by Francis Weiser (1952)

Holy Week


 In the Greek Church Holy Week bears the solemn title he "Sacred and Great Week" (He hagia kai megale hebdomas). In the Latin Church the official term is the "Greater Week" [hebdomada major). The popular names are "Great Week" among the Slavic nations, and "Holy Week" in other countries, the German name Kanooche means "Week of Mourning." In indent times Holy Week was also called "Week of Remission," since the public sinners were absolved on Maundy Thursday, another name was "Laborious Week" (semaine peineuse) beause of the increased burden of penance and fasting. The faithful of the Eastern Churches also call it the "Week of Salvation." 1

Observance • 

From the very beginning of Christianity it has always been devoted to a special commemoration of Christ's Passion and death through the practice of meditation, prayer, asting, and penance. 





IN  -  Keith Hunt(

After the great persecutions, the Christian Emperors of both the East and West Roman Empires issued various decrees forbidding not only amusements and games, but also regular work in trade, business, professions, and courts. The sacred days were to be spent free from worldly occupations, entirely devoted to religious exercises. Every year during Holy Week an imperial edict granted pardon to a majority of those retained in prison; in the courts many charges were withdrawn in honor of Christ's Passion.

Following this custom, kings and rulers in medieval days retired from all secular business during Holy Week to spend the time in recollection and prayer, often within the seclusion of a monastery. Farmers set aside their plows, artisans their tools, Schools and government offices closed, and courts did not sit. Popular feeling caused the banning not only of music, dancing, and secular singing but also of hunting and any other kind of sport. It was truly a "quiet" and "holy" week even in public life.2 The Sacred Triduum of Holy Week (Thursday, Friday, Saturday) was a time of holyday obligation all through the Middle Ages. The Christian people, freed from servile work, were all present at the impressive ceremonies of these days. Due to the changed conditions of social life, however, Pope Urban VIII, in 1642, rescinded this obligation. Since then the last three days of Holy Week have been classified as working days, despite the sacred and important character they bear, which was powerfully stressed by the renewal of the liturgical order of Holy Week in 1955.3  

Gleaning * 

According to an ancient tradition, the three days after Palm Sunday are devoted in many countries to a thorough cleaning of the house, the most vigorous of the whole year. Carpets, couches, armchairs, and mattresses are carried into the open and every speck of dust beaten out of them. Women scrub and wax floors and furniture, change curtains, wash windows; the home is buzzing with activity. No time is wasted on the usual kitchen work; the meals are very casual and light On Wednesday night everything has to be back in place, glossy and shining, ready for the great feast.4 In Poland and other Slavic countries people also decorate their homes with green plants and artificial flowers made of colored paper carrying out ancient designs.5

This traditional spring cleaning is, of course, to make the home as neat as possible for the greatest holidays of the year, a custom taken over from the ancient Jewish practice of a ritual cleansing and sweeping of the whole house as prescribed in preparation for the Feast of Passover.6


Liturgy • 

As soon as the Church obtained her freedom in the fourth century, the faithful in Jerusalem re-enacted the solemn entry of Christ into their city on the Sunday before Easter, holding a procession in which they carried branches and sang the "Hosanna" (Matthew 21, 1-11).7 In the early Latin Church, people attending Mass on this Sunday would hold aloft twigs of olives, which were not, however, blessed in those days.

The rite of the solemn blessing of "palms" seems to have originated in the Frankish kingdom. The earliest mention of these ceremonies is found in the Sacramentary of the Abbey of Bobbio in northern Italy (at the beginning of the eighth century). The rite was soon accepted in Rome and incorporated into the liturgy. A Mass was celebrated in some church outside the walls of Rome, and there the palms were blessed. Then a solemn procession moved into the city to the basilica of the Lateran or to St. Peter s, where the pope sang a second Mass. The first Mass, however, was soon discontinued, and in its place only the ceremony of blessing was performed.8

Everywhere in medieval times, following the Roman custom, a procession composed of the clergy and laity carrying palms moved from a chapel or shrine outside the town, where the palms were blessed, to the cathedral or main church. Our Lord was represented in the procession, either by the Blessed Sacrament or by a crucifix, adorned with flowers, carried by the celebrant of the Mass. Later, in the Middle Ages, a quaint custom arose of drawing a wooden statue of Christ sitting on a donkey (the whole image on wheels) in the center of the procession. These statues (Palm Donkey; Palmesel) are still seen in museums of many European cities.9

As the procession approached the city gate, a boys' choir stationed high above the doorway of the church would greet the Lord with the Latin song Gloria, laus et honor. This hymn, which is still used today in the liturgy of Palm Sunday, was written by the Benedictine Theodulph, Bishop of Orleans (821):

Glory, praise and honor, O Christ, our Savior-King, To thee in glad Hosannas Inspired children sing.10

After this song, there followed a dramatic salutation before the Bussed Sacrament or the .image of Christ. Both clergy and laity knelt and bowed in prayer, arising to spread cloths and carpets on the ground, throwing flowers and branches in the path of the procession. The bells of the churches pealed, and the crowds sang the "Hosanna" as the colorful procession entered the cathedral for the solemn Mass.

In medieval times this dramatic celebration was restricted more and more to a procession around the church. The crucifix in the churchyard was festively decorated with flowers. There the procession came to a halt. While the clergy sang the hymns and antiphons, the congregation dispersed among the tombs, each family kneeling at the grave of relatives. The celebrant sprinkled holy water over the graveyard, the procession formed again and entered the church. In France and England the custom of decorating graves and visiting the cemeteries on Palm Sunday is still retained.11

Today the blessing of palms and the procession are usually performed within the churches. The new liturgical arrangements made by Pope Pius XII have restored the original solemnity of the procession, and the members of the congregation now take active part again in the sacred ceremonies of Palm Sunday. The blessing of palms, however, is now very short and simple compared to the former elaborate ritual.12

Names *

The various names for the Sunday before Easter come from the plants used—palms (Palm Sunday) or branches in general   (Branch   Sunday,   Domingo   de  Ramos,   Dimanche   des Rameaux). In most countries of Europe real palms  are unobtainable,  so in their place people use many other plants: olive branches (in Italy), box, yew, spruce, willows, and pussy willows.13 In fact, some plants have come to be called "palms" because of this usage, such as the yew in Ireland and the willow in England (palm willow)  and in Germany  (PalmMtzchen). From the use of willow branches Palm Sunday was called "Willow Sunday" in parts of England and Poland, and in Lithuania Verbu Sekmadienis (Willow Twig Sunday). The Greek Church uses the names "Sunday of the Palm-carrying" and "Hosanna Sunday." Centuries ago it was customary to bless not only branches but also various flowers of the season (the flowers are still mentioned in the first antiphonof the procession). Hence the name "Flower Sunday," which the day bore in many countries—"Flowering Sunday" or "Blossom Sunday" in England, Blumensonntag in Germany, Pdsques Fleuris in France, Pascua Florida in Spain, Virdgvasdrnap in Hungary, Cvetna among the Slavic nations, ZagKkasart in Armenia.14

The term Pascua Florida, which in Spain originally meant just Palm Sunday, was later also applied to the whole festive season of Easter Week. Thus the State of Florida received its name when, on March 27, 1513 (Easter Sunday), Ponce de Leon first sighted the land and named it in honor of the great feast.

The Passion • 

In the new liturgical order of Holy Week, Palm Sunday bears the official title "Second Sunday of the Passion, or Palm Sunday." Thus the Church enhances the significance of this Sunday as a memorial of Christ's sufferings, which are commemorated by the reading of the Passion. The word Passion in this connection means those passages of the Gospels which report the events of Christ's suffering and death. The Passions of all four Gospels are read or chanted in all Catholic churches during the liturgical services on certain days o£ Holy Week, and observed in varying degrees in many Protestant churches. On Palm Sunday, the Passion of Saint Matthew (26, 36—27, 54) is solemnly sung during Mass, in place of the usual Gospel.

The ancient liturgical rules prescribe that three clergymen of deacon's rank, vested in alb and stole, chant the sacred text. They are to alternate in contrasting voices. One (tenor) represents the Evangelist narrator; the second (high tenor) chants the voices of individuals and crowds; the third (bass) sings only the words of Christ.15

The melodies prescribed for the liturgical chanting of the Passion are among the most impressive examples of Gregorian chant, and for many centuries remained the only Passion music, until the nonliturgical works on the Passion were written.

The Palms • 

In central Europe, large clusters of plants, interwoven with flowers and adorned with ribbons, are fastened to the top of a wooden stick. All sizes of such palm bouquets may be seen, from the small children's bush to rods of ten feet and more.16 The regular "palm," however, consists in most European countries of pussy willows bearing their catkin blossoms. In the Latin countries and in the United States, palm leaves are often shaped and woven into little crosses and other symbolic designs. This custom was originated by a suggestion in the ceremonial book for bishops that little crosses of palm" be attached to the boughs wherever true palms are not available m sufficient quantity.17

In the spirit of this blessing, the faithful reverently keep the palms in their homes throughout the year, usually attached to a crucifix or holy picture, or fastened on the wall.18 In South America they put the large palm bouquets behind the door. In Italy people offer blessed palms as a token of reconciliation and peace to those with whom they have quarreled or lived on unfriendly terms. The Ukrainians and Poles strike each other gently with the pussy-willow palms on Palm Sunday; this custom, called Boze Rany (God's Wounds) they interpret as an imitation of the scourging of our Lord.19

In Austria, Bavaria, and in the Slavic countries, farmers, accompanied by their families, walk through their fields and buildings on the afternoon of Palm Sunday. Praying and singing their ancient hymns, they place a sprig of blessed palms in each lot of pasture or plowland, in every barn and stable, to avert the punishment of weather tragedies or diseases, and to draw God's blessing on the year's harvest and all their possessions.20


Names • 

Holy Thursday bears the liturgical name "Thursday of the Lord's Supper" (Feria Quinta in Coena Domini). Of its many popular names the more generally known are:

Maundy Thursday (le mande; Thursday of the Mandatum). The word mandatum means "commandment." This name is taken from the first words sung at the ceremony of the washing of the feet, "A new commandment I give you" (John 13, 84); also from the commandment of Christ that we should imitate His loving humility in the washing of the feet (John 13, 14-17). Thus the term mandatum (maundy) was applied to the rite of the feet-washing on this day.21

Green Thursday. In all German-speaking countries people call Maundy Thursday by this name (Grundonnerstag). From Germany the term was adopted by the Slavic nations {zeleny etvrtek) and in Hungary (zold csutortok). Scholars explain its origin from the old German word grunen or greinen (to mourn), which was later corrupted into griin (green). Another explanation derives it from carena (quadragena), meaning the last day of the forty days' public penance.22

Pure or Clean Thursday. This name emphasizes the ancient tradition that on Holy Thursday not only the souls were cleansed through the absolution of public sinners, but the faithful in all countries also made it a great cleansing day of the body (washing, bathing, shaving) in preparation for Easter. Saint Augustine (430) mentioned this custom.23 The Old English name was "Shere Thursday" (meaning sheer, clean), and the Scandinavian, Skaer Torsdag. Because of the exertions and thoroughness of this cleansing in an age when bathing was not an everyday affair, the faithful were exempted from fasting on Maundy Thursday.24

Holy or Great Thursday. The meaning of this title is obvious since it is the one Thursday of the year on which the sacred events of Christ's Passion are celebrated. The English-speaking nations and the people of the Latin countries use the term "Holy," while the Slavic populations generally apply the title "Great." 25 The Ukrainians call it also the Thursday of the Passion." In the Greek Church it is called the "Holy and Great Thursday of the Mystic Supper." 26

Masses • 

In the early Christian centuries the bishop celebrated three Masses on Maundy Thursday. The first (Mass of Remission) for the reconciliation of public sinners; the second (Mass of the Chrism) for the blessing of holy oils; the third (Mass of the Lord's Supper) in commemoration of the Last Supper of; Christ and the institution of the Eucharist27 This third Mass was celebrated in the evening, and in it the priests and people received Holy Communion. It is interesting to note that in ancient times Holy Thursday was the only day of the year when the faithful could receive the Blessed Sacrament at night after having taken their customary meals during the day (since it was not a fast day).

Today the Mass of the Chrism is still solemnly celebrated in every cathedral. During this Mass the bishop blesses the holy oils (oils of the sick, holy chrism, and oil of the catechumens).28

In the evening the Mass of the Lord's Supper is celebrated in all churches. It is one of the most solemn and impressive Masses of the year, since the very "birthday" of the Holy Sacrifice is commemorated in it. The altar is decorated, crucifix and tabernacle are veiled in white, and the priests wear rich vestments of white, the liturgical color of joy. At the beginning of the Mass the organ accompanies the choir, and through the Gloria a jubilant ringing of bells proclaims the festive memory of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament. After the Gloria the bells fall silent and are replaced by a wooden clapper and not heard again till the Gloria of the Easter Vigil is intoned on Holy Saturday.29

Only one priest celebrates Mass in each church on Holy Thursday; the other priests and the lay people receive Communion from his hand, thus representing more vividly the scene of our Lord's Last Supper. The faithful are expected and invited (but not strictly obliged) to attend this Mass and receive Holy Communion.

Repository • 

After the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in solemn procession to a side altar, richly decorated with candles and flowers, where it is kept in the tabernacle until the Good Friday service. This "repository" altar is a highly venerated shrine in every church, visited by thousands of people. A popular custom in cities is to visit seven such shrines. Throughout the night, in many countries, groups of the clergy and laymen keep prayerful watch in honor of the agony of Christ.

In the Latin countries of Europe and South America the Maundy Thursday shrine is called monumento. It is much more elaborate than the shrines of other nations. Usually a special scaffolding with many steps, representing a sacred hill, is erected, so high that it almost reaches to the ceiling. On the top of this the Sacrament is elevated, raised above a glorious forest of candles, palms, orchids, lilies, and other decorations. Dressed in black, the city people visit at least seven such monumehtos, which, in many places, are open through the night. On their way from church to church they say the rosary.

Denuding of Altars • 

After the Mass and procession on Holy Thursday, the altars are "denuded" in a ceremony of deep significance. Priests robed in purple vestments remove the altar linen, decorations, candles, and veils from every altar and tabernacle except the repository shrine. Robbed of their vesture, the bare altars now represent the. body of Christ, Who was stripped of His garments. In medieval times the altars used to be washed with blessed water and wine, the priests using bundles of birch twigs or palms to cleanse and dry them. In the Vatican this ceremony is still performed by the canons of St. Peter's on Holy Thursday.30

Mandatum • 

Finally, there is the ancient rite of the Mandatum, the washing of the feet. It is prescribed by the rules of the Roman Missal as follows:

After the altars are denuded, the clergy shall meet at a convenient hour for the Mandatum. The Gospel Ante diem festum (John 13, 1-17) is sung by the Deacon. After the Gospel the prelate puts off Ms cope and, fastening a towel around him, he kneels before each one of those who are chosen for the ceremony, washes, wipes and kisses the right foot.

From ancient times, all religious superiors, bishops, abbots, and prelates, performed the Maundy; so did the popes at all times. As early as 694 the Synod of Toledo prescribed the rite.31 Religious superiors of monasteries washed the feet of those subject to them, while the popes and bishops performed the ceremony on a number of clergy or laymen (usually twelve). In medieval times, and in some countries up to the present century, Christian emperors, kings, and lords washed the feet of old and poor men whom they afterward served at a meal and provided with appropriate alms.32

In England, the kings used to wash the feet of as many men as they themselves were years old. After the Reformation, Queen Elizabeth I still adhered to the pious tradition; she is reported to have used a silver bowl of water scented with perfume when she washed the feet of poor women on Maundy Thursday. Today, all that is left of this custom in England is a distribution of silver coins by royal officials to as many poor persons as the monarch is years old.33

The washing of feet is still kept in many churches.34 In Mexico and other sections of South America the Last Supper is often re-enacted in church, with the priest presiding and twelve men or boys, dressed as Apostles, speaking the dialogue as recorded in the Gospels. In Malta, a "Last Supper Table" is richly laden by the faithful with food that is later distributed to the poor.

Reconciliation of Penitents • 

An ancient rite of Maundy Thursday now totally extinct was the solemn reconciliation of public penitents. As on Ash Wednesday, they again approached the church dressed in sackcloth, barefoot, unshaven, weak, and feeble from their forty days fast and penance. The bishop led them into the house of God, where he absolved them from their sins and crimes after the Gospel of the Mass of Reconciliation.

With his blessing they joyfully hurried home after the Mass to bathe, shave, and cut their hair in preparation for Easter, and to resume their normal dress and routine of daily life, which had been so harshly interrupted during the time of their public penance.35

Royal Hours • 

The Greek Church celebrates a night vigil from Holy Thursday to Good Friday, in which the texts of the Passion, collected from the Bible and arranged in twelve chapters (called the "Twelve Gospels") are sung or read, with prayers, prostrations, and hymns after every chapter. In the cathedral of Constantinople, the East Roman emperors used to attend this service; hence it was called the "Royal Hours."36 Its original name is Pannuchida (All-Night Service). In Russia people would carry home the candles that they had used in this vigil, and with them they would light the lamps that burned day and night before the family ikons (holy pictures). The Ukrainians celebtate the "Royal Hours" on Good Friday morning.37

Folklore • 

Many popular customs and traditions are connected with Maundy Thursday. There is, above all, the universal children's legend that the bells "fly to Rome" after the Gloria of the Mass. In Germany and central Europe the little ones are told that the church bells make a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostles, or that they visit the pope, to be blessed by him, then sleep on the roof of St. Peter's until the Easter Vigil.38 In France the story is that the bells fly to Rome to fetch the Easter eggs that they will drop on their return into every bouse wbere the children are good and well behaved.

In some Latin countries sugared almonds are eaten by everybody on Maundy Thursday. From this custom it bears the name "Almond Day" in the Azores. In central Europe the name "Green Thursday" inspired a tradition of eating green things. The main meal starts with a soup of green herbs, followed by a bowl of spinach with boiled or fried eggs, and meat with dishes of various green salads.39

Following the ecclesiastical custom, the bells on farm buildings are silent in Germany and Austria, and dinner calls are made "with wooden clappers. In rural sections of Austria boys with, clappers go through the villages and towns, announcing the hours, because the church clock is stopped. These youngsters (Ratschen-huben) sing a different stanza each hour, in which they com-Kaemorate the events of Christ's Passion.40


From the earliest centuries, Good Friday was universally celebrated in the Church as a day of sadness, mourning, fasting, and jnrayer. The Apostolic Constitutions (fourth century) called it a "day of mourning, not a day of festive joy." Saint Ambrosius (397), Archbishop of Milan, mentioned Good Friday as a "day of bitterness on which, we fast." 41

Names • 

The liturgical title in the Western Church, is "Friday of the Preparation" (Feria sexta in Farasceve). At the time of Christ, the Jews used the Greek word Faraskeue (getting ready) for Friday, meaning the day of preparation for the Sabbath. This word is now used both in the Oriental and Occidental Churches. Popular names are "Holy Friday" among the Latin nations, "Great Friday" among the Slavic peoples (petok veliki) and Hungarians (nagypentek), "Friday of Mourning" in German (Karfreitag), "Long Friday" in Norway (Langfredag), and "Good Friday" in English and Dutch.

The early Church, following apostolic tradition, employed the hallowed term "Paseh" (from Hebrew pesach, passover) both to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Thus Good Friday is called the "Pasch of Crucifixion' (pascha staurosimon), Easter the "Pasch of Resurrection" (pasclw anastasimon), and the Eastern Church has kept these names up to our day.42


Service of Reading and Prater • 

The first part of the Good Friday service is the only example of an ancient Roman Synaxis (prayer meeting without Mass) that has survived to the present. It consists of a silent prostration before the altar, followed by lessons (readings from the Bible), chanting of the'Passion of Saint John, prayers, and the solemn Collects for all classes of men and for the needs of the Church, the celebrant starting every invocation with the words "Oremus, dilectissimi nobis" (Let us pray, dearest brethren).

Adoration of the Cross • 

After the Synaxis one of the most moving ceremonies of the year takes place, the Adoration of the Cross. (The word adoration in this instance is a translation of the Greek proskunesis, which meant a tribute of the highest honor, performed by a prostration to the ground.) In medieval England and Germany the ceremony was called "creeping to the Cross" {zum Kreuz kriechen).

The celebrating priest unveils the crucifix in three stages, singing "Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Salvation of the world"; to which the choir and people, kneeling and reverently bowing, answer "Come, let us adore!" Then the crucifix is placed on a pillow in front of the altar. The priest and his assistants approach it, genuflecting three times, and devoutly kiss the feet of the image. The rest of the clergy and the lay people follow, performing the same humble act of veneration. Meanwhile, the choir sings the ancient Improperia (complaints) of Christ:

My people, what have I done to thee?

Or in what have I grieved thee? Answer me!

I brought thee out of the land of Egypt:

And thou hast prepared a cross for thy Saviour.

For thy sake I scourged Egypt and its first-born:

And thou didst scourge me and deliver me to


In answer the choir sings the invocation called Trisagion (thrice holy) in Latin and Greek:

O holy God,

O strong, holy One,

O holy, immortal One, have mercy on us.

The Adoration of the Cross was adopted by the Roman Church from Jerusalem, where the true Cross of Christ was thus venerated every year on Good Friday as early as the fourth century. Aetheria, after her pilgrimage to the Holy Land about a.d. 395, left in her diary the first description of this ceremony. It is of special interest that, according to her report, not only the Cross, but also the title board bearing the inscription (John 19: 19-22) was presented to the pilgrims. They were allowed to kiss, but not to touch, the sacred objects.43 When the Mohammedans conquered Jerusalem under Sultan Saladin, in 1187, they took the relics away, and no trace of them was ever found. Fortunately, a piece of the true Cross was brought to Rome in the fourth century, and from it many churches in all countries have received small particles as relics.44

Communion Service • 

After the solemn veneration of the cross, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession from the repository shrine (where it was placed the day before) to the main altar. Then the Communion service is celebrated. It is a solemn rite presenting some ceremonies of the Mass, but not the Divine Sacrifice itself. On the day on which Christ offered Himself on the Cross for the redemption of the world, the Church reverently abstains from performing the same sacrifice, in its unbloody repetition, which otherwise is offered every day according to His command (1 Corinthians 11: 23-26). The faithful are encouraged to receive Holy Communion at this service.45

After the solemn ceremonies of Good Friday, the altar is stripped again, the tabernacle is left open, no lights burn in the sanctuary. Only the crucifix, now unveiled, takes the place of honor in front of the empty tabernacle. The faithful, however, practice various additional devotions on Good Friday. In all coontries such devotional exercises are now held with traditional piety.

Holy Sepulcher *

 The most ancient and impressive of these extraliturgical rites is the shrine of the Holy Sepulcher, a custom that derived from the practice of the early Church in Jerusalem, where the faithful kept a devout prayer vigil at the tomb of the Lord from the evening of Good Friday until the start of the Easter services.46 Unfortunately, this practice was not incorporated in the Roman liturgy. It would give a liturgical inspiration and significance to the evening of Good Friday and to Holy Saturday, which now are utterly aliturgical.

This tradition of a vigil at the Holy Sepulcher was brought from Jerusalem to Europe and spread in the form of a semi-liturgical practice through many countries.47 In past centuries it was a universal tradition in England and France. The rite was performed with liturgical texts and ceremonies. In some countries a crucifix or the Blessed Sacrament (or both together) were borne in solemn procession to a shrine called the Sepulcher. There the priest deposited them in a sort of tabernacle shaped like a tomb chamber. The faithful visited the shrine all through Good Friday and Holy Saturday.48

Today, the custom of the Holy Sepulcher is still observed in central and eastern Europe and in the Latin countries. After the liturgical service, the priests carry the Blessed Sacrament in splendid procession to the side altar. The monstrance in which the Sacrament is borne is covered with a transparent veil of white lace to symbolize the burial shroud of Christ A representation of the Lord's tomb, showing an image of the Saviour resting in death, awaits the procession. This shrine is decorated with many candles, palms, flowers, and lights. There the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on a throne for the veneration of the faithful. All through Good Friday and Holy Saturday, people come in great numbers, kneel in devout prayer before the Eucharistic Lord, actually a spiritual "wake" of devotion and adoration. In Austria it is a traditional custom for soldiers of the army, in parade uniform, with steel helmets and fixed bayonets, to man a guard of honor at the shrine, and thus atone for the irreverent guard of Roman soldiers at the tomb of Christ49

In Spanish-speaking countries of Europe and South America the monumento is taken down on Good Friday and in its place a representation of Calvary is erected, with life-size figures of Christ on the Cross, the Blessed Mother, Saint John, and Mary Magdalen. After the service, the priest mounts a ladder to detach the body of Christ from the Cross. He takes it down and places it in the shrine of the Sepulcher. There the faithful visit and pray all through the evening and on Holy Saturday. It is customary to recite thirty-three Credos in honor of the years of our Lord's life.

In the Byzantine Church, on the afternoon of Good Friday, the elders of the parish carry a cloth containing a picture of our Lord's body resting in death. Followed by the priest, they walk in procession to the shrine of the Sepulcher, where the cloth is placed on a table to be venerated by the people. The entire ceremony and the shrine are called Platsenitsia (winding sheet) by the Ukrainians and other Slavs of the Oriental Church.

La Russia a silver coffin bearing a cross was placed in the center of the church and surrounded with lights and flowers. One after another the faithful, creeping on their knees, approached to kiss the cross and to venerate the image of Christ's body painted on the "winding sheet"

Origin of the Forty Hours' Devotion • 

Usually the origin of the Forty Hours' Devotion is ascribed to the city of Milan, where, in 1527, in a time of war and calamities, the faithful were invited to visit the exposed Blessed Sacrament four times a year and to pray to the Eucharistic Lord, imploring His mercy and help. The dates for this devotion, which was called "Forty Hours' Prayer," were Easter, Pentecost, Feast of the Assumption, and Christmas.50

It is interesting to note that the church where this devotion was to be held bore the name Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The duration, forty hours, points far back into the earliest centuries of Christianity, when the faithful honored our Lord's rest in the tomb by a fast and prayer of forty hours. "From the moment of Christ's death to the morning of His resurrection it is forty hours," said Saint Augustine (430).51 By the second century it was a widespread custom for people to fast day and night for forty hours, from Good Friday afternoon until Easter Sunday morning, according to the word of Saint Irenaeus (202) recorded in the history of Eusebius.52

To the fast of forty hours there was added a forty hours' prayer at the Holy Sepulcher, as Aetheria reported in her diary.53 Fasting and prayer at the shrine of the Sepulcher remained through all the centuries of the Middle Ages, and in some countries even the latter is still kept. Liturgically speaking, however, only the fasting is provided in the Roman Bite, while the Eastern Rites have a "burial" service and a symbolic shrine of the Sepulcher in their Good Friday ritual.54 The practice of prayerful watch at the tomb of Christ, which would admirably fit the liturgical meaning of Holy Saturday, has never been officially introduced in the Latin Church. Instead, the Forty Hours' Devotion, which grew out of the ancient forty hours' "wake," was separated from its original place and officially established as a liturgical devotion at various other times of the year. This lack of a liturgical ritual for Holy Saturday has become more apparent since the renewal of the Holy Week order (1955).55

Three Hours' Devotion • 

A very well-known Good Friday service is the Devotion of the Three Hours (Tre Ore). It was first performed in Lima, Peru, by Father Alphonso Messia, S.J. (1732), and quickly spread to all the Latin-speaking countries.56 In Italy it was introduced with special enthusiasm, and from there went to England and America, where in recent years it has grown in popularity also in many Protestant churches. It consists of sermons on the seven last words of Christ, alternating with hymns and prayers. In most countries of Europe the Three Hours' Devotion is hardly known. Instead, oratorios on the seven words are often presented by church choirs in a musical service on Good Friday night. Such musical programs are also observed in many Protestant churches, both in Europe and America.

Processions • 

A famous feature of Good Friday is the popular procession in the Latin countries. Such public processions were also held in most countries of central and western Europe up to the nineteenth century.57 In many regions, especially in Spain, the confraternities (confradias) of lay people, wearing hoods and carrying lighted candles, walk through the streets in religious parades. Images of the suffering Christ and the Blessed Virgin are conveyed in a pageant of magnificent splendor. The statues, borne on huge platforms, are beautifully decorated and surrounded by a multitude of burning tapers. In Malta the bearers wear Oriental robes, and many go barefoot in observance of vows.

This Spanish custom of the confradia processions, especially the famous tradition of the city of Seville, has also found its way into the Spanish-speaking countries of the New World. Among the most impressive celebrations of this kind is the annual Semana Santa (Holy Week) observance in Mexico City. There a funeral procession (el santo entierro) is held with a touching scene in which the Mother of the Lord meets the lifeless body of her Son (el pesame). The Stations of the Cross are often dramatically represented in a passion play outside the church, followed by sermon and prayer. In parts of South America a procession, carrying the empty cross and many statues, moves slowly through the crowded church while the people pray and sing. In Caracas, Venezuela, this service is supposed to last four to five hours; and in order to fill the time, the procession not only moves very slowly but proceeds in a quaint manner, walking three steps forward and two steps backward.

In India the native Christians accompany the "funeral" of Christ, which is met outside the church by a statue of the sorrowful Virgin. A sermon is preached, and both statues together are taken into the church. There the people perform the purana, a service of wailing, at which they sing hymns to their ancient, plaintive tunes. The early missionaries to India were Portuguese, and they took these customs with them.

Music • 

Following the Reformation, the practice grew in Germany of presenting, on Good Friday afternoon, in place of the ancient liturgical service, musical settings of the parts of the Gospel narrating the Passion and death of Christ. One of the earliest works of this kind is the composition of Antonio Scandello (1580), choir director of the court chapel at Dresden. He wrote a St. Johns Passion that follows the traditional recitative of the liturgical chant in the solo part (evangelist). He was the first composer to set the story of the Passion to music in oratorio form, and it became the model for most of his successors for hundreds of years.

Heinrich Schuetz (1672) set to dramatic music all four Gospel narrations of the Passion. They all close with a devotional chorus in motet style based on some familiar church, hymn.

The best known and perhaps the.greatest of all are the two immortal compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, Saint John Passion and Saint Matthew Passion. The Saint John Passion was first performed on Good Friday, 1723, at Leipzig. Its first complete American performance was given by the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1888. The Saint Matthew Passion, somewhat longer,-was also produced for the first time in Leipzig, in 1729. During Passiontide throughout the world many performances of both these famous compositions are heard by thousands, especially since the advent of radio and television.

While Handel, in 1704, at the age of nineteen, wrote a Passion, far better known is his inspired Messiah. The latter half of this gigantic oratorio deals with the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

A composition called the Seven Last Words for solo, chorus, and orchestra was written by Franz Josef Haydn (1809) at the request of the cathedral chapter of Cadiz, Spain, to be performed at the Three Hours' Devotion, and is being heard rather frequently in recent years.

The Christus am Oelberg (Christ on the Mount of Olives) by Beethoven, Charles Gounod's Seven Last Words, Cesar Franck's Redemption, with a text by Eduard Blau, are some of the many works of music for Passiontide. Gounod's Seven Last Words is often performed in both Catholic and Protestant churches on Good Friday.

A composition that in recent years has become a favorite with church choirs is the dramatic setting of the Seven Last Words, with a Latin text, by the Frencb organist and composer Theodore Dubois (1924). It was first performed in Paris in 1869, and is now often given as a sacred concert on Palm Sunday evening or at some other time during Holy Week.

Some of the best-known works of English composers often beard in Protestant churches during Holy Week include: Maunders Olivet to Calvary, Gaul's Holy City, and Stainer'i Crucifixion.

Parsifal, by Richard Wagner (1883), based on a folklore in* terpretation of the search, for the Holy Grail, is an opera frequently beard in Holy Week, and the music for the "Good Friday Spell" from it is usually played by symphony orchestras here and in Europe during that period.

Popular Observance • 

Following the spirit of the liturgy, the faithful everywhere keep Good Friday as a day of strictest fast, often far beyond the obligation of the law. Many people take nothing but a little bread and water all day. In some counties of England plain rice cooked in milk is the traditional Good Friday meal. The Irish people hold a "black fast' which usually means that they take only water or tea on that day. In central Europe it is the custom to eat just vegetable soup and bread at noon, and some cheese with bread in the evening. Both meals are taken standing and in silence. No noisy tasks are performed, people refrain from joking and laughing, and children abstain from their usual games.58

In many countries, pious legends have inspired popular practices that are widely observed, mostly in a spirit of true reverence, some of which, however, have given rise to superstitions. Among farmers, Good Friday is considered a lucky day for sowing, since Christ blessed and sanctified the soil by His burial. On the other hand, craftsmen must be careful not to swing a hammer or drive a nail on the day on which Christ was nailed to the Cross; carpenters, plumbers, blacksmiths rest from their usual work. No washing is done by women, since the Lord's blood stained the linen and clothes on Good Friday. A familiar superstition is that if a woman washes on Good Friday, she will find the laundry spotted with blood, and ill luck will befall her all through the year.59

A deeply impressive practice among the Christian Syrians and Chaldeans is the fact that they do not use their customary greeting, Shlama ("Peace be with you") on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, because Judas Iscariot saluted Christ with these very words when he betrayed Him. Instead, they substitute on these two days, as mutual greeting, the phrase "the Light of God be with your departed ones."

In many parts of Europe people who die on Good Friday are considered highly fortunate, since they are believed to share in the privilege of the Good Thief, and to be given the grace of salvation and a speedy entry into Heaven.

It was a universal custom (and still is in Catholic countries) to mark a new loaf of bread with the sign of the cross before. cutting it, in order to bless it and thank God for it. On special occasions the cross was imprinted on the loaf before baking, as | on the Christmas loaves in southern France and in Greece, the \ Kreuzstollen (cross loaf) in Germany, the cross bread of Mid-Lent among the Slavs. On Good Friday, loaves'bearing an imprinted cross (Karfreitaglaib) are eaten in Austria. In England, from the end of the fourteenth century, buns were baked with a cross marked on them. They are said to have originated at Saint Alban's Abbey in 1361, where the monks distributed them to the poor. Whatever their origin, these "hot cross buns" became a famous Good Friday feature in England and Ireland, and later in this country. They were made of spiced dough, round in shape, with a cross made of icing on the top. In recent: times these cross buns are sold not only on Good Friday but all through Lent.

The hot cross buns were considered blessed and powerful against all kinds of sickness and dangers. Eating them on Good : Friday was said to protect your home from fire. People would keep them through the year, eating them as medicine or wearing : them as charms against disease, Hghtning, and shipwreck.60


Names • 

The English title for the day before Easter, Holy Saturday, is a translation of its official name in the Western Church— Sabbatum Sanctum. In the Oriental Church it is called the "Sacred and Great Saturday." Most European nations use the term "holy," except in parts of eastern Europe, where the term "the Great Saturday" is in vogue. The German people say "Saturday of mourning" (Karsamstag). On the Island of Malta, where Arabic is spoken, Holy Saturday bears the name Sibt il Glorja (Saturday of Glory). The Christians in Iraq and Iran employ the popular term Sabt al-Noor (Saturday of Light).

Observance • 

Holy Saturday commemorates Christ's rest in the tomb. There is no service at all during the daylight hours, since the body of the Lord enclosed in the Sepulcher shared the fate and humiliation of human burial. As Christ rested in the grave the whole Sabbath day, so the faithful waited in prayer and fasting until the evening star announced the beginning of the Easter Vigil.

In ancient days a strict fast called the "Passion fast" was kept until the morning of Easter Sunday; not even children were dispensed from observing it.61 Both the Eastern and Western Churches called Holy Saturday the "Day of Rest of the Lord's Body in the Tomb." In the fourteenth century the original night service of the Easter Vigil was transferred to the morning of Holy Saturday, but in 1955 Pope Pius XII restored the ancient custom, and it is once more held as a Holy Saturday night service, leading directly into Easter Sunday.62

In the early centuries the catechumens would assemble in the church during the afternoon, the men on one side, the women on the other. After an instruction by the bishop, the priests performed on them those rites which are still practiced in the baptism of infants and adults: the exorcism of the powers of evil, the touching of ears and nostrils as a symbol of opening their minds to the word and grace of God, and the solemn pledge of conversion. This pledge was accompanied by a dramatic gesture. Turning toward the west and pointing with the forefinger in the direction of sunset, each catechumen uttered these words, "I renounce thee, Satan, with all thy pomps and all thy works," then taming to the east and pointing likewise, they would say, "To Thee I dedicate myself, Jesus Christ, eternal and uncreated light." After this, each one recited the Creed publicly before the whole congregation; then they were dismissed to spend the last few hours before their baptism in quiet recollection and prayer.63

Folklore •

On Holy Saturday there is great activity around tiie house in central Europe. Easter ham and other foods for the feast are cooked, Easter bread and pastry are baked. Many eggs are boiled and painted. The whole house is decked with flowers and finery in preparation for the great feast. In the Slavic countries, baskets of food, especially eggs, are brought to the church to be blessed by the priest on Holy Saturday afternoon. They are then taken home and eaten for breakfast on Easter Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. In many regions the priests. go from house to house on Holy Saturday to bless the Easter fare, which is neatly arranged on large tables and decorated with flowers.

An amusing custom is practiced in Poland on Holy Saturday. The boys of the villages "bury" the Lenten fare, herring and zur, in a mock funeral. The herring (a real one or a wooden image) is first executed by hanging, then a pot of zur is shattered against a rock or tree; finally the fish and the pieces of the pot are interred with glee. No longer will these tiresome dishes be eaten, at least not until next Lent.

In the Alpine provinces of Austria, Easter fires burn on mountain peaks after sunset on Holy Saturday, and bands of musicians go through the towns, playing sacred hymns.

















Keith Hunt