility and imitating Jesus Christ, washes the feet of twelve selected parish men symbolizing the twelve Apostles. After this solemn Mass celebrated with great pomp and solemnity in white vestments on the anniversary of the establishment of the Most Holy Eucharist, the altar and sanctuary are stripped bare in preparation for the tomb-like atmosphere of the next day. The Blessed Sacrament is removed from the main Tabernacle to a side or back tabernacle where it will repose until the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening. In St. Peter's the Holy Father will be the celebrant. The symbolism of a barren sanctuary represents the mournful time after the Last Supper in which Christ wept in the Garden of Gethsemane, was betrayed by Judas, was hauled before the Sanhedrin, was scourged, mocked with a crown of thorns, dragged before Pilate was condemned to die, weak and wobbly struggled up the rocky path to Calvary where He was stripped of His blood-soaked garment, nailed with rough hewn spikes ignominously to the huge wooden beams, and hung in the hot sun as His life was drained out of Him over the course of three hours.
Those are the events of Good Friday where there is no Mass, only the readings and Holy Communion, veneration of the Cross, prayers and Stations of the Cross. On this day of the Crucifixion, it is the custom to not do anything of an extracurricular nature entertainment wise, especially between the hours of noon and three which represent the three hours Christ hung on the cross. Like every Friday during Lent it is a day of abstinence, and it is also a day of Abstinence similar to Ash Wednesday. Red vestments, symbolizing martyrdom, are worn by the celebrant and deacons for Christ is the Ultimate Martyr. During the entire time He hung on that cross few except His Mother Mary and His faithful, beloved disciple the Apostle John, and a handful of women took the time to be there for Him. Even His Own chosen Apostles were nowhere to be seen, cowering in fear behind closed doors. Pope John Paul II will preside over Good Friday services in Rome, first leading the liturgy of the Passion at St. Peter's Basilica before later traveling across Rome to take a ceremonial part in the traditional Way of the Cross at the old Colisseum. In the past years of his pontificate the Holy Father would personally take up the cross and walk blocks lugging the huge wooden frame, but in recent years age and health have dictated he take a more cameo role. Nevertheless, for the nineteenth straight year he will take part.
Good Friday is the day that signals the beginning of the Novena of Divine Mercy which continues for the next nine days leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday, the week after Easter. In more and more parishes across the United States pastors are recognizing this beautiful and vital feast which is so dear to the Holy Father's heart and even holding special times each day for the Novena and recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
The time from three o'clock in the afternoon to Saturday evening represents the time Christ was in the sepulchre, the time He descended to hell. That is actually the wrong nomenclature for Jesus in no way visited the nether regions but rather "limbo" a temporary place where all those souls who died after the sin of Adam and Eve waited in hopes the Messiah would release them from their own "hell" and bring them all into the Heavenly embrace of the Eternal Father. That is why the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil is the traditional time for bringing catechumens into the full body of the Church. In striving to be holy they become whole through the Sacrament of Baptism. In St. Peter's the supreme pontiff again presides at this beautiful Easter Vigil service. There is probably no more beautiful liturgy than this Easter Vigil Mass which begins with the Light in the Darkness coming to all. In many churches the faithful hold candles in a darkened apse as a small fire is blessed outside the main part of the church and the Paschal candle is carried to the fire. Five grains of incense are often placed into the wax of this candle and then sealed in place with the "wax nails" representing the five nails of the cross. within the framework of the cross are the numbers for the year. Above the cross the Greek letter Alpha and below the last letter of the Greek alphabet Omega. Before lighting the candle the priest calls out the "Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega; all time belongs to Him and all the ages: to Him be glory and power through every age for ever. Amen." The candle is blessed and the priest lights it. Then the deacon knocks on the door outside and the words "Light of Christ" ring out. In times past there were few goose-bump moments as stirring as hearing "Lumen Christi" repeated three times with all the pomp of the Latin liturgy as the procession proceeds to the altar. Truth be told this most wondrous of celebrations has lost much in translation. Yet, even in English no Mass contains more readings than this with the seven Old Testament readings and Responsorial Psalms in addition to the Epistle from Romans and the Gospel of Luke. In addition there is the majestic Litany of the Saints during the Baptism liturgy with the blessing of the water, the chrism and presentation of the lighted candle to all candidates. In some churches there is also the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Because of its length and the crunch for space, not as many attend this non-mandatory, but beautiful liturgy. It is too bad they do not, like Sunday Mass, offer more than one Mass on Holy Saturday evening for most churches cannot handle the mass of people pouring into the church. Add to this the additional people both Catholic and non-Catholic in attendance for the sake of their friends or loved ones who are to be baptized and received into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and it becomes paramount that one arrive nearly an hour early to secure a space in the church. Also, because of the length, many families are discouraged from attending as one because if kids get edgy during a one hour Mass, imagine how consternated they'll be during a ceremony that can last up to three hours when taking into consideration getting there early. However, for those who are willing to make that one last sacrifice before the Resurrection they are in for a liturgical treat that cannot be matched at any other time during the year.
And then comes the day we have all been looking toward - the Day of the Resurrection which, in many churches begins at sunrise and there is a cadre of Masses to accommodate the masses. In Rome this is the day the Holy Father not only presides at Easter morning Mass but issues his traditional Urbi et Orbi benediction. It is a day of "Alleluias" and more flowers than one can imagine. Just as the altar is adorned with pointsettias at Christmas, the pure white easter lilly is the mainstay this day which begins the glorious time of the Pascal season and the purity of white vestments lasting for the next forty days until May 31 when we celebrate the birthday of Holy Mother Church - Pentecost Sunday. But back to the present as we are in the midst of Holy Week and we will bring you all the liturgy this week along with commentaries on the significance of each day as well as the Novena of Divine Mercy in the Daily CATHOLIC for to truly become wholly involved we need to throw ourselves into it body and soul for Holy Week means being wholly involved!