HOLY WEEK AND EASTER
I remember growing up when it came time for the celebration of Palm Sunday and all things relating to Easter, we always had a special new outfit for the occasion, Easter finery as it was called. In my family I remember on Easter morning waking up to find a jelly bean trail from my bed (and my brother found the same) down the stairs leading to our Easter baskets with special treats and goodies that the Easter bunny had brought us. In the days leading up to Easter, we always colored and dyed eggs for Easter. The eggs were hard boiled, of course, prior to being able to color them. This was always a fun family activity for us, just as going in the Manhattan at Easter in our new outfits to be in the annual Easter Parade. This was always something interesting to do and just to watch everyone parading around showing off their finery for all to see. Also we went on Easter egg hunts around the house (inside and out) to find out where the eggs were hidden and to see how many we could actually find. Also at this time there were family outings to visit relatives and others friends. We also spent time cleaning the house before Holy Week, and helping out at church and in the community as well doing acts of charity and helping our neighbors.
For dinner at Easter, it was tradition to have lamb, ham, asparagus and other holiday foods. I realize that in many cultures in the United States, other traditional foods are added to their Easter meals, and not just what most others would consider “traditional Easter” foods.
From the very beginning of Christianity it has always been devoted to a special commemoration of Christ’s Passion and death through the practice of meditation, prayer, fasting, and penance. After the great persecutions, the Christian emperors of both the East and West Roman Empires issued various decrees forbidding not only amusements and games, but also regular work in trade, business, professions, and courts. The sacred days were to be spent free from worldly occupations, entirely devoted to religious exercises. Every year during Holy Week an imperial edict granted pardon to a majority of those detained in prison; in the courts many charges were withdrawn in honor of Christ’s Passion. Holy week begins with the observance of Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday, in which the church celebrates Jesus’s triumphant entry in Jerusalem, the week preceding his death and resurrection. Christians place blessed palm leaves in the shape of a cross behind religious images or statues. To many Christians palm leaves are a symbol of victory and joy. The bible tells us that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was greeted by crowds greeting him by waving palm branches and covering his path with palm branches, and supporters also laid down small branches of trees. This reference to Jesus’ coming in God’s name is seen as a clear indication that he was being hailed as the Messiah (the promised one).
Kings and rulers in medieval days retired from all secular business during Holy Week to spend the time in recollection and prayer, often within the seclusion of a monastery. Farmers set aside their plows, artisans their tools, schools and government offices closed, and courts did not sit. Popular feeling caused the banning not only of music, dancing, and secular singing but also of hunting and any other kind of sport. It was truly a “quiet” and “holy” week even in public life.
The Sacred Triduum of Holy Week (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) was a time of holyday obligation all through the Middle Ages. The Christian people, freed from servile work, were all present at the impressive ceremonies of these days.
Holy Thursday is the day on which Christ celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples, four days after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus also washed the feet of his disciples when they felt they should be washing his, but this shows his humility by doing this and tradition that continues today at Holy Thursday mass, when the pastor of the church washes the feet of twelve members of the parish. Hours later, one of the disciples, Judas would betray Christ while he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, setting the stage for the Lord’s Crucifixion on Good Friday.
Holy Thursday is notable for being the day on which the chrism mass is celebrated in each diocese. Usually held in the diocese’s cathedral, in this mass, the holy oils are blessed by the bishop, they consist of the chrism, oil of the sick and oil of catechumens. The oil of the catechumens and chrism are to be used on Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil, for those baptism and confirmation and for those entering the church.
Holy Thursday is the day on which Catholics commemorate the institution of three pillars of the Catholic Faith: the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the priesthood and the Mass. During the Last Supper, Christ blessed the bread and wine with the very words that Catholic and Orthodox priests use today to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass and the Divine Liturgy. In telling His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me,” He instituted the Mass and made them the first priests.
Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday is when the Catholic and Christian churches commemorates the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross.
The evening (at sunset) of Good Friday begins is the second day of the Paschal Triduum. The major Good Friday worship services begin in the afternoon at 3:00 PM (the time Jesus likely died). Various traditions and customs are associated with the Western celebration of Good Friday. The singing (or preaching) of the Passion of St. John’s gospel consists of reading or singing parts of John’s Gospel. . The Veneration of the Cross is also common in the Western Church. This is when Christians approach a wooden cross and venerate it, often by kneeling before it, or kissing part of it. In addition to these traditions, Holy Communion with the reserved host is practiced. In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, no Masses are said on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. Therefore the reserved host from the Holy Thursday Mass is used. Sometimes it is referred to as the “Mass of the Pre-Sanctified.”
Many Churches also offer the Stations of the Cross, also referred to as the “Way of the Cross,” on Good Friday. This is a devotion in which fourteen events surrounding the death of Jesus are commemorated. Most Catholic Churches have fourteen images of Jesus’ final days displayed throughout the parish, for use in public Stations of the Cross services. Good Friday, along with Ash Wednesday, is an official day of fasting in the Catholic Church.
The Eastern Churches have different customs for the day they call “the Great Friday.” The Orthodox Church begins the day with Matins (Morning Prayer), where the “Twelve Gospels” is chanted, which consists of 12 passages drawn from the Passion narratives. In the morning, the “Little Hours” follow one after the other, consisting of Gospel, Epistle, and Prophet readings. Vespers (Evening Prayer) ends with a solemn veneration of the epitaphion, an embroidered veil containing scenes of Christ’s burial. Compline (Night Prayer) includes a lamentation placed on the Virgin Mary’s lips. On Good Friday night, a symbolic burial of Christ is performed. Traditionally, Chaldean and Syrian Christians cease using their customary Shlama greeting (“peace be with you”) on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, because Judas greeted Christ this way. They use the phrase “The light of God be with your departed ones” instead. In Russia, the tradition is to bring out a silver coffin, bearing a cross, and surrounded with candles and flowers. The faithful creep on their knees and kiss and venerate the image of Christ’s body painted on the “winding sheet” (shroud).
Also known as the Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday has had a long and varied history. It is noted that “in the early Church this was the only Saturday on which fasting was permitted.” Fasting is a sign of penance, but on Good Friday, Christ paid with His own Blood the debt of our sins. Thus, for many centuries, Christians regarded both Saturday and Sunday, the day of Christ’s Resurrection, as days on which fasting was forbidden. (That practice is still reflected in the Lenten disciplines of the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, which lighten their fasts slightly on Saturdays and Sundays.)
The night of the vigil of Easter has undergone a strange displacement. During the first six or seven centuries, ceremonies were in progress throughout the entire night, so that the alleluia coincided with the day and moment of the Resurrection. In the eighth century these same ceremonies were held on Saturday afternoon and, by a singular anachronism, were later on conducted on Saturday morning, thus the time for carrying out the solemnity was advanced almost a whole day. Thanks to this change, special services were now assigned to Holy Saturday whereas, beforehand, it had had none until the late hour of the vigil.
This vigil opened with the blessing of the new fire, the lighting of lamps and candles and of the paschal candle, many of the ceremonies have lost much of their symbolism by being anticipated and advanced from twilight to broad daylight. The light was symbolic of the Risen Christ. The assembled faithful gave themselves up to common prayer, the singing of psalms and hymns, as well as scripture readings. The vigil of Easter was especially devoted to the baptism of candidates and catechumens converting to the Catholic faith.
The congregation remained silent in the church awaiting the dawn of the Resurrection, joining at intervals in psalmody and chant and listening to the reading of the lessons.
Easter is the greatest feast in the Christian calendar. On this Sunday, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. For Catholics, Easter Sunday comes at the end of 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving known as Lent. Through spiritual struggle and self-denial, we have prepared ourselves to die spiritually with Christ on Good Friday, the day of His Crucifixion, so that we can rise again with Him in new life on Easter.
Through his death, Christ saved mankind from bondage to sin, and He destroyed the hold that death has on all of us; but it is His Resurrection that gives us the promise of new life, both in this world and the next, also coming at the same time as the beginning of Spring it also conotates a rebirth of everything around us, and the promise of bright things to come.
For people with strong Christian beliefs, the cross that Jesus was crucified on and his resurrection are important symbols of the period around Easter. Other symbols of Easter include real eggs or eggs manufactured from a range of materials, nests, lambs and rabbits or hares. Sometimes these symbols are combined, for example, in candy models of rabbits with nests full of eggs. Eggs, rabbits, hares and young animals are thought to represent the re-birth and return to fertility of nature in the spring.
According to an ancient tradition, the three days after Palm Sunday are devoted in many countries to a thorough cleaning of the house, the most vigorous of the whole year. Carpets, couches, armchairs, and mattresses are carried into the open and every speck of dust beaten out of them. Women scrub and wax floors and furniture, change curtains, wash windows; the home is buzzing with activity. No time is wasted on the usual kitchen work; the meals are very casual and light. On Wednesday night everything has to be back in place, glossy and shining, ready for the great feast. In Poland and other Slavic countries people also decorate their homes with green plants and artificial flowers made of colored paper carrying out ancient designs. The thought that the idea of the cleansing comes from another lesson from the bible in which we are taught that Jesus “cleansed” the Temple of Jerusalem by violently driving out the money-changers and other merchants associated with Temple commerce. This act resulted in the Temple authorities seeking to arrest him as a threat to public order and a danger to the peace between the Jews and Rome. They succeeded in bribing his disciple Judas to betray him and were able to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, leading to his trial by Pontius Pilate and his ultimate crucifixion as a traitor to Rome. For traditional Christians, these events were all part of God’s foreordained plan to send Jesus to die for the sins of mankind and thus bring about salvation.
History of Foods associated with Easter:
It appears that many of the traditions that are associated with Spring and Easter has its roots from Pagan times.
Eggs are seen as a symbol of life, fertility, immortality and rebirth in so many cultures. They are colored and ate during spring festivals that also celebrate the return of the sun after a long winter and the fertility of new soil. This tradition of including eggs in such festivals into the Christian tradition in which the egg is seen as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus and of his immortality. They also symbolize rebirth, and thus long life and even immortality. Eggs represent life in its various stages of development, encompassing the mystery and magic of creation…The concept of eggs as life symbols went hand in hand with the concept of eggs as emblems of immortality. Easter eggs, in fact, symbolize immortality, and particularly the resurrection of Christ, who rose from a sealed tomb just as a bird breaks through an eggshell.”
Why do we have Easter egg hunts?
“From very early days the finding of eggs has been identified with riches. The relationship is readily apparent. Eggs are a treasure, a bounty of nature, and when hens are unconfined they deposit these treasures in unexpected places.
Why do we decorate eggs?
We are told that people have been decorating eggs for thousands of years. The practice was inspired by religion. Techniques and styles vary according to culture and period. Decorative eggs were also fabricated from other foods, most notably confectionery. It is duly noted that because eggs are the embodiment of life’s essence, people from ancient times to the modern day have surrounded them with magical beliefs, endowing them with the power not only to create life but to prophesy the future. Eggs symbolize birth and are thought to ensure fertility. They also serve as a symbol of rebirth, and long life and to some immortality. Eggs represent life in its various stages of development, encompassing the mystery and magic of creation…The concept of eggs as life symbols went hand in hand with the concept of eggs as emblems of immortality. Easter eggs symbolize immortality, and in particular the resurrection of Christ, who rose from a sealed tomb just as a bird breaks through an eggshell.”
LAMB AND HAM
The tradition of eating either lamb or ham at Easter finds roots from the pagans who would preserve meat to eat throughout the winter. By the time spring arrived and livestock began to reproduce, people would eat the last of the cured or salted meat, knowing that there would soon be more. Lamb is also directly associated with Jesus, called the “lamb of God.”
Hot Cross Buns
Hot cross buns have their origin in the springtime festival honoring the goddess Eostre or Ostara, from whose name “Easter” is derived. The buns, decorated with small crosses to symbolize the quarters of the moon or a bull’s horns, were thought to ensure fertility and the goddess’ protection in the coming year. These buns were incorporated into Christian tradition. Today the cross represents that upon which Jesus was crucified, and the buns are eaten throughout the Easter season.
The Christian tradition of eating candy eggs and rabbits, both symbols of life and fertility, comes from the idea that one could assume the qualities of a given symbol by eating something that represented it. Candy rabbits and eggs are a way of celebrating the essence of spring and the qualities of fertility and life.
According to tradition, baskets full of treats were left out for fairies at different times of the year. This was said to save the basket provider from becoming the subject of fairy mischief. At Ostara, these baskets were filled with sweet things, corresponding to the nectar in new flowers. This is most likely the origin of the traditional Easter basket, filled with real or artificial grass, candy, eggs and other treats.