Easter is a special time of the year for families everywhere. As families prepare for the arrival of the Easter Bunny, Christians around the world are beginning Holy Week. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, the day when Christians commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
Pope Francis, the newly-elected leader of the Catholic Church, presided over Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Palm Sunday before an estimated 250,000 faithful Christians. In churches large and small around the world, Holy Week services began on Palm Sunday and will continue through the week leading up to Easter.
Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, is celebrated on the Thursday preceding Easter. On this day, Christians recreate Jesus’ Last Supper and washing of the feet of his disciples. Pope Francis will hold Holy Thursday Mass in the chapel of a youth detention center in Rome on Holy Thursday. Following the homily, the pope will wash the feet of 12 of the inmates.
On Good Friday, there is a solemn atmosphere in churches as the crucifixion and death of Christ are commemorated. Many Christians fast, eating small meals or a single meal. Catholics also refrain from eating meat on Good Friday. Church services on Good Friday are subdued and many Good Friday services end in silence.
In Catholic churches, the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday is a time of great joy. The vigil begins outdoors after dark with the lighting of the paschal candle. From the paschal candle, all of the candles of the faithful are lit, turning the darkness into light. Following the procession into the church, the Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet, is sung by the priest or deacon. This formal prayer proclaims the goodness and mercy of God.
Readings from the Bible starting from the beginning of the Earth in Genesis are read in sequence. Each of the seven readings from the Old Testament tell of the goodness of God. The Old Testament readings are followed with Epistle and Gospel readings from the New Testament. The Gospel reading recounts the women of Galilee coming to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body with spices and finding the tomb empty. The resurrection of Christ is celebrated and new Catholics are welcomed into the Church. The new members are baptized and also receive the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation.
The Easter Vigil is the most beautiful Mass as well as the longest, often taking two hours or more. In many churches, a reception is held after the vigil to celebrate the new members. Holy Saturday is the last day of the liturgical season of Lent. Holy Saturday is also the last day of the Easter Triduum, which is comprised of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. You can learn more about Holy Week and the Easter Triduum at Catholic.org.
Easter Sunday is celebrated in many churches with sunrise services at or shortly after daybreak. Some churches hold an Easter play, recreating the story of Easter. In many families, it’s traditional to wear new dresses or suits. Some girls and women also wear Easter bonnets or hats. In some cities, there are Easter parades, where people gather to stroll in a park or on a street in their Easter attire.
One of the most famous Easter parades is held on Fifth Avenue in New York City, as noted on NY.com. The Easter parade in New York was immortalized in the Irving Berlin song, “Easter Parade,” the title song of the movie by the same name, starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire and released in 1948. Although Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter, many also enjoy Easter baskets, Easter egg hunts, Easter parades and other secular celebrations of Easter.