Palm Sunday ushers in the important commemoration of Holy Week and Easter Day, or the Day of the Resurrection. Palm Sunday recognizes our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem just five days before he will be crucified, a startling change of sentiment. The Messiah, the long-awaited “Son of David”, rode into Jerusalem among huge crowds celebrating the occasion by strewing palms along the path. The previous Sunday used to be called Passion Sunday, to commemorate our Lord’s Passion, initiating a two week period of “Passiontide”, but in recent years Passion Sunday has been celebrated on the same Sunday as Palm Sunday.
Then, rapidly and awfully, the emotions change. The week following, memorializing farewell, torture, death, and resurrection, is Holy Week. Our first specific commemoration is on Thursday, at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, at the feast of the Passover, the Pascha. In John 13:34 we read Christ’s admonition, “A new commandment I give to you,. that you love one another as I have loved you.” n.b.: Not just love one another as you love yourself, but as I HAVE LOVED YOU. (Latin for ‘new commandment” is “mandatum novum” from which we get the word “Maundy”.)
Occurring rather dramatically in the historic account of the day is the institution of Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet, an emotion-laden event to which impulsive Simon Peter responded by exclaiming, “Not my feet only, but my hands and my head!” The rite of footwashing has become attenuated in various churches over the years, perhaps undeservedly.
Beginning in the evening of Maundy Thursday the Church recognizes three important days: from the evening of Maundy Thursday till the evening of Easter Day—three most holy, significant days. Latin for a three-day period is “triduum”; these are the “Paschal Triduum”. (Triduum has a difficult double “u”, and is pronounced similarly to ‘residuum”.)
Immediately following the service on Maundy Thursday the altar is stripped of all hangings, and the altar itself is washed. The bare altar, with no beauty in flowers or in trappings, is a stark reminder of the events to come. The celebrations of the Paschal Triduum are the evening liturgy of Maundy Thursday, the events of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Day.
On Good Friday we Christians recall the Passion, the Crucifixion, of Jesus, a most solemn day. The following day, Holy Saturday, commemorates the day during which Jesus lay in the tomb. Church services are simple. In the Philippines this day is known as “Black Saturday.”
The historic “Easter Vigil” is held beginning after nightfall on Holy Saturday, or early, really early, on Easter Day—the Day of Resurrection. The coming of the Day of Resurrection is symbolized by the lighting of the great Paschal candle. Soon there begin the glorious songs of the Day of Resurrection. “HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!