Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week. Palm Sunday commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem while being honored by the crowds, and it continues through the events of the Passion of the Lord. This is one of the most ancient feasts in the Church. We know this because a pilgrim to Jerusalem, named Egeria, recorded the services of Holy Week in her diary. At that time Holy Week was already a normal celebration in the Holy Land, and these services spread throughout the Church. Holy Week prepares us to celebrate the resurrection at the Easter Vigil, which itself is one of the oldest Masses in the history of the Church.
In New Orleans, all of the priests gather for the Chrism Mass on Holy Tuesday. At the Chrism Mass, the Archbishop blesses the holy oils which are then distributed to all of the Churches to be used in the sacraments. There’s the Oil of the Sick which is used in the anointing of the sick. The Oil of Catechumens is used in the Rite of Baptism, to anoint those who are about to be baptized. A catechumen is a student, or a disciple, and this anointing shows that the newly baptized are about to become disciples of Christ. Finally, the Sacred Chrism, which is the only one where the olive oil is mixed with perfumes, is used in baptisms, confirmation, and Holy Orders, and it represents the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is a special Mass for priests because we renew our ordination promises on this day.
The next major Mass is the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. Knowing that He was about to be arrested, Jesus gathered His Apostles in the upper room where He washed their feet, thus commissioning them for the service of the Church, and instituted the Eucharist with the very first celebration of the Mass. After Mass, we keep vigil with the Eucharist in Church, as Jesus asked His apostles, “Could you not watch one hour with me?” The Church will be left open until 10:00 pm for those who wish to pray before Jesus in the tabernacle.
On Good Friday we commemorate the arrest, condemnation, and crucifixion of Jesus with the Solemn Service, which begins at 3:00 pm, the time when Jesus died. After the service we will keep vigil with the cross, because the Eucharist will have been removed from the Church in honor of the death of the Lord.
These are some of the most important, solemn, and beautiful services in the entire year. They celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, which is our salvation and the reason we are Christians. The whole week, and especially the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) is designed to be like a spiritual retreat. In addition to the special services, we’ll have morning prayer on each day of the triduum, the Way of the Cross on Good Friday, and confessions on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. I’d encourage you to participate in whatever parts of Holy Week that you can.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.