The Holy Week liturgy
4th Sunday of March:
the Lenten season, the Church has prepared us step by
step for the sacred experience of the drama of Holy
Week. A steady crescendo has been taking place since
Septuagesima Sunday. Not until now has the Church
unveiled the mystery of the Cross and resurrection,
which were given us up to now only in figures and
Holy Week, the curtain is lifted, we see the Holy of Holies.
And, not only do we see but we are asked to participate in the
most sublime drama of history.
week is about to begin – starting with Palm Sunday. Rather
than a week of mourning, it should be called the redemptive
week, in which the work of redemption terminated in victory,
for Cross and resurrection are intimately united.
can be summed up in the words of St. John’s from his
Prologue: “The light
shined in the darkness, and the darkness grasped it not.”
Darkness struggles against the light of Christ’s revelation
as against an enemy; but to those who receive it, Christ gives
“the power of becoming
sons of God.” And as the mystery of darkness (the devil
is the prince of darkness) and light (Christ the truth)
unfolds during the Sacred Triduum, the same clashes takes
place on another vein, death and life fight in a mortal duel,
which will conclude with Christ the Life giving the death blow
to Death by His own passing.
given Him through death: Christ the man rises from death to
die no more since His sacrifice was accepted by the Father and
He merited for Himself and all His followers a glorified body
joined to a soul enjoying the beatific vision. Thus the
ancient symbol of Christ, phos-zoe
(light-life) serves well as a caption over this great week of
important aspect of the Christian life is taking a prominent
place during the Holy Week’s liturgy: the reception of
converts into the Church. In olden days, the Lenten season
marked the preparation - both moral and doctrinal - of the
catechumens to the great step of baptism, reflected in many
ceremonies. The catechumens passed their last examinations
earlier on in Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday, there was the
reconciliation of the public penitents making up for their
public sins. They would be formally received in full communion
and allowed to approach the sacred table on Easter Vigil.
On the same
day, the holy oils were blessed by the bishop, which would be
needed for the Baptismal ceremony. Easter Vigil is replete
with the ceremonies addressed to catechumens who are to be
formally received into the Church. The long lessons from the
Old Testament serve as a last minute catechism, the baptismal
water is blessed and the baptismal promises are pronounced by
all the faithful present, but especially by the candidates to
baptism, which takes place at that time.
Vigil, which formally lasted the entire night, was the vigil
of the catechumens as much as it was the celebration of
Christ’s rising from the tomb. Both activities are one in
the mind of St. Paul:
been baptized (submerged) in Christ’s death and risen
(drawn out of the water) in Christ’s resurrection.
highly recommended that the faithful free themselves from the
worldly worries and dedicate what time they can to the
meditation and contemplation of the sacred mysteries. One of
the best ways is simply to go over the liturgical texts which
reach a degree of intensity never achieved in the other
seasons of the year.
The veiled altar
cross and images
The liturgical meaning
of Passion Sunday
3rd Sunday of March:
Nothing better to grasp the spirit of the Church than to turn
to the liturgical texts. This is most true of Passiontide and
Holy Week. The Church’s Year of Grace of Dr. Pius
Parsch offers a few points of interest.
As the Church enters the period of
mourning the divine Bridegroom, she puts on the widow’s
garments. The commemoration of Christ’s suffering is
expressed in various ways.
The last remaining traces of joy
are eliminated: the Gloria Patri of the Introit,
Lavabo and Breviary responsories. The omission of Psalm
42 at the foot of the altar, as in the Requiem Masses.
The prayers and readings relate
the theme of suffering to that of baptism. A favorite
contrast, the pagan Ninivites (catechumens) do penance while
the Jews plan to kill Jesus. Jeremias, a type of Christ,
laments over the Jews "who perfidiously leave their Lord,
the fountain of living water."
One of the most striking changes
in the Passiontide is that the crosses and statues are
draped, as an outward sign of the Church’s inward sorrow. It
is not difficult to understand why the wailing garments are
placed over the statues, which could distract us from the
meditations of the Passion.
It is however quite enigmatic
for the Christians today to understand why the crosses
have to be veiled. Why is not the sorrowful Crucifix
visible to our eyes so as to draw tears of devotion? Just
the contrary would be more intelligible.
In fact, this veiling of the
Cross is a relic from an ancient practice. When crosses,
without the corpus, shone glorious with gold and precious
stones (the crux gemmata), there was deep meaning
in the practice of veiling their brilliance during the
days when the Bridegroom was taken away. The Church was
putting on the widow’s weeds.
gemmata - or gemmed
cross used in the ancient Church
This tiny detail is a clear symbol
of a very different approach between ancient and modern
Christianity. Today, popular piety proceeds to review Holy
Week historically; it pictures with great fidelity the various
scenes of the "bitter passion," it dissects all the
feelings and thoughts of our suffering Savior, it analyzes the
virtues displayed by the Lord at every step. "How shall I
imitate Him… what can I learn from Him?" are its most
important questions. Suffering is the great motive for
amendment: "He died on the Cross for me, and I have
offended Him so deeply."
The ancient Christians followed a
different course. Of course, it also put Christ’s suffering up
front but it was aiming too at the purpose of the Passion. By
His suffering, Christ redeemed us and made us children of God.
And, on what apparently is the most tragic day of the whole
year, on Good Friday, we lift our voices in jubilant song: "See,
because of this wood joy has come into the whole world!"
The early Christians were not so eager to speak of the
bitter passion as of the beata passio, the happy or
Perhaps a harmonious blending of the
two mindsets is achieved on Good Friday. On that day of the
great Sacrifice of the High Priest, the Church abstains from
offering the divine sacrifice: instead of the divine Action,
the liturgy is mostly commemorative and historical. Yet, with
this initial meditation of the historical passion of Our Lord,
as the ceremony progresses, it has us rejoice before the
unveiled cross, presented as the glorious trophy with the
Redeemer having fulfilled His mission. The rite ends with a
glorious, joyful song to the Cross, to the Lord’s
Thy Cross, Lord, we adore!
We praise and acclaim Thy holy resurrection.
Behold, through the wood of the Cross
Joy has come into the whole world.
The diverse names
of Laetare Sunday
2nd Sunday of March:
Fourth Sunday of Lent
We read in The Catholic Encyclopedia that this
Fourth and middle Sunday of Lent actually has several
popular names associated with it which we outline here.
Dominica de Rosa
The golden rose represents Christ in the shining splendor of
His majesty, the "flower sprung from the root of Jesse."
Originally it was natural rose, then a single golden rose of
natural size, but since the fifteenth century it has consisted
of a cluster or branch of roses wrought of pure gold in
brilliant workmanship by famous artists. The popes bless one
every year, and often confer it upon churches, shrines,
cities, or distinguished persons as a token of esteem and
It has a counterpart in Advent:
Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, when purple
vestments are exchanged for rose ones. The point of both days
is to provide us encouragement as we progress toward the end
of each respective penitential season.
or the Sunday of the Five Loaves
name stems from the miracle recorded in the Gospel of John
6:1-15, on the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes -
symbols of the Eucharist to come in 18 days (on Maundy
Thursday of Holy Week).
Mid-Lent, mi-careme, or
These terms (in English, French and Spanish)
obviously have their root because this Sunday marks the middle
is an allusion to the Epistle, which indicates our right to be
called the sons of God as the source of all our joy, and also
because formerly the faithful used to make their offerings in
the cathedral or mother-church on this day. This latter name
is still kept up in some remote parts of England, though the
reason for it has ceased to exist.
is by far the most popular name. Laetare means "rejoice"
in Latin, and the Introit (entrance antiphon) is Isaiah
66:10-11, which begins "Laetare, Jerusalem" ("Rejoice,
The spirit of Laetare Sunday
Because the midpoint of Lent is the
Thursday of the third week of Lent, Laetare Sunday has
traditionally been viewed as a day of celebration, on which
the austerity of Lent is briefly lessened. The passage from
Isaiah continues, "rejoice with joy, you that have been in
sorrow," and on Laetare Sunday, the purple vestments and
altar cloths of Lent are set aside, and rose ones are used
instead. Flowers, which are normally forbidden during Lent,
may be placed on the altar. Traditionally, the organ was never
played during Lent, except on Laetare Sunday.
Laetare Jerusalem : et conventum
facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in
tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus
consolationis vestrae. (Psalm) Laetatus sum in his, quae
dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus. Gloria Patri.
Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come
together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that
have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from
the breasts of your consolation. (Psalm) I rejoiced at the
things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of
the Lord. Glory be to the Father.
How to remember the difference
between Gaudate and Laetare Sunday
You can remember to differentiate
between Advent's Gaudete Sunday and Lent's Laetare Sunday -
the two "rose vestments" Sundays - by remembering that Laetare
Sunday comes in Lent, both of which begin with the
to repair the past
1st Sunday of March:
Third Sunday of Lent
Liturgical Year of Dom Prosper Gueranger.
The holy Church gave us, as the subject of our
meditation for the first Sunday of Lent, the Temptation
which our Lord Jesus Christ deigned to suffer in the
Desert. Her object was to enlighten us with regard to
our own temptations, and teach us how to conquer them.
Today [Third Sunday of Lent[, she
wishes to complete her instruction on the power and stratagems
of our invisible enemies; and for this she reads to us a
passage from the Gospel of St. Luke.
During Lent, the Christian ought to
repair the past, and provide for the future; but he can
neither understand how it was he fell, nor defend himself
against a relapse, unless he have correct ideas as to the
nature of the dangers which have hitherto proved fatal, and
are again threatening him. Hence, the ancient Liturgists would
have us consider it as a proof of the maternal watchfulness of
the Church, that she should have again proposed such a subject
to us. As we shall find, it is the basis of all to-day’s
But if there be one Season of the
Year more than another in which the Faithful ought to reflect
upon what is taught us both by faith and experience, as to the
existence and workings of the wicked spirits, - it is
undoubtedly this of Lent, when it is our duty to consider what
have been the causes of our last sins, what are the spiritual
dangers we have to fear for the future, and what means we
should have recourse to for preventing a relapse.
Let us, then, hearken to the Holy
Gospel. Firstly, we are told, that the devil had possessed
a man, and that the effect produced by this possession
was dumbness. Our Savior casts out the devil, and,
immediately, the dumb man spoke. So that, the being possessed
by the devil is not only a fact which testifies to God’s
impenetrable justice; it is one which may produce physical
effects upon them that are thus tried or punished. The
casting out the devil restores the use of speech to him
that had been possessed. We say nothing about the obstinate
malice of Jesus’ enemies, who would have it, that his power
over the devils, came from his being in league with the
prince of devils: all we would now do is, to show that the
wicked spirits are sometimes permitted to have power over the
Ever since the promulgation of the Gospel, the power of
Satan over the human body has been restricted by the virtue of
the Cross, at least in Christian countries; but this power
resumes its sway as often as faith and the practice of
Christian piety lose their influence...
The Third Sunday of Lent is called
Oculi, from the first word of the Introit. In the
primitive Church, it was called Scrutiny-Sunday,
because it was on this day that they began to examine the
Catechumens, who were to he admitted to Baptism on Easter
night. All the Faithful were invited to assemble in the
Church, in order that they might bear testimony to the good
life and morals of the candidates. At Rome, these
examinations, which where called the Scrutinies, were
made on seven different occasions, on account of the great
number of the aspirants to Baptism; but the principal
Scrutiny was that held on the Wednesday of the Fourth Week
We will speak of it later on.
The Roman Sacramentary of St.
Gelasius gives us the form, in which the Faithful were
convoked to these assemblies. It is as follows.
Dearly beloved Brethren: you know
that the day of Scrutiny, when our elect are to receive the
holy instruction, is at hand. We invite you, therefore, to
be zealous and assemble on N., (here, the day was mentioned)
at the hour of Sext [the sixth hour of the day]; that so we
may be able, by the divine aid, to achieve without error,
the heavenly mystery, whereby is opened the gate of the
kingdom of heaven, and the devil is excluded with all his
The invitation was repeated, if
needed, on each of the following Sundays. The Scrutiny
of this Sunday ended in the admission of a certain number of
candidates: their names were written down, and put on the
Diptychs of the Altar, that they might be mentioned in the
Canon of the Mass. The same also was done with the names of
The Station was, and still is, in
the Basilica of St. Laurence outside the walls. The
name of this, the most celebrated of the Martyrs of Rome,
would remind the Catechumens, that the Faith they were about
to profess, would require them to be ready for many