This year’s Holy Week may be marked by a blood-red moon

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by Doug Lawrence

And going out, he went, according to his custom, to the Mount of Olives. And his disciples also followed him. And when he was come to the place, he said to them: Pray, lest ye enter into temptation. And he was withdrawn away from them a stone’s cast. And kneeling down, he prayed. Saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:39-44)

A lunar eclipse has long been a regular feature of Passover and Easter, as Passover has always been marked by a phase of the lunar cycle.

In the passage above, we read of Jesus’ sweat looking like drops of blood, as they trickled down to the ground.

lunar_eclipse

I’m not one to try to rationalize miracles, but I’ve never been convinced there ever was a miracle here, since drops of sweat, illuminated by the subdued light of a blood-red, fully eclipsed moon, would indeed naturally appear as blood, especially if moonlight provided the only available illumination.

Another interesting thing about a lunar eclipse – you can’t have things both ways. It’s impossible to have a (natural) solar eclipse the day after a (natural) lunar eclipse, since everything in the heavens is totally out of phase. Plus – natural solar eclipses don’t last for three hours – and they’re not visible across the whole earth. That would make the darkness that covered the whole earth from noon to 3 on Good Friday, truly supernatural! 

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole earth until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying: Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani? Which is, being interpreted: My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:33-34)

This was also a prophetic and very specific fulfillment of Old Testament sacred scripture:

Christ on the Cross by Diego Velazquez, 1632

And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that the sun shall go down at midday, and I will make the earth dark in the day of light: And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation: and I will bring up sackcloth upon every back of yours, and baldness upon every head: and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the latter end thereof as a bitter day. (Amos 8:9-10)

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Wednesday of Holy Week: Jesus anointed with costly spikenard. Judas plots.


Wednesday of Holy Week. Traditionally this day was called “Spy Wednesday” for it was on this Wednesday before the crucifixion that Judas conspired to hand Jesus over. For this he was paid thirty pieces of silver (cf Mt. 26:14). Jesus likely spent the day In Bethany. In the evening Mary anoints Jesus with costly perfumed oil. Judas objects but Jesus rebukes him and says Mary has anointed him for his burial! (cf Mt 26:6). The wicked are besetting Jesus and plotting against him. Are you praying?

Matthew 26:1-16  And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended all these words, he said to his disciples: You know that after two days shall be the pasch: and the Son of man shall be delivered up to be crucified. Then were gathered together the chief priests and ancients of the people, into the court of the high priest, who was called Caiphas: And they consulted together that by subtilty they might apprehend Jesus and put him to death. But they said: Not on the festival day, lest perhaps there should be a tumult among the people.

And when Jesus was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, there came to him a woman having an alabaster box of precious ointment and poured it on his head as he was at table. And the disciples seeing it had indignation, saying: To what purpose is this waste? For this might have been sold for much and given to the poor. And Jesus knowing it, said to them: Why do you trouble this woman? For she hath wrought a good work upon me. For the poor you have always with you: but me you have not always. For she in pouring this ointment on my body hath done it for my burial. Amen I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done shall be told for a memory of her.

Then went one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, to the chief priests. And said to them: What will you give me, and I will deliver him unto you? But they appointed him thirty pieces of silver. And from thenceforth he sought opportunity to betray him.

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Holy Week: The Easter Vigil

77. According to a most ancient tradition, this night is “one of vigil for the Lord,”79 and the vigil celebrated during it, to commemorate that holy night when the Lord rose from the dead, is regarded as the “mother of all holy vigils.”80 For in that night the Church keeps vigil, waiting for the resurrection of the Lord, and celebrates the sacraments of Christian initiation.81

1. The Meaning Of The Nocturnal Character Of The Easter Vigil

78. “The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil takes place at night. It should not begin before nightfall; it should end before daybreak on Sunday.”82 This rule is to be taken according to its strictest sense. Reprehensible are those abuses and practices which have crept into many places in violation of this ruling, whereby the Easter Vigil is celebrated at the time of day that it is customary to celebrate anticipated Sunday Masses.83

Those reasons which have been advanced in some quarters for the anticipation of the Easter Vigil, such as lack of public order, are not put forward in connection with Christmas night, nor other gatherings of various kinds.

79. The Passover Vigil, in which the Hebrews kept watch for the Lord’s passover which was to free them from slavery to Pharaoh, is an annual commemoration. It prefigured the true Pasch of Christ that was to come, the night that is of true liberation, in which “destroying the bonds of death, Christ rose as victor from the depths.”84

80. From the very outset the Church has celebrated that annual Pasch, which is the solemnity of solemnities, above all by means of a night vigil. For the resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith and hope, and through Baptism and Confirmation we are inserted into the Paschal Mystery of Christ, dying, buried, and raised with him, and with him we shall also reign.85

The full meaning of Vigil is a waiting for the coming of the Lord.86

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Holy Week: Holy Saturday

73. On Holy Saturday the Church is, as it were, at the Lord’s tomb, meditating on his passion and death, and on his descent into hell,75 and awaiting his resurrection with prayer and fasting. It is highly recommended that on this day the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer be celebrated with the participation of the people (cf. n. 40).76 Where this cannot be done, there should be some celebration of the Word of God, or some act of devotion suited to the mystery celebrated this day.

74. The image of Christ crucified or lying in the tomb, or the descent into hell, which mystery Holy Saturday recalls, as also an image of the sorrowful Virgin Mary can be placed in the church for the veneration of the faithful.

75. On this day the Church abstains strictly from the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass.77 Holy Communion may only be given in the form of Viaticum. The celebration of marriages is forbidden, as also the celebration of other sacraments, except those of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick.

76. The faithful are to be instructed on the special character of Holy Saturday.78 Festive customs and traditions associated with this day on account of the former practice of anticipating the celebration of Easter on Holy Saturday should be reserved for Easter night and the day that follows.

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Holy Week: Good Friday

58. On this day, when “Christ our passover was sacrificed,”63 the Church meditates on the passion of her Lord and Spouse, adores the cross, commemorates her origin from the side of Christ asleep on the cross, and intercedes for the salvation of the whole world.

59. On this day, in accordance with ancient tradition, the Church does not celebrate the Eucharist: Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful during the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion alone, though it may be brought at any time of the day to the sick who cannot take part in the celebration.64

60. Good Friday is a day of penance to be observed as of obligation in the whole Church, and indeed through abstinence and fasting.65

61. All celebration of the sacraments on this day is strictly prohibited, except for the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick.66 Funerals are to be celebrated without singing, music, or the tolling of bells.

62. It is recommended that on this day the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer be celebrated with the participation of the people in the churches (cf. n. 40).

63. The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion is to take place in the afternoon, at about three o’clock. The time will be chosen which seems most appropriate for pastoral reasons in order to allow the people to assemble more easily, for example shortly after midday, or in the late evening, however not later than nine o’clock.67

64. The Order for the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion (the Liturgy of the Word, the adoration of the cross, and Holy Communion), that stems from an ancient tradition of the Church, should be observed faithfully and religiously, and may not be changed by anyone on his own initiative.

65. The priest and ministers proceed to the altar in silence and without any singing. If any words of introduction are to be said, they should be pronounced before the ministers enter.

The priest and ministers make a reverence to the altar prostrating themselves. This act of prostration, which is proper to the rite of the day, should be strictly observed, for it signifies both the abasement of “earthly man,”68 and also the grief and sorrow of the Church.

As the ministers enter the faithful should be standing, and thereafter should kneel in silent prayer.

66. The readings are to be read in their entirety. The responsorial psalm and the chant before the Gospel are to be sung in the usual manner. The narrative of the Lord’s passion according to John is sung or read in the way prescribed for the previous Sunday (cf. n. 33). After the reading of the passion a homily should be given, at the end of which the faithful may be invited to spend a short time in meditation.69

67. The General Intercessions are to follow the wording and form handed down by ancient tradition maintaining the full range of intentions so as to signify clearly the universal effect of the passion of Christ, who hung on the cross for the salvation of the whole world. In case of grave public necessity the local Ordinary may permit or prescribe the adding of special intentions.70

In this event the priest is permitted to select from the prayers of the Missal those more appropriate to local circumstances, in such a way however that the series follows the rule for General Intercessions.71

68. For veneration of the cross, let a cross be used that is of appropriate size and beauty, and let one of the forms for this rite as found in the Roman Missal be followed. The rite should be carried out with the splendor worthy of the mystery of our salvation: both the invitation pronounced at the unveiling of the cross, and the people’s response should be made in song, and a period of respectful silence is to be observed after each act of veneration—the celebrant standing and holding the raised cross.

69. The cross is to be presented to each of the faithful individually for their adoration since the personal adoration of the cross is a most important feature in this celebration; only when necessitated by the large numbers of faithful present should the rite of veneration be made simultaneously by all present.72

Only one cross should be used for the veneration, as this contributes to the full symbolism of the rite. During the veneration of the cross the antiphons, “Reproaches,” and hymns should be sung, so that the history of salvation be commemorated through song.73 Other appropriate songs may also be sung (cf. n. 42).

70. The priest sings the invitation to the Lord’s Prayer which is then sung by all. The sign of peace is not exchanged. The Communion Rite is as described in the Missal.

During the distribution of Communion, Psalm 21 or another suitable song may be sung. When Communion has been distributed the pyx is taken to a place prepared for it outside of the church.

71. After the celebration, the altar is stripped; the cross remains however, with four candles. An appropriate place (for example, the chapel of repose used for reservation of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday) can be prepared within the church, and there the Lord’s cross is placed so that the faithful may venerate and kiss it, and spend some time in meditation.

72. Devotions such as the “Way of the Cross,” processions of the passion, and commemorations of the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary are not, for pastoral reasons, to be neglected. The texts and songs used, however, should be adapted to the spirit of the Liturgy of this day. Such devotions should be assigned to a time of day that makes it quite clear that the Liturgical celebration by its very nature far surpasses them in importance.74 

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The Stations of the Cross

Holy Week: Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

44. With the celebration of Mass on the evening of Holy Thursday “the Church begins the Easter Triduum, and recalls the Last Supper, in which the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, showing his love for those who were his own in the world, he gave his body and blood under the species of bread and wine offering to his Father and giving them to the Apostles so that they might partake of them, and he commanded them and their successors in the priesthood to perpetuate this offering.”50

45. Careful attention should be given to the mysteries which are commemorated in this Mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ’s command of brotherly love; the homily should explain these points.

46. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in the evening, at a time that is more convenient for the full participation of the whole local community. All priests may concelebrate even if on this day they have already concelebrated the Chrism Mass, or if, for the good of the faithful, they must celebrate another Mass.51

47. Where pastoral considerations require it, the local Ordinary may permit another Mass to be celebrated in churches and oratories in the evening, and in the case of true necessity, even in the morning, but only for those faithful who cannot otherwise participate in the evening Mass. Care should nevertheless be taken to ensure that celebrations of this kind do not take place for the benefit of private persons or of small groups, and that they are not to the detriment of the main Mass.

According to the ancient tradition of the Church, all Masses without the participation of the people are on this day forbidden.52

48. The Tabernacle should be completely empty before the celebration.53 Hosts for the Communion of the faithful should be consecrated during that celebration.54 A sufficient amount of bread should be consecrated to provide also for Communion on the following day.

49. For the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, a place should be prepared and adorned in such a way as to be conducive to prayer and meditation; seriousness appropriate to the liturgy of these days is enjoined so that all abuses are avoided or suppressed.55

When the tabernacle is located in a chapel separated from the central part of the church, it is appropriate to prepare the place of repose and adoration there.

50. During the singing of the hymn “Gloria in excelsis” in accordance with local custom, the bells may be rung, and should thereafter remain silent until the “Gloria in excelsis” of the Easter Vigil, unless the Conference of Bishops’ or the local Ordinary, for a suitable reason, has decided otherwise.56 During this same period the organ and other musical instruments may be used only for the purpose of supporting the singing.57

51. The washing of the feet of chosen men which, according to tradition, is performed on this day, represents the service and charity of Christ, who came “not to be served, but to serve.58 This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained.

52. Gifts for the poor, especially those collected during Lent as the fruit of penance, may be presented in the offertory procession, while the people sing “Ubi caritas est vera.”59

53. It is more appropriate that the Eucharist be borne directly from the altar by the deacons, or acolytes, or extraordinary ministers at the moment of communion for the sick and infirm who must communicate at home, so that in this way they may be more closely united to the celebrating Church.

54. After the post-Communion prayer, the procession forms, with the crossbar at its head. The Blessed Sacrament, accompanied by lighted candles and incense, is carried through the church to the place of reservation, to the singing of the hymn “Pange lingua” or some other eucharistic song.60 This rite of transfer of the Blessed Sacrament may not be carried out if the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion will not be celebrated in that same church on the following day.61

55. The Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a closed tabernacle or pyx. Under no circumstances may it be exposed in a monstrance.

The place where the tabernacle or pyx is situated must not be made to resemble a tomb, and the expression “tomb” is to be avoided. The chapel of repose is not prepared so as to represent the “Lord’s burial” but for the custody of the eucharistic bread that will be distributed in Communion on Good Friday.

56. After the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the faithful should be encouraged to spend a suitable period of time during the night in the church in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament which has been solemnly reserved. Where appropriate, this prolonged eucharistic adoration may be accompanied by the reading of some part of the Gospel of St. John (chs. 13-17).

From midnight onwards, however, the adoration should be made without external solemnity, because the day of the Lord’s passion has begun.62

57. After Mass the altar should be stripped. It is fitting that any crosses in the church be covered with a red or purple veil, unless they have already been veiled on the Saturday before the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Lamps should not be lit before the images of saints.

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Holy Week: The Easter Triduum

38. The greatest mysteries of the redemption are celebrated yearly by the Church beginning with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday until Vespers of Easter Sunday. This time is called “the triduum of the crucified, buried and risen”42; it is also called the “Easter Triduum” because during it is celebrated the Paschal Mystery, that is, the passing of the Lord from this world to his Father. The Church by the celebration of this mystery, through liturgical signs and sacramentals, is united to Christ her Spouse in intimate communion.

39. The Easter fast is sacred on the first two days of the Triduum, during which, according to ancient tradition, the Church fasts “because the Spouse has been taken away.”43 Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence; it is also recommended that Holy Saturday be so observed, in order that the Church with uplifted and welcoming heart be ready to celebrate the joys of the Sunday of the resurrection.44

40. It is recommended that there be a communal celebration of the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. It is fitting that the bishop should celebrate the Office in the cathedral, with as far as possible the participation of the clergy and people.45

This Office, formerly called “Tenebrae,” held a special place in the devotion of the faithful as they meditated upon the passion, death and burial of the Lord, while awaiting the announcement of the resurrection.

41. For the celebration of the Easter Triduum it is necessary that there be a sufficient number of ministers and assistant who are prepared so that they know what their role is in the celebration. Pastors must ensure that the meaning of each part of the celebration be explained to the faithful so that they may participate more fully and fruitfully.

42. The chants of the people and also of the ministers and the celebrating priest are of special importance in the celebration of Holy Week and particularly of the Easter Triduum because they add to the solemnity of these days, and also because the texts are more effective when sung.

The Episcopal Conferences are asked, unless provision has already been made, to provide music for those parts which should always be sung, namely:

a) The General Intercessions of Good Friday, the deacon invitation and the acclamation of the people;

b) chants for the showing and veneration of the cross;

c) the acclamations during the procession with the paschal candle and the Easter proclamation, the responsorial “Alleluia the litany of the saints, and the acclamation after the blessing of water.

Since the purpose of sung texts is also to facilitate the participation of the faithful, they should not be lightly omitted; such texts should be set to music. If the text for use in the liturgy has not yet been set to music it is possible as a temporary measure to select other similar texts which are set to music. It is, however, fitting that there should be a collection of texts set to music for these celebrations, paying special attention to:

a) chants for the procession and blessing of palms, and for the entrance into church;

b) chants to accompany the procession with the Holy Oils;

c) chants to accompany the procession with the gifts on Holy Thursday in the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and hymns to accompany the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the place of repose;

d) the responsorial psalms at the Easter Vigil, and chants to accompany the sprinkling with blessed water.

Music should be provided for the passion narrative, the Easter proclamation, and the blessing of baptismal water; obviously the melodies should be of a simple nature in order to facilitate their use.

In larger churches where the resources permit, a more ample use should be made of the Church’s musical heritage both ancient and modern, always ensuring that this does not impede the active participation of the faithful.

43. It is fitting that small religious communities both clerical and lay, and other lay groups should participate in the celebration of the Easter Triduum in neighboring principal churches.46

Similarly where the number of participants and ministers is so small that the celebrations of the Easter Triduum cannot be carried out with the requisite solemnity, such groups of the faithful should assemble in a larger church.

Also where there are small parishes with only one priest, it is recommended that such parishes should assemble, as far as possible, in a principal church and there participate in the celebrations.

According to the needs of the faithful, where a pastor has the responsibility for two or more parishes in which the faithful assemble in large numbers, and where the celebrations can be carried out with the requisite care and solemnity, the celebrations of the Easter Triduum may be repeated in accord with the given norms.47

So that seminary students “might live fully Christ’s Paschal Mystery, and thus be able to teach those who will be committed to their care,”48 they should be given a thorough and comprehensive liturgical formation. It is important that during their formative years in the seminary they should experience fruitfully the solemn Easter celebrations, especially those over which the bishop presides.49

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