Saturday, April 16, 2011

Holy Week Notes

Prepared for The Church of St Columba and All Hallows, East York, Toronto
by the Revd Dr William Craig, Priest-in-Charge


From ancient times Christians have observed the last week of Lent with special solemnity and called it the Great Week and the Holy Week. As early as the days of St. John Chrysostom (died 407), Christians generally ceased their daily business; they fasted with greater strictness than in the other weeks of Lent, and engaged in special acts of mercy and charity. From a litle before Chrysostom’s time we have the detailed account of the services that were carried out at Jerusalem recorded by a Spanish pilgrim named Egeria or Aetheria. She refers to Holy Week as the “the week of the Pasch, which they call here the ‘Great Week’”.

From the Blessing and Procession of Palms to the Great Paschal Vigil of Holy Saturday Night, the purpose of the liturgies of Holy Week is that “we may enter with joy into the celebration of those mighty acts whereby God give us life and immortality” [BAS. P. 297]. Our modern liturgies are an adaptation of the rich heritage of rites and practices that have served the Church since about the fourth century, when the keeping of Holy Week began.

Of central importance of course are the Three Holy Days (the Triduum): Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday night. In the liturgies of these days the whole of Christ’s saving work is commemorated; together they are the celebration of Easter. Further comments on those days will be made available in the next while; now we have a more pressing question. How are we to keep Holy Week today?

It is hardly a practical suggestion for many of our people that they ‘cease their daily business’. It may well be that to attend the liturgies of Palm Sunday and the Triduum is all that can be managed. Perhaps, though, these suggestions can be of help. Though you cannot ‘cease your daily business’, perhaps you can cease regular amusements and entertainments for this one week and devote the time to prayer and bible reading in preparation for Easter. In the Calendar at the end of these notes the psalms and readings in the Daily Office Lectionary for Holy Week may be found.

As you will see in these notes and those for the rest of the week, there is a large amount of Scripture to be read; and if those who make an effort to read and study all the passages will not find it hard to fill up the time in Holy Week.

As far as possible keep this as a quiet week. If you can, attend a celebration of the Eucharist on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. There are daily celebrations at St James’ Cathedral at 7:30 am and 12.30 noon; many other churches have daily celebrations in Holy Week. (It would be a great help if the diocese were to publish a schedule of Holy Week Services throughout the city!) It may be too late now, but plan ahead, so that Holy Weekl does not come as a surprise The relevant dates in 2012 will be : Ash Wednesday: February 21st ; Palm Sunday: April 1st ; Good Friday: April 6th ; Easter Day: April 8th


This Sunday has had many names, but throughout history its most common name is the one which is most familiar to us, Palm Sunday. It is called Dominica in ramis palmarum [Sunday of the Palm branches] in the Sacramentary of St. Gregory, and Dominica in ramis olivarum [Sunday of Olive branches] in that of St. Ambrose. In the former there is a plain reference to the ceremony of branch-bearing as one then in use: "May Almighty God grant unto you, that as ye present yourselves before Him with branches of palms and of other trees, so after your departure from this life ye may attain to appear before Him with the fruit of good works and the palm of victory." The Ambrosian rite does not so clearly refer to a liturgical use of branches , but Chrysostom mentions the shaking of the palm-branches as one of the customs of the day in one of his sermons for the Great Week. In the fourth century it was known Indulgence Sunday, as we know from the Lectionary of St. Jerome, and by many other later writers. This name has several explanations: some say it comes from a custom of the Christian Emperors of setting prisoners free and closing the law courts during Holy Week, other that it is connected with the reconciliation of penitents. Another name is Capitiluvium, which means head-washing, from a rite of washing the heads of the candidates for Baptism at Easter. In Jerusalem, according to Egeria’s letter, the commemoration of Christ's triumphal entry into the city took place in the the same afternoon. Great crowds, including even children too young to walk, assembled on the Mount of Olives and after suitable hymns, and antiphons, and readings, they returned in procession to Jerusalem, escorting the bishop, and bearing palms and branches of olives before him. In the new Lectionary, this Sunday is known as the Sunday of the Passion, a name formerly given to the Fifth Sunday in Lent. This change was made to reflect the fact that one of the three Synoptic accounts of the Passion of our Lord is read on this Sunday. The word ‘Passion’ has several meanings, all of which are derived from its root sense of ‘suffer’. The Passion of the Lord Jesus describes the account of his sufferings and death.

The Readings

The sheer amount of Scripture that is read and sung this Sunday and throughout Holy Week challenges both the preacher and the people to careful reading, study, and reflection before and after attending the liturgies. In Church, it is best to listen and sing, not so much thinking about the words as thinking them, concentrating on them, and receiving them into the depths of our being. With this end in mind, here are some comments (I fear they are too scanty to be of any real use) on the readings for Palm Sunday. I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of using all the resources one can in studying the Bible. “Commentaries: Revised Common Lectionary” is an excellent resource put online by the Diocese of Montreal. See Another handy resource is a study Bible such as the New Oxford Annotated Bible.


Since this liturgy commemorates the entry of Jesus into Jersualem, in its fullest form it is not merely a blessing and distribution of Palms, but a procession from some place apart which enters into the church. It begins with the Anthem Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord and the respose Hosanna in the Highest, which was the acclamation of the crowd that accompanied Jesus as he rode into the City. Then the Priest greets the people with a brief Introduction to both the day itself and the Great Week which it begins, to the journey “from the glory of the palms to the glory of the resurrection by the dark way of suffering and death”. A collect follows asking God that we may enter into the celebration. This is followed by

The Gospel of the Palms

The Lord’s entry into Jerusalem is recorded in all four Gospels with minor differences in detail (only John’s gospel specifies that the branches were of palm trees). This year (Year A) we read the account from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (21.1-11). We are tempted to think of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as joyous beginning to events that went tragically wrong. But as the introduction to the rite in the Roman Catholic liturgy puts it, “Christ entered in triumph into his own city, to complete his work as Messiah: to suffer, to die, and to rise again”. In this work the notes of suffering, death, and resurrection are one, and cannot be separated. As we enter with joy into this act we see that it was in triumph that he set his face set like a flint and went to his self-offering, and death. Outside of this and without it, the glory of the palms would only be a parade. It may seem odd that Jesus is described as sitting on the donkey and the colt (verse 7). The Evangelist has apparently misunderstood Zechariah 9.9, in which one animal is described as “a donkey and a colt the foal of a donkey.” This form of speech, called parallelism, is very common in the Hebrew scriptures. The passage appointed ends with the inhabitants of Jerusalem asking who it is that rides by, and the crowd with Jesus replying, This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth. Then it goes on to tell of his cleansing of the temple and his healing blind and lame who were there. It tells us, too, that children in the temple took up the cry of Hosanna (21.15), at which the priests took offence. It is because of this reference that the hymn All glory, laud, and honour says “to whom the lips of children made sweet Hosannas ring”. After the Gospel is The Blessing of the Palms and The Procession. At a suitable place a Station is made: the Procession stops and the priest sings or says the Collect on page 299.


When all have arrived at their places, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist begins with the Collect of the Day and proceeds as usual, except for the reading of the Passion Gospel at which the usual acclamations are omitted. The Creed and Confession and Absolution may be omitted at the liturgy. The First Reading: Isaiah [50.4-9a]: Isaiah prophesied In Judah and Jerusalem between 742 and 687 BC, at the time when the northern Kingdom, Israel, had fallen to Assyria and Judah continued in uneasy “freedom”. Many scholars conclude from differences between chapters 1-39 and 40-66 that the latter part should be attributed to one or more other authors (“Second” and possibly “Third Isaiah”), who wrote at the time of the Return from Exile (ca. 538 BC). A significant feature of Second Isaiah are four passages referred to as the Songs of the Servant of the Lord. This reading is the Third Song of the Servant. It is not clear whether the prophet intended the figure of the Servant to be Israel as a collective person; a king of the past; or a coming individual Servant. (Note Acts 8.34, where the Ethiopian eunuch asks of one passage whether the prophet “says this about himself or about someone else”). In any case the Christian community very early applied these hymns to Jesus – indeed he seems to have seen them as applying to his vocation as the servant (slave) who frees all people. In Holy Week they are used as a commentary on the passion narrative. The first of the four songs [42.1-7] describes God's selection of the Servant who will bring justice to earth. The second song [49.1-6], written from the Servant's point of view, is an account of having been called by God to lead the nations; The third song is darker than the others, with a first-person description of beating and abuse of the Servant. The fourth song [52.13-53.12] declares that the Servant intercedes for others, taking the punishments and afflictions of others. In the end, he is rewarded with an exalted position. It is the first reading for Good Friday. In the third Servant Song, although those to whom God has sent his Servant have rejected him and abused him, the Servant is confident that God is with him. He can set his face like flint [v. 7], and know that he will not be put to shame. We see the like confidence in Jesus as he goes before the Council and before Pilate, as he is mocked and scourged. Setting one’s face is an image common in the writings of the prophets (see Isaiah 48:4, “... I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass”; Ezekiel 3:8-9: “I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. Like the hardest stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead”; also Luke 9:51 “When the days drew near for him [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem”); it is all the more effective here in describing a face covered with spittle. [NJBC] The song ends with a statement of unshakeable confidence in te Lord as vindicator against any accusation. Psalm [31.9-16] One of the categories of Psalms scholars identify as “lament”, by which is meant not a song of mourning but “a song in which an individual seeks deliverance from illness or false accusation, or the nation asks for help in time of distress” [New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 656] Today we use the psalmist’s cry for deliverance from his personal enemies and the his final expression of confidence in God as a reflection on the first reading, which is in itself a companion to and reflection on the Passion narrative. Compare verse 13, “For I have heard the whispering of the crowd; fear is all around; they put their heads together against me; they plot to take my life,” with Jeremiah 20:10. The prophet has prophesied the people’s doom as the Lord commanded, and says: “I hear many whispering: ‘Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. ‘Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him’”. The enmity of personal friends is an important theme in Holy Week (see the opening of the Passion Gospel). A Reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians [2.5-11]: In this passage St Paul quotes an early Christian hymn (to which he has added v. 8b), which beautifully describes our Lord’s self-giving, even to the utterly humiliating death on the Cross. Other fragments of early Christian hymns on the subject of Christ’s work may be found at Philippians1:15-20; Ephesians 2:14-16; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18-19, 22; and Hebrews 1:3. In Philippians 2.1-4, Paul had urged the Philippians, to at one, “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord ...”. Now he explains that this one mind is not his own clever idea: it is the mind of Christ, which we begin to share and display when we replacing self-interest with concern for others. We tend to interpret the words “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” as referring to the name “Jesus”. While showing reverence at the holy Name is good, that is not what St Paul means here. The “name that is above every name” which God has given Jesus in his exaltation is “Lord”, in Greek Kyrios, which is used in the Old Testament to translate the (unpronounceable) name of God. He means that God has given the Risen Christ the authority which, in the Old Testament, he reserved for himself. (See Isaiah 45:22-25.)

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In Year A we read the account of the Passion according to St Matthew. Many Notes can be found at the RCL Site. This year we are adding an Outline of the Passion to our notes:

I. Jesus is betrayed by Judas: 26.14-16. Parallels: Mk 14.10s; Lk 22.3-6; Jn 18.2-5

II. Two disciples are sent to prepare for the Passover: 26.17-19. Parallels: Mk 14.12-16; Lk. 22.7-13

III. The Last Supper: Jesus indicates his Bretrayer 26.20-29. Parallels: Mk 14.17-25; Lk 22.14-23; 20-25: Jn 13.21-20

IV. The Institution of the Lord's Supper: 26.26-29. Parallels: Mk 14.22-25; Lk 22.15-20; also 1 Cor 10.16; 11.23 26

V. Iesus goes out to the Mount of Olives with his disciples; he predicts Peter’s denial: 26.30-35. Parallels: Mk 14:26-31 Lk 22:39; 22:31-34 Jn 18:1; 13:36-38; 16:32

VI. Jesus prays in Gethemane: 26:36-46. Parallels: Mk 14:32-42; Lk 22:40-46; Jn 18:1; 12:27; 14:31; 18:11

VII. Jesus is arrested: 26: 47-56. Parallels: Mk 14.43-50; Lk 22.47-53; Jn 18.3-12

VIII: He is questioned by the High Priest and Council: 26: 57-68. Parallels: Mk 14,53-65; Lk 22.54f, 66-71; Jk 18.12-24

IX. Peter denies Jesus: 26:69-75. Parallels: Mk 14.66-72; Lk 22.56-62; Jn 18.15-18; 25-27

X. Iesus is brought before Pilato: 27.1-2. Parallels: Mc 15.1; L.23.1; J.18.28

XI. Judas repents and kills himself 27.3-10 [see Acts 1.16 20].

XII. At the tribunal of Pilate: 27.11-31. Parallels: Mc 15.2-15; L 23.2-5, 13-25; Jo 18.29-19.1

15-18: The people ask for Barabas. 19: Pilate’s Wife . 20-23: The people still demand Barabbas. and that Jesus be crucified. 24-26: Pilate washes his hands and delivers Jesus, flogged, to be crucified. 27-31: The Soldiers mock Jesus and lead him away to be crucified. ParallelL Jn 19.1-3.

XIII. The Crucifixion of Jesus: 27.32-44. Parallels: Mk 15:21-32; Lk 23:26-43; Jn 19:17-24

XIV. The Death of Jesus: 27. 45-50. Parallels to 45-61: Mk 15:33-47; Lk 23:44-56;n Jn 19:25-42

XV. The Reaction: 27: 51-56

51-53: Earthquake; the Temple veil rent; bodies of the saints rise. 54: The Centurion. 55-56: The women at the Cross

XVI. The Burial of Jesus: 27.57-61

XVII. The Tomb is sealed and placed under guard: 27.62-66.

It is an old custom that the acclamations before and after the Gospel are omitted in the readings of the Passion.

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