Holy Week Pageantry
During these next few days, if you have the chance to view any live-streamed Masses and services within the Catholic Church (by the way, you can see Mass streamed here by Father Andy), you will notice lots of changes around our altars. Often these changes may go unnoticed, but it may become obvious soon. These changes are in the colors of the days, as well as some of the way we decorate our churches and chapels.
You may have noticed that in some churches and chapels, the statuary has been veiled in purple cloth. This practice is to start on the Fifth Sunday of Lent and continue till the Easter Vigil. If any crucifixes are veiled, they also remain veiled until after the adoration of the Holy Cross during the Good Friday service.
But why would we do this?
Well, first is that this is a special time of the liturgical year, Passiontide. We start to focus more intensely on the impending services within our church. Our focus is upon the actions taken by Christ for the salvation of the world.
Second, this time of Passiontide is no longer observed within our liturgical calendar, but remnants still exist. This practice of Passiontide gives a greater focus on the Passion of Christ. In our current celebration of Lent, we cannot state that only the last two weeks of Lent are all about the Passion of Christ, for we know that through the whole of Lent we are looking toward the Passion of Christ and His Resurrection on Easter.
We veil the statues to focus on the words of Christ and the pageantry that surrounds these moments of our year. The pageantry is so rich with symbolism, and so our focus is put on what we undertake in our prayers.
The second thing that we might notice in our churches and live-streamed masses are the different liturgical colors. Starting with Palm Sunday, our colors change. Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord, our liturgical color is red, so as to focus on the Passion of Christ. As we know, the celebration of the Palms and the Entrance into Jerusalem is only at the beginning of our liturgy. Once the priest enters the Sanctuary and begins the Liturgy of the Word, the celebration focuses on the Passion. The red reminds us of the Blood of Christ that we receive at the Altar as well as the Blood that poured out while The Lord’s Body hung upon the cross.
On Holy Thursday, our Triduum pageantry begins. Our liturgical color is white, which is what we associate with the Eucharist. Our Holy Thursday celebration is focused upon the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Ordained Priesthood. According to the rubrics, the celebration of the Chrism Mass occurs in the morning of Holy Thursday. It is at this mass that the Holy Oils, the Oil of the Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick, and the Sacred Chrism, are blessed for use throughout the church. It is also at this mass that the Priests renew their priestly promises in the presence of the Bishop.
Now, for good reasons, such as in the Diocese of Erie, the Chrism Mass does not occur on Holy Thursday morning due to the distance most of the priests of the Diocese have to travel. With that being said, the celebration of the Priesthood at the Chrism Mass connects with the celebration of the Priesthood at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. While white is almost a “catch-all” color in the church, it has a connection to the sanctity of the act of worship. During the two liturgies of Holy Thursday, the white that we wear and see in our churches and chapels is to remind us of the sanctity of these events and these celebrations. White, signifying purity, holiness, cleanliness, is present during these celebrations to remind us all of our baptismal call. It is baptism that we are first brought into the fold, into the flock of Christ. Baptism is the first sacrament, and the sacrament that all other sacraments flow from. So, the beginning and the end collide; the Alpha and Omega come together to show to us that God is in total control.
We begin our Triduum services with these Holy, Sanctified reminders because what we are about to undertake with Christ is going to be strenuous. We are about to walk to Calvary and die with Christ. These celebrations are to show us our mortality as much as they are to show us Christ’s immortality. But we know the end of the story!
On Good Friday, our altars are normally bare; our tabernacles empty; our churches dark. We are commemorating the Death of Christ upon the cross. The church is bare to remind us that He did die, but it was not in vain. On Good Friday, the priest and other ministers wear red vestments to once again remind us of the Passion of Christ. We are reminded of the bloody sacrifice that was undertaken once and for all. We do not celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass on this day, but we rather undertake the reading of the Passion Narrative from the Gospel of John; we pray in a special way for all the different groups of the world. At the highlight of our celebration, we adore the Holy Cross with the Corpus of Christ upon it to view exactly what He offered for our salvation. Our liturgy this day is focused on the death of Christ and the emptiness we feel.
There are no public services of the Church on Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is the day that the Body of Christ remained in the Tomb. Our church remains empty in preparation for the Resurrection that we will celebrate on Easter Sunday.
During these last few days of Lent, our Churches undergo many changes. Usually, people and priests are busy changing and preparing for the Holy Days. This year, your priests are continuing to do these holy events, but our hearts are heavy, for we celebrate alone, or possibly in small groups of other clergy. Our parish families are not able to celebrate with us in person, and this can, and is difficult for the laity and the clergy. But the solace is in the fact that this is not the end. Even with death, it is not the end. We know this to be true, as Christ has promised us that He will take us to the Father,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where am going you know the way.” (Jn 14:1-4)
Let us take this opportunity to pray evermore fervently for the end of our current pandemic; let us pray that we might be able to gather again with our loved ones and friends soon to pray and celebrate together; let us pray for safety for everyone in our world; let us pray for a peaceful death for ourselves and everyone; let us pray that our faith in Christ Jesus might be strengthened even as we celebrate afar;