At the heart of our faith is the Paschal mystery: the Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. All of salvation history leads up to and goes forth from these saving events. The purpose of this post is to describe Jesus’ final week. We call this “Holy Week” because Jesus’ public ministry culminates with His suffering, death, and resurrection.
What follows is a brief description of each day of Holy Week. I hope you will print out this flyer (Walking-with-Jesus-In-Holy-Week) and read it each day this week. Prayerfully walk with Jesus in His most difficult yet most glorious week.
Some scholars of Scripture scoff at the idea that we can construct a day-by-day journal of Jesus’ last week. There are historical gaps and things in the different accounts that don’t add up perfectly. Further, St. John posits a slightly different timeframe (shifted by one day) for the Last Supper relative to Passover. The following sequence follows the timing of the synoptic (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) accounts. Despite certain scholarly doubts, the accounts really do add up pretty well if one uses a little imagination and sees the differences not as factual discrepancies but rather only as variations in the level of detail.
So read this chronology as a likely, but not certain, outline of the last week of Jesus. It is still a great blessing to consider the Lord’s last week and to walk with Him.
Plan to attend some or all of the special liturgies of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday at your parish. By celebrating them in community, we make them present today and we learn again, in a new way, the reality of our Risen Lord alive in our midst.
PALM SUNDAY – Our celebration of Holy Week begins today as we remember and make present the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem to begin His final week and initiate His Passion. All four Gospels recount this triumphant entry that Sunday morning so long ago, but made present to us today. As you receive your palms, consider that you are part of that vast crowd. How will you journey with Jesus this week? Let the palms remind you to praise Him with your prayerful presence during the sacred Triduum. According to Mark 11:11, Jesus returned that evening to Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. Perhaps He stayed with his friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Pray with Jesus this evening as He considers the difficult days ahead of Him.
Monday of Holy Week – According to Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19, Jesus returned to Jerusalem this day and, seeing shameful practices in the Temple area, cleansed it. John’s Gospel also records that Jesus rebuked the unbelief of the crowds. Mark 11:19 records that Jesus returned to Bethany that night. Pray with Jesus as He is zealous in His desire to purify us.
Tuesday of Holy Week – According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus again returned to Jerusalem where He was confronted by the Temple leadership for what He had done the previous day; they questioned His authority. Jesus also taught extensively using parables and other forms. There was the parable of the vineyard (cf Mt 21:33-46), the parable of the wedding banquet (cf Mt. 22:1), the teaching on paying taxes (cf Mt 22:15), and the rebuke of the Sadducees who denied the resurrection (cf Mt. 22:23). There was also the fearful prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem if the inhabitants did not come to faith in Him: Jesus warned that not one stone would be left on another (cf Mt 24). Continue to pray with Jesus and listen carefully to His final teachings just before His Passion.
Wednesday of Holy Week – Traditionally this day was called “Spy Wednesday,” for it was on this Wednesday before the crucifixion that Judas conspired to hand Jesus over. For this he was paid thirty pieces of silver (cf Mt. 26:14). Jesus likely spent the day in Bethany. In the evening, Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with costly perfumed oil. Judas objected but Jesus rebuked him, saying that Mary had anointed Him for His burial (cf Mt 26:6). The wicked are besetting Jesus and plotting against Him; are you praying?
HOLY THURSDAY marks the beginning of the sacred Triduum, or “three days.” Earlier in the day, Jesus had given instructions to the disciples on how to prepare for this most holy meal, which would be His last supper. Throughout the day they made these preparations (cf Mt 26:17). In the Mass of the Lord’s Supper conducted at our parishes, we remember and make present that Last Supper which Jesus shared with His disciples. We are in the upper room with Jesus and the apostles and we do what they did. Through the ritual of washing the feet (Jn 13:1) of twelve parishioners, we unite in service to one another. Through our celebration of this First Mass and Holy Eucharist (Mt 26:26), we unite ourselves to Jesus and we receive His Body and Blood as if for the first time. At this Eucharist, we especially thank God for His gift of the ministerial priesthood. After the Last Supper (First Mass), Jesus and the apostles made a short journey across the Kidron Valley to the Garden, where He asked them to pray while He experienced His agony (cf Mt 26:30). We will process in Church with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to a garden (the altar of repose) that has been prepared. The liturgy ends in silence. It is an ancient custom to spend an hour before the reposed Blessed Sacrament this night. We are with Jesus in the Garden and we pray as He goes through His agony. Most of our parish churches remain open until close to midnight. It was nearly midnight when Jesus was betrayed by Judas, was arrested, and was taken to the house of the high priest (cf Mt. 26:47).
GOOD FRIDAY – All through the previous night, Jesus had been locked in the dungeon of the high priest’s house. Early in the morning He was brought before Pontius Pilate, who transferred the case to Herod. Herod promptly sent Him back to Pilate who, sometime in mid-morning, bowed to the pressure of the Temple leadership and the crowds and condemned Jesus to a horrible death by crucifixion. In the late morning, Jesus was taken by soldiers through the city and up the hillside of Golgotha. By noon He had been nailed to the Cross, where He hung in agony for some three hours. Jesus died at around three in the afternoon. He was taken down from the Cross and hastily placed in the tomb before sundown. Today is a day of prayer, fasting, and abstinence. To the extent possible, Christians are urged to keep today free of work, social engagements, and entertainment, devoting themselves to communal prayer and worship. At noon many parishes gather for Stations of the Cross and for recollections of the seven last words of Jesus. Many parishes also offer Stations of the Cross at 3:00 PM, the hour of Jesus’ death. In the evening, we gather quietly in our parish Churches to enter into a time of prayer, as we reflect on Jesus’ death on the Cross. We also pray for the needs of the world. To acknowledge the power of the Cross in our lives today, each of us in turn comes forward to venerate the Cross with a kiss. Our hunger from this day of fasting is satisfied with Holy Communion distributed at the end of this liturgy. Consider, too, how the apostles might have gathered that night together in fear and prayer, reflecting on all that had happened.
HOLY SATURDAY – The body of Jesus was in the tomb but His soul was among the dead, announcing the Kingdom. The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it will Live (John 5:25). Consider what it must have been like for the dead in Sheol to awaken to the voice of Jesus! Meanwhile, the disciples, heartbroken at the death of Jesus, observed the Jewish Sabbath in sorrow. They had forgotten Jesus’ promise that He would rise. We cannot forget His promise. We cannot forget it. Tonight in our parishes, after sundown, we gather for the Great Easter Vigil, where we will experience Jesus’ rising from the dead. We gather in darkness and light the Easter fire, which reminds us that Jesus is light in the darkness. He is the light of the world. We enter into the church and listen attentively to Bible stories describing God’s saving work of the past. Suddenly, the church lights are lit and the Gloria is sung as we celebrate the moment of Christ’s resurrection. He lives! In the joy of the resurrection, we then celebrate the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist for our catechumens and candidates, who have prepared for many weeks for this night. As a Church, we sing Alleluia for the first time in forty days. Do everything you can to be present on this evening, and invite friends and family to join you. Our Easter Vigil ushers in an Easter joy that never ends!