Palm/Passion Sunday, which we will celebrate on Sunday, begins Holy Week. Palms are its symbol, the leafy branches citizens of Jerusalem broke off trees and waved to welcome Jesus into their city. In its liturgy for Sunday the Church juxtaposes the reading of this peaceful gospel with the passion story. We bless palms and celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to begin Mass. We read the story of Jesus’ suffering, humiliation, and death as the main gospel of the day. From earliest times Christians remembered Jesus’ last days by visiting the sites and remembering the happenings at them.
Our Holy Week liturgies journey with Jesus through the last events of his life — his last supper with his friends, his passion, death, and resurrection. In worship, the word celebrate means to remember and make present in story, actions, and symbols.
Holy Thursday celebrates Jesus’ last meeting with his friends when they ate together and he washed everyone’s feet.
The Church remembers how Jesus washed his friends’ feet by having the priest wash people’s feet during the liturgy or sometimes having the people of the parish wash one another’s hands or feet.
Holy Thursday liturgy also remembers that Jesus broke bread, blessed it and gave it to his friends and poured a cup of wine, blessed it, and gave it to his friends, asking them to do the same to remember him. Each Eucharist continues this action.
Good Friday remembers Jesus’ passion and death. The Church strips the altar bare and does not celebrate Eucharist on this day. Catholics gather to pray for the needs of the Church and of the people of the world for whom Jesus died. The cross is the central symbol; we kiss the cross or show it reverence in the liturgy.
Holy Saturday is the holiest day of the year. It is the night of Jesus’ resurrection. Light and water are its symbols. The community gathers in darkness to light the Easter candle, symbolizing Jesus’ resurrection. By the light of the candle we read stories of God’s goodness in creating the world, leading Israel out of Egypt, and raising Jesus from the dead. We bless water and baptize new Christians, who believe Jesus will lead them from death to life. We sprinkle the congregation with the same water.
Easter Sunday celebrates Jesus’ resurrection and the new life it promises all who follow him. All the spring signs of new life symbolize Easter.