long wintery days of Lent are drawing to a close and Holy Week is
fast-approaching. Holy Week memorializes the last week of Jesus Christ's life
and his crucifixion. It culminates in Easter, the celebration of his
resurrection. Christians of many different denominations feel more connected
with Christ re-living events from his life during this week.
practice of honoring Holy Week is as old as Christianity itself. Holy Week
observances began in Jerusalem in the first centuries A.D., when Christian
pilgrims traveled there at Passover time to re-enact the events surrounding the
crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The earliest written account of these practices
is from Egeria, a Spanish woman who made pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the fourth
century. By this time, Holy Week traditions had already grown quite elaborate,
including Good Friday processions along the Via Dolorosa, the road where
tradition says that Jesus carried his cross through the city. Via Dolorosa
means "way of pain" in Latin, and early Christians developed the
practice of stopping their processions at each station of the cross, a
tradition that continues today in the Holy Land and elsewhere.
customs of Holy Week spread from Jerusalem first to Spain, where Holy Week
celebrations today are still among the most renowned in the world. By the
seventh century, Holy Week celebrations were widespread in Gaul and the British
Isles as well.
Christians and western Christians alike consider Holy Week to be the week
before Easter; however, the celebrations don't occur at the same time because
eastern Christians use the Julian calendar to calculate Easter.
Week is preceded by Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts about forty
days. Historically, during Lent Christians abstained from eating meat on
Fridays in honor of the Savior's suffering on Good Friday. Many Christians
today use Lent as a time to give up bad habits and grow closer to God. In
either case, Lent is a time of reflection and repentance.
Week commences with Palm Sunday, which memorializes Christ's triumphal entrance
into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, as was prophesied by Old Testament prophets.
On this day Christians worldwide carry out Palm Sunday processions bearing palm
branches. Holy Week also includes Maundy Thursday, which commemorates the Last
Supper. The term "Maundy" is derived from the Latin word mandatum,
which means "to entrust" or "to order." This refers to the
commandment that Jesus issued to his disciples at the Last Supper: that they
should love one another and their fellow men. The Last Supper is also
remembered by Christians of all faiths by participation in the Eucharist,
sacrament, or communion.
Week customs also include the observance of Good Friday, which commemorates
Christ's crucifixion. On Good Friday, Christians mourn the death of Jesus and
venerate him by performing processions bearing crosses. In many places,
lifelike wooden sculptures of Christ, Mary, and the apostles are made and
carried through the streets in processions. Easter, the celebration of Christ's resurrection, is the culmination of
Holy Week. Many Christians greet Easter with candlelight vigil the night
before; others hold sunrise services before dawn on Easter morning to remember
Mary Magdalene's early-morning visit to the tomb. Either way, Easter a joyful
and sacred celebration to Christians everywhere.