The Paschal Lamb refers to a lamb which the Israelites were commanded to eat with peculiar rites as a part of the Passover celebration. The Divine ordinance is first recorded in Exodus 12:3-11. The blood of the lamb must be sprinkled on the transom and doorposts of the houses in which the paschal meal is taken. The lamb should be roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and wild lettuce. The whole of the lamb must be consumed and if anything remains of it until morning it must be burned with fire. The Israelites are commanded to eat the meal in haste, with girded loins, shoes on their feet, and staffs in their hands “for it is the Phase (that is, Passage) of the Lord”, the Passover. The blood of the lamb on the doorposts served as a sign of immunity or protection against the destroying hand of the Lord, who smote in one night all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast. This ordinance is repeated in abridged form in Numbers 19:11, 12, and again in Deuteronomy 16: 2-6, where sheep and oxen are mentioned instead of the lamb. That the Paschal Lamb prefigured symbolically Christ, “the Lamb of God”, who redeemed the world by the shedding of His blood, and particularly the Eucharistic banquet, or new Passover, has always remained the constant belief of Christian tradition. Thus Paschal mystery is the central mystery of the life of Jesus.
It refers to the central events of his life, namely his death and resurrection. However, all the events of his life are not isolated events but a unity of reality and meaning. They are an organic whole at the heart of Christian faith and hope and love. They constitute the content and mystery of Christian faith. Holy Week is the most important week of the Church’s year. For at least 1600 years it has had this name. Previously it was called Great Week because, as one early Christian saint, John Chrysostom, said, ‘Great deeds were done in it.’ It is one of the oldest celebrations in Christianity. At the dawn of the Church’s life, the celebration of the whole liturgical cycle was concentrated in one even at Easter. Even long before they made Christmas an important festival, Christians already took notice of this week and the way it is remembered has hardly changed at all since the very beginning. It was not until the fourth century that the annual liturgical cycle began to take the shape it has today.
From the Gospel narratives, each of the evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, used up to one-third of their story to tell us what happened during just one week of the three years of Jesus ministry. Evidently, for them, it was the most important week in history. Equally, it is special for us Christians from the beginning till today. The purpose of these celebrations is far beyond simply to remember the events which went on in Jerusalem about 2005 years ago. In the liturgy, the once-andfor-all events of our salvation, especially the death and resurrection of Jesus, are celebrated and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, are made present in every time and place for the benefit of those who are participating in the celebration. We relive, recall, make a memorial, re-enactment, recapture, re-represent, actualise what those days felt like and sense what was really happening. The events are made sacramentally present: that is, made present through particular signs, which the Holy Spirit invests with divine power.
These celebrations of the Holy Week can be the occasion of a deep renewal of our Christian lives, move us significantly forward in our growth in holiness and ignite in our hearts a renewed love for Jesus and the salvation he has brought us; if only we enter those celebrations with faith and longing expectation. In Holy Week we appreciate the importance of actions and symbols which express what words alone will not and cannot say. God became man for our sake and that was more meaningfully significant to us than mere words. With actions, music, singing, playing and dancing, we can say more than words can ever tell. In Holy Week, we try to come before God as He came before us, in flesh. We carry palms, keep vigil, wash feet, kiss the cross, hold lighted candles, shout Alleluia and so on. From earliest times, Christians have always celebrated the Thursday and Friday. Later they made Palm Sunday a special day, too. Finally, they began to use the whole week.
Why do we cover images in the Church for the Holy Week? The covering of the Crosses and Images in the Church in preparation for the Holy Week was historically stemmed from a custom, noted in Germany from the 9th Century, where a large cloth was extended before the altar from the beginning of Lent. Traditionally, in the Catholic Church of the Latin Rite, the crosses and images in the Church are covered from the Fifth Sunday of Lent, one week before Palm Sunday, known as Passion Sunday or Judica Sunday after the first word of the Introit: “Judge me, O Lord…” (see Psalm 43) until before the Easter Vigil celebration. This marks one of the characteristics of the season of Passsiontide. By this act the Church joins her spouse, Christ the Lord, in hiding from the rage of the Jewish authorities (cf. Jn 8:59), who now, according to Abbot Dom Gueranger, “is hidden from the world in preparation for the mysteries of His passion”.
Although the entire Altar is no longer covered as in the past, the duration of veiling varies from place to place; and in some places, the images and statues are entirely removed from the Church. But the Stations of the Cross and the stained glass windows are not veiled. According to the Roman Missal, “The practice of covering of crosses and images in the Church may be observed if the episcopal conference should so decide. The crosses are to be covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord’s passion on Good Friday. Images are to remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.” Covering of the crosses in the Church is an attempt to make REAL and for the Church to live and journey REAL with Christ the Lord in His Passion and Death to His Resurrection. Because the Stations of the Cross express this reality, they are not covered. Other statues or images of saints in the church are also covered since without Christ they would have been of no spiritual/religious importance to us.
The first day of Holy Week is Palm Sunday. Its official title is not just ‘Palm Sunday’ but “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion”. It joins the foretelling of Christ’s regal triumph and the proclamation of the Passion. On this day, we celebrate, not just the triumphant entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, but also the purpose for which He had come: namely, to suffer, die and rise again. The procession from Bethany was indeed the arrival of a king for his coronation and enthronement. We too acclaim Christ, our King, as he comes for us, conquering the powers of evil by the glorious weapon of the cross, and we pledge ourselves to follow him in spirit, living over again with his Church the fateful events of his passage from this world to his heavenly kingdom. But this king’s crown is of thorns, and his throne would be the cross. The apostles and disciples in the original procession did not realise this at the time but such is the truth which the Church desires to impress upon us in the opening ceremony of Holy Week.
There is an important celebration on Holy Thursday before the Easter Triduum commences. It is the Chrism Mass during which oils are blessed and Chrism is consecrated. It is a day of priesthood. Only the Mass of Chrism and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper may be celebrated this day. No funeral Masses may be celebrated on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday. Traditionally the Chrism Mass is celebrated on the Thursday of Holy Week. If, however, it should prove to be difficult for the clergy and people to gather with the bishop, this rite can be transferred to another day, but one always close to Easter. The Chrism and the oil of catechumens is to be used in the celebration of the sacraments of initiation on Easter night. There should be only one celebration of the Chrism Mass given its significance in the life of the diocese, and it should take place in the cathedral or, for pastoral reasons, in another church which has a special significance. The oils are then distributed to the parishes for sacramental celebrations throughout the year. the “oil of catechumens” (olive or vegetable oil) is used in the ceremonies of Baptism; “chrism” (olive or vegetable oil mixed with balm) is used also at Baptism, in Confirmation, at the ordination of a priest or bishop, and for the dedication of churches and altars; the “oil of the sick” (olive or vegetable oil) is used in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick (cf. Jas 5:14). The Lenten season lasts until the Thursday of this week. The Easter Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, is continued through Good Friday with the celebration of the Passion of the Lord and Holy Saturday, to reach its summit in the Easter Vigil, and concludes with Vespers of Easter Sunday.
The word “Triduum” comes from the Latin word meaning “three days,” and encompasses the three most sacred days in the Church year. It begins at sundown on Holy Thursday, reaches a high point at the Easter Vigil, and concludes with evening prayer at sundown on Easter Sunday. The liturgical celebrations during the Triduum on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday are rich with symbolism and flow from one to another in a seamless way. While it may appear as if these liturgies are separate and distinct, they are actually intended to be one continuous celebration that commemorates the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. For this reason, Catholics are encouraged to observe the entire Triduum by attending all of the liturgies. In the Easter Triduum, the three most sacred days of the year, we relive the central event of our salvation, the Death and Resurrection of Christ, which reveals the true meaning of human history. According to Pope John Paul II: “In the Paschal Triduum we will fix our gaze more intensely on the face of Christ, a suffering and agonizing face, which enables us to understand better the dramatic nature of the events and situations that also in these days afflict humanity”, a face resplendent with light, which gives renewed hope to our existence. The Paschal Triduum, which will make us relive the central event of our salvation, are days of more intense prayer and meditation in which, aided by the moving rites of Holy Week, we reflect on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. We read in the apostolic letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte,”: “Two thousand years after these events, the Church relives them as if they had happened today. Gazing on the face of Christ, the Bride contemplates her treasure and her joy. ‘Dulcis Iesus memoria, dans vera cordis gaudia’: how sweet is the memory of Jesus, the source of the heart’s true joy!” (No. 28). In the paschal mystery is the meaning and fulfillment of human history.
“Therefore,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church underlines, “Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the ‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities,’ just as the Eucharist is the ‘Sacrament of sacraments’ (the Great Sacrament). St. Athanasius calls Easter ‘the Great Sunday’ (Ep. fest. 329) and the Eastern Churches call Holy Week ‘the Great Week.’ The mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subjected to him” (No. 1169). On the first Holy Thursday, Jesus at the Last Supper instituted the ministerial priesthood and gave the new commandment to love. He also left what his disciples considered his greatest gift: the Eucharist, “making himself our food of salvation.” *On Holy Thursday* , we contemplate Christ, who in the Cenacle, on the eve of his passion, made a gift of himself to us. In this way, he wished to remain with us in the sacrament of the Eucharist, making himself our food of salvation. Feet are washed as we remember the simple service Jesus provided for his disciples. He calls us to wash one another’s feet as well. Following the moving Holy Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we will keep a vigil of adoration with the Lord, obeying the wish that he expressed to the apostles in the Garden of Olives: “Remain here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). Extra hosts are consecrated tonight, to be used for our Good Friday Service. We spend time this night in adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist.
On Good Friday, the day of the passion, we walk near Golgotha, near the open tomb, the empty tomb, with great hope. On this day, we gather to remember Jesus death on the Cross. It is the only day of the year Mass may not be celebrated. We venerate the cross and receive the Eucharist consecrated the night before. The tabernacle remains empty. On this special day, Christians are called to accompany Christ to the crucifixion. Here we relive the tragic developments of the passion of the Redeemer until the crucifixion on Golgotha. The adoration of the cross will enable us to understand more profoundly the infinite mercy of God. The cross is certainly a difficult way. And yet, only there are we given the mystery of the death that gives life. In Gethsemane we will feel singularly in tune with those lying under the weight of anguish and solitude. Meditating on the process to which Jesus was subjected, we will remember all those who are persecuted for their faith and for the sake of justice. Accompanying Christ to Golgotha, on the sorrowful way, our confident prayer will be raised for those who are weighed down in body and spirit by the weight of evil and sin. In the supreme hour of the sacrifice of the Son of God, we will confidently place at the foot of the cross the longing that is in everyone’s heart: the desire for peace.
Holy Saturday is the day of silence, of the mysterious expectation and attention to the manifestation of the Mystery of the Resurrection. … He Who was crucified and buried will rise from the tomb. … And we will wait for Him on Sunday morning as the One Who defeated death, as the Savior of the World. It is a Saturday of “recollection and silence,” in preparation for the Paschal Vigil, which will “reveal the splendor of our destiny: to constitute a new humanity, redeemed by Christ, who died and rose for us.” Through the silence of Holy Saturday we wait in prayer with Mary for the glory of the Resurrection, which breaks forth at the Easter Vigil, as we celebrate a new humanity, restored in Christ. At night, after dark, we begin the granddaddy of all vigils, the *Vigil of Easter*. We begin in darkness. We light the Easter Fire and the new Easter Candle, we sing the Exsultet by candle light. As we bring the Paschal Candle down in procession, what we are doing is a re-enactment of that great moment when Jesus rose from the dead and entered into the kingdom of heaven and took his place at the right hand of his Father. When singing the “Gloria” in the Easter Vigil, the splendor of our destiny will be revealed: to constitute a new humanity, redeemed by Christ, who died and rose for us. We hear the *A* word being sung once more. We bless the Easter water. We recommit ourselves to see him more clearly, follow him more nearly and love him more dearly as we renew our Baptismal promises. It is a wonderful night, indeed. On the Day of Easter in the Churches in every corner of the earth is sung “Dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus,” “the Lord of life was dead; but now, alive, he triumphs” (Sequence), we will be able to understand and love the cross of Christ to the end: On it Christ has vanquished sin and death forever! With excitement, enthusiasm and praise, we give glory and honour to Jesus Christ. Our prayer and wish is that it may be a truly Holy Triduum, to live a happy and consoling Easter. Alleluia! Alleluia!! Alleluia!!!