Holy Week refers to the week that begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. For Catholics, it is the most sacred week of the year. There are specific traditions that are celebrated during the week, both in the Masses that are celebrated in church, and in homes of faithful Catholics.
The First Day of Holy Week
Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, commemorates the day that Jesus returned to Jerusalem after his 40 days in the desert, which is celebrated by Catholics as Lent. As he rode into town, Jesus was welcomed by throngs of people who laid palms at his feet in his honor. In the church, palms are typically available at the Palm Sunday Masses, and parishioners carry them and wave them during the Mass. The palms are taken home and kept on display throughout the week. Often children are encouraged to weave them into crosses to represent the connection between the palms of Palm Sunday and Jesus' death on the cross later in the week.
The liturgical colors worn in the Catholic Church for Holy Week are red, symbolizing the blood shed by Jesus' death on the cross. The entire week is a period of sober reflection for Catholics. Maundy Thursday is the day that celebrates the Last Supper, when Jesus held Passover with his disciples. Some Catholics may even eat a meal that resembles traditional Passover fare, such as lamb, unleavened bread and haroset salad. The emphasis at the Mass is on humility; the priests wash the feet of their parishioners, just as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.
The Mass on Maundy Thursday is the last Mass celebrated until Easter. Good Friday commemorates the death of Jesus on the Cross, and the worship is focused on remembering the pain and sadness of his death. There is usually a formal Veneration of the Cross, and some churches will use the Stations of the Cross as part of their worship; this refers to the 14 steps that detail Jesus' betrayal by Judas, and subsequent trial and crucifixion. Communion is not usually offered on Good Friday because communion is a celebration, and Good Friday is a day of mourning. Good Friday is a day of fasting for Catholics, and no meat is allowed to be eaten.
Holy Saturday is the official end of Holy Week. It is a time of waiting, and no Mass is offered on this day. However, the celebration for Easter typically begins after sundown on Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil. The faithful gather outside the church, typically in darkness, and then proceed in to light a new fire. New members of the Catholic Church are baptized at the Vigil, and present members are called to renew their baptismal promises. The next day is Easter Sunday, which marks the first day of the Easter Season, a period of hope and renewal in the Catholic Church.
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