Palm Sunday marks the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. As with all liturgical seasons, our objective is to trace the steps of Jesus that our lives might be marked by His. Palm Sunday traces His steps as He entered Jerusalem for the last time. We begin outside of the church (as He began outside of Jerusalem), where we bless palms. We joyously process into the church, where we celebrate the end of our Lord’s earthly ministry. The people waved palm branches as they shouted, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Because the jubilant waving of fronds is soon followed by betrayal, it is our custom to save the palm crosses we receive on Palm Sunday and return them to the church before the next Ash Wednesday so that they might be burned and ground into the ash that is placed on our heads.
Opportunities for private confession with a priest are available the first two days of Holy Week (Monday and Tuesday at 12:30pm. Confession is also offered Saturday, April 8 at 10:00 am). As we follow the steps of Jesus toward the cross, we come face to face with our own betrayal of the Lord. Reconciliation of a Penitent (p.447 of the Prayer Book) is the form we use for private confession. We fully realize that confession with a priest is NOT necessary to know the forgiveness of God (it is just as legitimate to kneel by your bed and offer your confessions). However, for some it is enormously powerful and cathartic to be able to say aloud to another human being the particular things that reflect that person’s separation from God, and to hear a priest say aloud to those particular things, “God has forgiven them!” The confession is made in the privacy of a prayer room, and the priest is committed to maintaining utter confidentiality.
The name “Maundy” Thursday comes from a Latin word, “Mandatum” which means “command”. This is the day that commemorates the Last Supper in the Upper Room where Jesus commanded the disciples to “Love one Another,” and then showed them an example of that love by washing their feet. Because this day commemorates the first “Last Supper” the Holy Eucharist is the centerpiece of the liturgy. After communion, participants have the opportunity to have their feet washed, and/or wash someone else’s feet. This washing of feet is a very simple and solemn exercise which is guided by a verger. After the Eucharist, the sacrament is reserved (all the bread left over from communion, representing the living presence of our Lord, is taken from us), and the altar is stripped. The stripping of the altar can be a very moving event as a solitary priest removes everything beautiful from the sanctuary (the area around the altar), and then removes his own vestments. This process represents the stripping of our Lord as he was prepared for crucifixion. The altar is left bare until Easter Day. After the service a vigil is kept where the reserved sacrament remains on the altar (a representation of the disciples waiting with the Lord in Gethsemane). Some wait for ten minutes and some wait for the remainder of the evening. However long one is able to wait, this is a lovely time for quiet mediation. A priest enters at midnight, consumes what is left of the sacrament, and extinguishes the candles. Good Friday has begun.
On Good Friday there is a simple service (7:00am and 12:00 noon. A service at 7:00pm includes music from Mozart's Requiem with Full Orchestra) where the Passion Gospel is read and a large wooden cross is processed. The cross is placed at the altar, and the clergy and congregation kneel in silent veneration. Veneration is followed by a series of prayers and said anthems which offer our confessions and give thanks for the sacrificial love of God in Christ. The cross is draped in black and we depart in silence.
The Great Vigil of Easter is celebrated on Easter Eve at 8:30 p.m. This is a service unlike any other in the Church’s year. The first part is quiet, dark and reflective as the story of Salvation History is read, a continuation of the somber mood of Good Friday. Midway through the service, the organ rumbles, bells ring (bring a little bell, if you have one), new converts to the faith are baptized, and the light arrives, heralding the miraculous Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus! After the service, (around 10:30 pm: this service is not for little children), we break the fast of Lent with sparkling wine or fruit juice and chocolate-dipped strawberries on the lawn
The joy of Easter Day is startling after the solemn observances of Holy Week. The Lord has risen, and the church is full of flowers, bells, trumpets, and alleluias! This is the central feast of the Church- the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the day that gives meaning to all the other days, and we pull out all the stops!