FOR the 2nd time around, we will celebrate Semana Santa or Holy Week within the backdrop of this COVID-19 health crisis. In our country, the Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday to Black Saturday) has been declared holidays compared to other countries; and as such is not just an opportunity for some R&R (rest and relaxation) but an opportune time as well for solemn reflection, which in the first place was the intended purpose for the holidays. So, to help those planning for a more contemplative Holy Week, here is your basic guide to its observance even if we have to do it in the silence of our homes:
PALM SUNDAY is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. Palm Sunday is known as such because the faithful will often bring palm fronds, which they use to participate in the reenactment of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem. In the Gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a young donkey, and to the lavish praise of the townspeople who threw clothes, or possibly palms or small branches, in front of him as a sign of homage. This was a customary practice for people of great respect. Palm branches are widely recognized symbol of peace and victory, hence their preferred use on Palm Sunday.
In the Philippines during Palm Sunday Mass, parishioners carry in a ritual procession into church palms (palaspas) but this year (like last year) the palms can be blessed virtually or by lay ministers going around the parish community. The palms are blessed and many people will place them on windows/doors or altars inside their homes. These may be returned to the church, or kept for the year. Because the palms are blessed, they may not be discarded as trash. Instead, they are appropriately gathered at the church and incinerated to create the ashes that will be used in the following year’s Ash Wednesday observance.
HOLY THURSDAY is the commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, when he established the sacrament of Holy Communion prior to his arrest and crucifixion. It also commemorates His institution of the priesthood. The holy day falls on the Thursday before Easter and is part of the Holy Week. Jesus celebrated the dinner as a Passover feast. Christ would fulfill His role as the Christian victim of the Passover for all to be saved by His final sacrifice. Jesus also established the special priesthood for his disciples, which is distinct from the “priesthood of all believers.” Christ WASHED THE FEET of his Disciples, who would become the first priests.
The Visita Iglesia — visiting at least seven different churches on Holy Thursday till early morning of Good Friday — is one of the most popular Holy Week “panata” (sacred vow) that Filipino Catholics make. The choice of seven or 14 as the number of churches to visit was described by many devotees as a reference to the Seven Last Words of Jesus or the Seven Holy Wounds of Jesus. Some choose to visit 14 churches to match the 14 Stations of the Cross, and a few try to cover even more churches. There is no fixed set of prayers for this devotion. Some devotees pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament (in the altar of repose) or say the Rosary, while others offer personal prayers and meditation on the Passion, or pray in front of successive Stations of the Cross in each church. The goal in any case is to be alert — in contrast to the disciples at Gethsemane — during Jesus’ agony. As such, since our parishes will be closed due to IATF guidelines this “panata” can be likewise done virtually — various altars of repose can be seen and visited online. Being with Jesus even if done virtually still accomplishes the purpose of this devotion.
GOOD FRIDAY is the day on which Catholics commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Almost all other Christians in solemn commemoration on this day join Catholics. Good Friday is a day of fasting within the Church. Traditionally, there is no Mass and no celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday. A liturgy may still be performed and communion, if taken, comes from hosts consecrated on Holy Thursday. Church bells are silent. Altars are left bare.
After that portion of the Good Friday Liturgy known as The Solemn Orations, in which the charity and zeal of the Church have embraced the whole universe of men, invoking upon them the merciful effusion of the Precious Blood, the Church turns next to her faithful children. Filled with holy indignation at the humiliations heaped upon her Jesus, she invites us to a solemn act of reparation: it is to consist in VENERATING THE CROSS which our Divine Lord has borne to the summit of Calvary, and to which He is to be fastened with nails. Also included in our GOOD FRIDAY practices is a reflection of the Seven Last Words; Senakulo (or street play of the Passion of Christ); and Procession of the Santo Entierro (Christ’s dead body lying supine). Again, reflection and personal veneration of the cross can still be done through On-Air and Online Liturgical Celebrations.
Finally, BLACK SATURDAY (Easter Vigil) is a holy night when the Church keeps watch, celebrating the resurrection of Christ in the sacraments and awaiting his return in glory. It is the turning point of the Triduum, the Passover of the new covenant, which marks Christ’s passage from death to life. Therefore, the Easter Vigil does not correspond to the usual Saturday evening Mass and its character is unique in the cycle of the liturgical year.
The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil takes place at night and begins after nightfall and must be concluded before daybreak on Sunday. The Vigil has four parts … A Service of Light where the paschal candle is lit by an outdoor fire and carried into a dark, empty church as the people process behind and enter the church after the light enters. The Easter Proclamation follows the procession. Through the Liturgy of the Word from Genesis, Exodus and the prophets, the Church meditates on all the wonderful things God has done for his people from the beginning. The Gospel reading is about the discovery that Jesus is not in his tomb, he has risen from the dead. The third part is a Celebration of Baptism when candidates for Baptism are baptized and the attendees remember and renew their baptismal promises. A Celebration of Reception for new members is next. The fourth part of this mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist where a newly baptized and received candidate partakes of the Eucharist for the first time with the congregation.
In conclusion, let me just wish everyone, A Blessed Holy Week and Advance Happy Easter to all.
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