So, what is Holy Week all about anyway?

So, what is Holy Week all about anyway?

In welcoming everyone to Holy Week services, the Rev. Lael Sorensen, rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rockland gives this explanation to the question, “So, what is Holy Week all about anyway?”

Holy Week is the last week in Lent and is so important in our tradition that is merits some explanation. The services of Holy Week are ancient, growing out of the practices of pilgrims who poured into Jerusalem to celebrate their Easter baptisms and who visited the sites connected with the days leading up to Jesus’ death. With prayer, dramatic readings of the story associated with the place, the singing of hymns and symbolic action, the pilgrims experience afresh the events of Jesus’ passion. At St. Peter’s Holy Week services do the same thing. Here’s what you can expect.

Palm Sunday (April 14, 9:00am and 5:30pm): This service begins by recounting Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem accompanied by shouts of “hosanna” and the waving of palm branches. Weather permitting, we will gather in the Parish Hall where palms will be blessed and distributed. We will process around the neighborhood, singing the traditional Palm Sunday hymns, processing into church to “All Glory, Laud and Honor”. Halfway through the Palm Sunday service the mood of the day shifts dramatically. Indeed, Palm Sunday is also know as “Passion Sunday” because we hear, in a dramatic reading, the narrative of Jesus’ last supper, his betrayal by Judas, arrest, torture, and crucifixion. Especially moving for many in this reading is the congregation’s part in the condemnation of Jesus. Our cries of “crucify him!” bring home the horror of Jesus’ execution.

Tenebrae (April 17, 7:00pm): a dramatic service of readings and choral meditations on Christ’s passion. This is a poignant service as with each section a candle is extinguished and the lights dim until, representing Jesus’ death, we are in complete darkness. (Tenebrae means “shadows” or “darkening”).

Maundy Thursday (April 18, 7:00pm): The name comes from the Latin mandatum, the root of our English word “mandate” or “command”. It refers to the new commandment to “love one another” (John 13:34) that Jesus gave to his disciples after he had washed their feet on the Thursday of his final week in Jerusalem. We, too, will be invited to wash one another’s feet as a sign of our willingness to follow Jesus’ mandate to love one another. We will recall the last supper in which Jesus instituted a holy meal “to do this in remembrance of me.” The service concludes with a dramatic stripping of the altar, accompanied by the chanting of psalm 22. The lights in the sanctuary dim as clergy and acolytes, dressed in black, remove all altar appointments, wash and anoint the altar, and remove the reserved sacrament to the chapel. Those who wish to wait with Christ as the disciples were asked to do at Gethsemane can move to the chapel, say a prayer, sit and meditate or just be with the body of Christ, represented in your fellow silent worshippers and in the reserved sacrament stored there.

Good Friday (April 19, 7:00pm): On this day the church commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus. At St. Peter’s we will open the sanctuary for self-guided meditations on the Stations of the Cross throughout the day and hold a traditional Good Friday service in the evening.

For the Stations of the cross booklets will be provided to guide worshippers in walking the way of the cross with Jesus in prayer and reflection through the fourteen stations around our sanctuary that depict Jesus’ walk to Golgotha and crucifixion. This service turns to ancient prayers and silent meditation to bring us to Calvary.

The 7:00pm service is a traditional Good Friday Liturgy. The clergy and choir are dressed in black and enter in silence. Though the mood is somber, the Good Friday liturgy is not a funeral. We remember Jesus’ suffering and death while celebrating the victory over death he has won for us now. The liturgy has three distinct parts. The first is a liturgy of the Word in which we hear a passion gospel and pray a series of intercessions called the Solemn Collects. The second part of the service allows us time to venerate the cross to gentle music. We conclude with communion from the reserved sacrament. Tis is not a celebration of the Eucharist because Good Friday is a fast day, but our sharing the consecrated bread and wine from Maundy Thursday underscores the “good” in Good Friday – it’s our way of proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.

The Great Vigil of Easter (April 20, 7:45pm): This is the first celebration of Easter and is among the most ancient of the liturgies we have. It begins on the night before Easter Day and, despite the late hour, the Vigil can be a wonderful service for older children because it is the epitome of “hands-on” liturgy with wonderful contrasting symbols of darkness and light, quiet reflection and loud rejoicing.

There are four main parts to this service the first three of which are done I darkness, lit only by candlelight: a ritual of light in which we light the new fire and paschal candle, a liturgy of the Word when we listen to Scripture reading highlighting God’s saving plan for humanity and renew our won baptismal vows. Then, we come to a turning point in the service as we end the season of Lent and begin the first Eucharist of Easter. The proclamation is made: “Alleluia. Christ is risen!” and the people respond “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” at which time we enter brilliant light: candles o the altar are lit, the electric lights are turned on, and we begin to sing the Gloria in excelsis for the first time in over 40 days, accompanied by the ringing of bells, the shaking of tambourines and other handheld instruments. The joyful contrast to Lent is unmistakable and as you blink I the light and sing the familiar song of praise you will not doubt see smiles of amazement on the faces around you. This is a moment when we glimpse a bit of heaven and can believe again that the Good News is indeed true after all.

This year St. Peter’s joins other area churches in the Great Vigil, held at Nativity Lutheran Church, 179 Old County Road, Rockport, Maine 04856.

Easter Day (April 21, 9:00am): This is the oldest, most important, and quintessential Christian feast. The primary theme is the resurrection: on this day Jesus was raised from the dead, overcoming the power of death and the grave. And all subsequent Sundays, including those in Lent, are but small remembrances of this greatest day. Our one service this festival day at 9:00am is a choral festival Eucharist. Come, wear your Easter finery, join in the fellowship of our traditional Easter Brunch immediately following the service, and celebrate the Lord’s resurrection and the promise of your own!

 

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