What is Holy Week? And How Can I Make the Most of It?

By Divine Word Missionaries on April 7, 2020

There are many ways in which our lives may feel like a desert—especially as many of us are currently isolating in our homes and most public activities are canceled. Our Lenten journey has been unique and challenging in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. As we prepare for Holy Week, we have a rare opportunity to experience this spiritually strengthening time in ways we otherwise may not have. 

Holy Week is the sacred time of the year that leads up to the holiest day in the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday. During Holy Week we commemorate the final days of Jesus’ life on earth. This week is filled with penance and preparation. Our hearts are waiting with great anticipation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, but we must first endure the sorrow of his crucifixion. Holy Week is a time to clear our schedules of unnecessary activities and our minds of unnecessary worries. Our hearts and minds should be fixed on Jesus and journeying with him.

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Encountering Christ in a Time of Uncertainty

In the current climate, many do not have the distraction of extra activities, which makes it even more important to clear our hearts, minds, and homes of unnecessary clutter. Holy Week can be a time to ramp up our Lenten sacrifice and do something extra to encounter Christ more closely as we remember the final days of his life. Even with Masses and liturgies closed to the public across the country, there are still many ways to experience the power of Holy Week. 

Fortunately, technology allows us to engage in Mass and other liturgies virtually and grants us the solace of knowing that Eucharist is still being celebrated even though we cannot directly participate in it. During this uncertain time, there are resources available to help you stay spiritually connected to the Church and grow in holiness. As a Church, we can continue to foster closer relationships with God and one another, even when we are far apart. 

At a time when many of us are physically separated from loved ones, it is more important than ever that we make sure Holy Week doesn’t pass us by. This is our chance to lean on God, who never abandons us. He goes with us even now in this time of trial and testing. In this moment, it is important for us to anchor our hearts in Jesus Christ and to rest in him. 

Now is the time to intensify our prayers and sacrifices out of love of God and love of our neighbor. During each of the days of Holy Week, let us find ways to draw closer to one another in our love for Him, immerse ourselves in the scriptures and rediscover the things that truly matter in our lives. 

Palm Sunday

The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest” (Mt 21:8-9).

The celebration of Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and ushers in Holy Week. However, amidst the celebration we are reminded of Jesus’ upcoming suffering. With one of the longest Gospels of the liturgical year, taking us through the entire Passion of our Lord, Palm Sunday sets the stage for the coming days in which we commemorate Jesus’s journey to the cross. We are reminded today, in particular, of the crowds that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with great celebration. These are the same crowds who we will see in just a few days calling for his crucifixion.

The priest will wear red garments as he celebrates Mass on Palm Sunday as a sign of Jesus’ coming sacrifice. Consider participating in the liturgy by also dressing in red (even if you’re only watching from home). By wearing red, you will be reminded throughout the day of the seriousness of the week ahead.   

Monday of Holy Week

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 

Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” … So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (Jn 12:3-5, 7-8).

The beginning of Holy Week is a wonderful time to declutter our hearts and minds and check in with ourselves on our Lenten observances. Maybe we have become lazy with the sacrifices we said we’d make. Holy Week is the perfect opportunity to recommit to Lenten penance and finish out the season focused on spiritual growth. 

Many churches are still offering confessions. Make time to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and prepare your heart, mind and soul for the Resurrection of Christ. There are also personal ways to clear your heart this week. Perhaps give up watching TV and instead spend an extra hour in prayer each day or reflecting on the daily readings.

Tuesday of Holy Week

“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you” (Jn 13:31-33).

House cleaning is a Holy Week tradition that takes place in many Catholic communities. A clean house is seen as an outward sign of the inner newness of the soul of the family. Cleaning should be complete by Wednesday so that the family may fully enter into the Easter Triduum without worrying about chores and checklists. Consider spending some time this week going through your closets, drawers and cupboards, and tidy your living spaces to create a welcome environment for the Risen Lord. 

Spy Wednesday

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”

They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over (Mt 26: 14-16).

Traditionally this is the day Judas betrayed Jesus and marks the turn of the Lenten season. From this moment, Judas is looking for the opportunity to hand Jesus over to the high priest. Judas’ heart is hardened by greed, and we see how his sin leads to his betrayal of our Lord. We are reminded today that it is because of all our sins that Jesus suffered on the cross. 

Finish housework and make sure you have everything you need for the next few days. Today is the day we finish preparing our homes and hearts for the Easter Triduum. The next three days should be treated as semi-holidays so that we may fully enter into the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. This may be a good day to finalize your meal plans, grocery shop and pick out your Easter Sunday outfit (yes, you should still dress up even to watch Mass at home).

Holy Thursday

So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’  and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:12-15). 

On Holy Thursday we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist, a joyous cause for celebration. As Jesus prepares for his final time on earth, He leaves behind the ultimate gift, the ability for all of us to receive him while on earth. 

In the absence of public Masses this year,  it is especially poignant to celebrate the institution of the Eucharist while separated from it. Though we are unable to receive the Eucharist, we can watch Mass in our homes, make an Act of Spiritual Communion and reflect on the day’s readings. You may even opt to have a special meal and take turns washing the feet of those you live with. 

Good Friday

So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And he said to them, “Behold, the man!” When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!”

Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find no guilt in him.”

So they took Jesus, and, carrying the cross himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle (Jn 19:5-6, 17-18).

Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion and death of our Lord, is a solemn day of fasting and reflection. There is no consecration of the Eucharist on this day, but parishes will typically hold stations of the cross and a service to venerate the cross, which you can participate in virtually. 

Spend some time in quiet reflection today. Try observing silence in the home (not speaking, listening to music, watching TV, etc.) from noon until 3 p.m., traditionally the hours our Lord hung on the cross. If you can, schedule some time for prayer during the 3 o’clock hour, the hour Jesus died on the cross. Venerate the cross at home by taking a crucifix and kissing the feet of our dying Lord. Consider praying the Stations of the Cross or meditating on Our Lord’s Passion

Holy Saturday

On Holy Saturday the Lord descends into hell, and we keep watch for the expectant rising of our Savior. It is a vigil, a day of waiting, prayer and anticipation. There are no Masses on Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil celebration in the evening. There is a great silence and stillness on earth today because the King is asleep.

Some churches are staying open during this time for prayer. Check with your local parish, and, if possible, stop by and spend some time simply sitting and waiting. Be still and present with Jesus, even in the awkward and uncomfortable silence. If it isn’t possible for you to visit a church, spend some time in quiet prayer, meditating on Jesus in the tomb, and being present in the hopeful anticipation of Easter. 

Growing in Faith this Holy Week

This Holy Week is unlike any other in recent history. It is an opportunity to grow spiritually without the distractions that typically fill our spring calendars. The physical separation from our loved ones can be a difficult burden, but let us remember this week the great burden and sacrifice Jesus endured for us. His death and resurrection have given us new life. Let us spend time during this Holy Week deepening our prayer and growing in closeness with our Savior.

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praying for your special intentions this Holy Week. 

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