Holy Week

The Catholic Church has many traditions. Here are some of the customs we observe during Holy Week.

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We call this day "Palm Sunday of the Lordís Passion." We remember Jesusí entry into Jerusalem and his passion on the cross.

The priest and deacon wear red vestments, as we do when we remember martyrs.

The mass may start outdoors with a procession, as the crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem.

We give palm branches to everyone. Catholics bring their branches home and hang them behind a holy picture, to remind them of this day throughout the year.

Among todayís scriptures we read the passion from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. This year itís Luke.

At mass, the minister who reads the gospel usually begins by saying, "The Lord be with you," and then traces a cross on the book, his forehead, his lips, and his heart. But on Palm Sunday we donít.


The evening mass commemorates the Lordís Supper.

If someone cannot come to mass because of illness, we may bring communion to their home.

Before this mass we empty the tabernacle of extra communion breads.

We sing the Glory to God, a hymn we have omitted throughout Lent. We may ring the church bells, but then they remain silent until the Easter Vigil.

We wash feet at this mass.

Normally we end mass with a blessing. Tonight, we process with leftover communion breads, and there is no formal closing. We pause our prayer and resume it tomorrow, as if we never left.

After this mass, the sanctuary is stripped of unnecessary cloths and furnishings.


Catholics fast today, eating only one full meal. We also abstain from meat.

The ministers wear red vestments. At St. Regis Iíll wear a copy of one by the French artist, Henri Matisse.

The ministers may start the service by lying on the floor in silence.

Every year on Good Friday we read the passion according to John.

Among our prayers today is one for our Jewish brothers and sisters.

A cross is unveiled and we venerate it. Some kiss the wood or touch it. Others kneel a moment. When a bishop venerates the cross, he removes his shoes first.

We do not exchange the kiss of peace, lest we confuse our kiss with Judasís.

We share communion from the bread consecrated at yesterdayís mass. Catholics believe this is the Body of Christ.

This service also ends without an ending.


During the day on Saturday, no one receives communion unless they are dying.

We celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the first full moon of spring.

The Easter Vigil is the most important mass of the year. It is also the longest and most beautiful.

We begin outdoors with a large fire. At St. Regis, our scouts light a bonfire.

We hear many passages from scripture. At St. Regis we hear nine.

Before the gospel we sing "Alleluia" for the first time since Lent began.

This is the only night when we baptize adults. Infants may be baptized year round. We may baptize by immersion.

The vigil concludes with the Eucharist. At St. Regis we continue with a party.

Other Christian Churches celebrate Easter with wonderful customs, too. Take part in Holy Week! All Christian Churches will gladly welcome you.


[This article first appeared in the Raytown Post-Dispatch, Easter 2001.]

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