1. The last week of Lent in which sympathy with our suffering Lord, and a penitential spirit should reach its highest degree is called Holy Week, because in this week the Passion and death of our Lord is presented to us.
2. Until the seventh century, during the entire Holy Week, the faithful abstained from all servile work and lived a life of penance; later, the faithful attended Mass every day, practiced severe works of penance and celebrated the last three days as Sunday. They also endeavored to obliterate past evils, prisoners were liberated; enemies were reconciled; penitents were forgiven, and debts were paid.
3. The Christian should endeavor in this week to be recollected in spirit, to meditate on the Passion of Christ, and to do penance for his sins. He should increase his love for God and his neighbor and fervently participate in the Divine Services of Holy Week.
4. On Palm Sunday, also on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week the Passion of our Lord is read or sung, each time from a different Evangelist. This custom is found in the earliest Christian times; it is to remind us that we should have the Passion of Christ as much as possible before our eyes during Holy Week.
As soon 'as the priest at the reading of the Passion comes to the place where the death of Christ is mentioned he, with all the servers at the altar, kneels down, in order, thereby, to express the mourning of the Church,—at the same time, also, to offer to God, in the name of the people, the worship due him, and to express their gratitude for the redemption of mankind by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5. During the last three days of Holy Week, in some Churches where there are more priests, the Office of Matins and Lauds, or of the so-called Tenebrae is solemnly recited, the evening before, accompanied by the singing of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, bewailing the destruction of Jerusalem.
When the Lamentations are sung fifteen candles in the form of a triangle are lit,—the one at the top being white, the others yellow. At the end of each psalm a candle is extinguished, and, finally, those which are upon the altar, only the white one at the point of the triangle being left; at last it is carried behind the altar. At the close the wooden clappers are used and the burning candle is brought back again and placed on the altar. The significance of this ceremony is as follows:
(1) The gradual extinction of the candles is to remind us of the Prophets, who gave testimony of Christ, for which they were persecuted and put to death; it reminds us also of the Apostles and Disciples who hid themselves during His Passion.
(2) The fourteen unbleached wax candles tell us of His human nature; the one of white bleached wax, on the top, signifies His divine nature. All the unbleached candles are extinguished to show that His human nature died. The white candle is not quenched, to show that His divine nature did not die.
(3) The gloom caused by the extinction of the lights typifies the growing darkness, when Christ, the Light of the World, was taken ; and the clapping made at the close of the Office is said to symbolize the confusion and earthquake which took place at our Lord's death.
(4) The reappearance of the white candle represents the resurrection of Christ.
The origin of the Tenebrae dates from the first centuries; the early Christians celebrated these three days by night watches, or vigils, with prayer and the singing of psalms. Other vigils had long ceased to be kept ; this vigil alone was retained until the tenth century, and celebrated at midnight; from this time until the fourteenth century it was celebrated at eight o'clock in the evening. Since the fourteenth century it has been kept as we have it at the present day. The Tenebrae is to remind us of the deep sorrow of the Church on the Passion and Death of Christ, and also her grief for the ingratitude of sinful man, to move him, therefore, to compassion for Christ's suffering and to do penance for his sins.
1. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday,—the name is derived from the blessing of palms, and the procession which takes place on this day.
2. The procession on Palm Sunday is of very ancient origin, dating even from the fourteenth century; it reminds us in the first place of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, when the people went forth with palm branches to meet Him and to lead Him as their King in triumph into the city.
So even now the faithful go in procession with palms in their hands to offer their homage with prayer and psalmody to Christ their King. This procession also reminds us of the solemn entry of Jesus into the heavenly Jerusalem, after having conquered death and hell by His crucifixion and resurrection, when upon His ascension all the just awaiting Him in Limbo, adorned with the palms of merit, led Him into heaven, where adoring Him they offered their allegiance to Him as Lord and King.
It reminds us also of that most solemn and great entry into the heavenly Jerusalem after the Last Judgment. All His faithful servants who have won the crown of victory under His banner will then offer Him their homage, and partake of His triumph and eternal glory.
3. The palms are blessed before the procession, because the Church wishes that whatever is used in the Divine Service should be blessed in order to remove the curse of sin, and to sanctify it for its sacred purpose. The Church prays especially for the bearers of these palms that they may have the grace of gaining many palms of victory over the enemy of salvation, and acquire many palms of good works, wherewith to follow the Lord in His triumphant entry, also that God may bless the houses in which these palms are preserved.
4. After blessing the palms the priest distributes them to the faithful as a sign that the Church shows the way to heaven, and must lead them in the battle against the enemy of their salvation. Then the palm bearers follow the cross in the procession, proclaiming thereby that they will fight and struggle all their life long in order to follow Jesus on the way of the Cross.
5. When the procession returns to the Church door, which is closed, it is opened only after being struck three times with the staff of the cross. This teaches us that heaven was only opened by the death of Jesus on the Cross, and that we of our own strength cannot gain heaven, except through the merits of our crucified Jesus.
6. The faithful carry the palms home and preserve them, in order to partake of the blessings that the Church invokes on those dwellings where they are preserved. Thus the faithful express that even in their homes they will remain true followers of Jesus Christ.