Holy Week represents one of, if not the most, noteworthy week in the Christian faith. The events of this week contain universal implications for all of humanity. My own experience of Holy Week is fairly limited. Our churches gathered with other local churches for a Maundy Thursday communion service. Really, the liturgical meaning of the service was never really stressed, and it ended up being a community communion service with a special preacher and music.
Since that time, I’ve discovered that Holy Week is much broader and deeper than my limited exposure to it. Holy Week reenacts some of the most important events in the last week of the life of Jesus Christ. We need to be reminded and to re-experience these events each year. They can be a means to deepen our personal experience of Jesus Christ.
How did Holy Week develop?Concerning the development of Holy Week, Robert Webber says, “Although traces of a special emphasis during this week can be found in the third century, Holy Week was developed in the fourth century by the Christians of Jerusalem” (224). James White adds, “In the course of the fourth century, the ancient unitive Pascha, which commemorated all the events of the last days of Jesus in Jerusalem, was divided into distinct commemorations” (51).
Originally, many of the events seemed to have been celebrated together, but the Christians in Jerusalem began to celebrate the last week of Jesus’ life in separate celebrations at the various sites where those events occurred (White 51). According to Adolph Adam, “Here at Jerusalem we see the effort being made to achieve accuracy in details of time and place…” (70). Pilgrims attended from various places, and one such pilgrim, Egeria, took detailed notes of the celebration and serves as a primary source on the celebration of Holy Week from the fourth century (White 51). The Holy Week observance in Jerusalem became the model for much of the church (Adam 70).
Where in the Christian Year is Holy Week? Just as Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten remembrance; it ends during Holy Week. Even though Lent does not actually end until Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, the beginning of Holy Week with Palm Sunday signifies the end of Lent.
What is Holy Week?Joan Chittister comments, “Holy Week, the seven days before the Feast of Easter, from Palm Sunday morning to Holy Saturday night, is charged with meaning” (129). So, Holy Week is the week before Easter Sunday, and it “commemorates the climactic moments of Jesus’ ministry and death in Jerusalem” (White 53). Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, continues with Holy Monday through Holy Wednesday, and then, observes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Each of these remembers different events in the final week of Jesus. Forthcoming articles will cover each of these in greater detail.
Why celebrate Holy Week?Robert Webber states, “The aim of Holy Week was to make the life of Christ real for the worshiper. Enacting his last days and entering into his experience was a way of offering worship to him” (224-225). There are two ways in which celebrating Holy Week draws us closer to Jesus Christ. First, we enter more deeply into the suffering and death of Jesus by experiencing the events of Jesus’ last week. Second, we share in what his disciples must have felt when they went through and watched the events unfold before them. Just as the Holy Spirit illuminates the written Word, he also brings to life the words of Scripture enacted in these services.
What happens after Holy Week? EASTER! Holy Week moves us through Jesus’ Triumphal Entry to his crucifixion and death. The confusion and mourning of Holy Week prepares us for the dawning hope of Easter morning.
Adam, Adolph. The Liturgical Year: Its History and Its Meaning after the Reform of the Liturgy (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1981).
Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year: the Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009).
Robert Webber, Worship Old and New: Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994).
White, James F. Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980).