Holy Week is now upon us. Lent, and Holy Week in particular, resonate deeply with nearly all of us. The Lenten symbols and practices (Friday abstinence, Stations of the Cross, abstaining from reciting the Gloria or speaking “Alleluia” in the church, etc.) are imprinted in our hearts. One of the most memorable customs I remember from childhood in this parish was the covering of statues and images with violet-colored cloth, so as to focus our undivided attention on Christ himself. Considering the number of statues in our church, it meant a lot of violet. Then, when these images were uncovered at Easter, they appeared brand new again.
This year, we do not need the violet coverings, as our months-long exile from the church building has served much the same function. Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter will be celebrated in the church for the first time in two years.
In the Catholic Church up until 1969, the name for the last two weeks of Lent was “Passiontide”, a distinct liturgical season of its own. (A few Catholics still maintain that observance.) At this time of the year, we have three overlapping liturgical periods: Passiontide (which begins on the Fifth Sunday of Lent); Holy Week (from the Vigil of Palm Sunday to the Easter Vigil); and the Triduum (from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday to the Easter Vigil.
Palm Sunday. Our observance will be mostly unchanged from past years, except for COVID-19 restrictions. This year, the Passion Gospel will be read through by the priest or deacon. We cannot assign parts, since we are not yet able to distribute missalettes for participation by the congregation. Whatever palms we have remaining after the Masses will be available at the front steps of the rectory. Later on Sunday (or Monday), and while they last, we will have additional palms available when we take down the palms on display.
Holy Thursday/Maundy Thursday. That strange word, “Maundy” is a corruption of the Latin word “mandatum”, meaning “commandment”. This is a direct reference to John 13 when after washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus says: “I give you a new commandment: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’”
The Gospel of John is the only Gospel that contains the Washing of the Feet– traditionally done at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The Gospel of John is the only one of the four Gospels that does not have an account of the Last Supper– the Washing of the Feet takes its place.
The liturgical Washing of the Feet is optional. This year we will omit it for safety reasons. After Communion, there is no final blessing. The altar is stripped in silence, and the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the tabernacle and reposed in the Tabernacle of Repose, to symbolize the darkness of Jesus’ three days in the tomb. The sanctuary light is extinguished.
Good Friday. The Passion narrative will be read through as a Gospel reading by the priest or deacon, as on Palm Sunday. There will be no other major differences from the past, except that we ask people to venerate the Cross by bowing to it and/or making the sign of the cross without touching it. Some may wish to bring their rosary or small cross for personal veneration. The Stations of the Cross will be led, but the congregation is asked to remain in their pews.
In a few days, I will offer some thoughts on the remainder of the Triduum (literally, “three days”) and Easter as we will celebrate it here at St. Vincent’s. Until then, I wish you and your loved ones a blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week.
With every blessing,
Fr. Bill Donahue