A Catholic Guide to Holy Week 2023
Holy Week, the final week of Lent, is the most important and significant week of Catholicism. It begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter Sunday. It’s an important week of prayer, reflection, and gratitude as we contemplate the agony Jesus endured for us and the hope of the Resurrection.
When is Holy Week 2023?
This year, Holy Week begins on Sunday, April 2, 2023.
What is Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday is celebrated the week before Easter. Catholics carry blessed palm branches into church with them - this is in remembrance of when Jesus entered Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11). The story of Jesus’ death and his Passion, are read as the Gospel.
How to Observe Palm Sunday
Sunday Mass on Palm Sunday actually includes two readings from the Gospels. We hear about when Jesus entered Jerusalem at the start of Mass. And we read the Passion account during the Liturgy of the Word. A great way to start your Holy Week is by reflecting on Jesus’ passion.
After attending Mass it’s common to display your palm! Some place it behind a crucifix, some take several palm branches and weave them together to create a palm cross. Since palm branches are a sacramental item they should not be thrown away. You can return your branch to the church where it will be burned for ashes the following Ash Wednesday.
It’s also common to deep clean your home on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. This tradition arises from the Jewish custom of preparing the home for Passover. Holy Week is also a great time to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation - many churches have increased opportunities for Confession during this time.
What is the Chrism Mass?
Many dioceses celebrate the Chrism Mass on the morning of Holy Thursday or possibly on another day during Holy Week. “Chrism” refers to one of the oils used during different Sacraments. During the Chrism Mass, the Oil of the Sick (used during the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick), the Oil of Catechumens (used during the Sacrament of Baptism), and the Chrism oil are consecrated by the Bishop. Large vessels of oils are carried to the altar for the blessings and consecration of Chrism, which is a mixture of oil and balsam. After Mass, the oils are distributed to representatives of each parish. The oils are taken back to the parishes and used for the Sacraments.
There is also a renewal of priestly promises during the Chrism Mass. Traditionally every priest within a diocese attends this Mass. The Bishop also requests that the laity of the diocese pray for him and the priests of the diocese.
What is Holy Thursday?
Holy Thursday is the first day of the Easter Triduum, the most sacred days of the Catholic faith. It begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which commemorates the Last Supper celebrated by Jesus and his disciples on the Jewish holiday of Passover. It’s not a Holy Day of Obligation, but many Catholics attend Mass. During this Mass, the priest washes the feet of some members of the parish in memory of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. It was during the Last Supper that Jesus taught his disciples that the Eucharist is truly His Body and Blood. Jesus’ disciples were the first Catholic priests. So during the Last Supper, he taught them the importance of the Eucharist, and why priests celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice during every Mass. Because of this, the Last Supper is also significant because it was the beginning of the priesthood.
How to Observe Holy Thursday
There are many traditions that surround Holy Thursday. Some people use it as a day to go on a local pilgrimage and visit as many churches in their area as they can. Walk around and observe the beauty and symbolism found in each church, then take some time to pray for our priests. Holy Thursday is a celebration of the institution of the Eucharist, so it’s a great day to spend some time in Adoration. It’s also highly recommended to attend the Mass of the Last Supper held in the evening.
A Prayer for Holy Thursday
in these last few days leading up to Easter, as I recall your passion and death, let me remember that, above all, I am called to feed your sheep. You have given me a model of how to live; may I strive to be all that you created me for, spreading the love of God and the truth of our Catholic faith wherever I am able. You are the way, the truth, and the life.
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Why is it called Good Friday?
Good Friday commemorates the day Jesus died and saved us from our sins. His death and resurrection on Easter is the most important event, which is why it’s called “good”. On this day Catholics fast and remember the suffering of Jesus when he died on the cross. It’s the only day of the year in which Catholic Mass is not celebrated. Instead, many Catholic Churches have a Stations of the Cross prayer service, as well as a Veneration of the Cross service. It’s traditionally a day of solemn prayer.
How to Observe Good Friday
Maintain an element of silence throughout Good Friday. Don’t listen to music in the car and turn off distractions. Work to intentionally make it a day of quiet and reflection. Move a crucifix to a place of prominence in your home. The hours of noon until three in the afternoon are especially solemn, as this was the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Attend a Veneration of the Cross service or Stations of the Cross prayer service during this time. And read the Passion accounts in the Gospel (or watch a movie adaptation) to reflect on the agony of Jesus’ sacrifice for all of us.
A Prayer for Good Friday
No one knows change better than you. You died on the cross, and three days later you rose from the dead. Forty days later you ascended into heaven and left the world transformed for the rest of time. Help me to transform my soul, to die to sin and death and be reborn in your love and eternal life.
How to Observe Holy Saturday
While there is no Mass offered until the Easter Vigil, many churches host a short prayer service in the morning. This is an opportunity to read the Morning Prayer together as a group. If you have not yet received the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Holy Week this is a good time to go. Most churches spend the afternoon preparing for the Easter Vigil so you can volunteer to help with set up as well!
Holy Saturday is typically a day of preparation for Easter Sunday. Families can dye Easter Eggs, a symbol of new life, in preparation for the celebration of new life in the Resurrection.
A Prayer for Holy Saturday
You are courage incarnate. As you hung on the cross for my sins and the sins of the world, you showed me that all things are possible. You knew that life did not end on the cross. It was only the beginning of a new and glorious eternal life.
What is the Easter Vigil?
The Easter Vigil is the Mass celebrated on Holy Saturday and it begins the Easter celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection. It begins with a bonfire outside of the church, and Mass attendees light candles that slowly illuminate the church. Many readings from the Old Testament that foretold Jesus’ death and resurrection are read. It’s also the day that new catechumens, those who are entering the Catholic Church, receive the Sacraments for the first time.
What is Easter Sunday?
Easter Sunday is a continuation of the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a Holy Day of Obligation because the Mass celebrates the most important teaching in the Catholic faith - that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead so that we could share eternal life with him in heaven.
How to Celebrate Easter
Jesus won our salvation for us! We are freed from sin!
Easter reflections can focus on hope and the symbols we see during Easter Vigil and Easter Mass - especially the idea of darkness into light. It’s tradition to wear new clothes to Mass. And some families bring Holy Water containers to refill from the Baptismal fount.
Read the accounts of the Resurrection in the Gospels during any family celebrations and reflect on the amazement the disciples must have felt when the tomb was empty. How would you respond? Reflect on this past Lenten season and how you can continue growing in your spiritual life throughout the Easter season.
A Prayer for Easter Sunday
I thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead and redeemed humankind. Fill us with the fire of the Holy Spirit, that we may be faithful disciples and enthusiastic witnesses of our Catholic faith. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed.
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