The ‘Great Week’ is here! This week we celebrate the Paschal Mystery, the summit of Christ’s love for us. As we enter into this week I encourage you to take advantage of the graces of the liturgies that have been prepared for us through the centuries. One of the renewals of Vatican II was to restore the Catechumenate (how a person becomes Catholic) and the liturgies of Holy Week. If you have not partaken you are missing the highpoint of the Church year. Please try to attend as much as possible. Come and welcome those who have been called to be baptized and those Christians who will enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
As a sample of the ancient liturgies that were used as a basis for reforming our own liturgy, I include some excerpts from the Diary of Egeria, a female pilgrim to the Holy Lands around 381-384 AD. She describes what she witnessed in the churches of Jerusalem:
‘Palm Sunday…at the seventh hour (~1pm) all the people go up to the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, and the bishop with them, to the church, where hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said… And when the ninth hour approaches they go up with hymns to the Imbomon, that is, to the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven…. And all the children in the neighbourhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old….from the top of the mount to the city, and thence through the whole city to the Anastasis (chapel/cave of the Resurrection), going very slowly lest the people should be wearied; and thus they arrive at the Anastasis at a late hour. And on arriving, although it is late, lucernare (evening prayer) takes place, with prayer at the Cross; after which the people are dismissed.
Holy Thursday…at the eighth hour (~2pm) all the people gather together at the martyrium (‘It is called the martyrium, the greater church, because it is in Golgotha behind the Cross, where the Lord suffered.’) according to custom….Then, when the people are gathered together, all that should be done is done, and, the oblation (the Mass) is made on that day at the martyrium, the dismissal taking place about the tenth hour. But before the dismissal is made there, the archdeacon raises his voice and says: "Let us all assemble at the first hour of the night in the church which is in Eleona, (wherein is the cave where the Lord was with His Apostles on this very day) for great toil awaits us to-day, in this very night." (Roman hours fluctuated according to season, counting twelve ‘hours’ from sunrise to sunset. If Holy Week was near the equinox, March 21st, the first hour of the night would begin around 6pm) Then, after the dismissal at the martyrium, they arrive behind the Cross, where only one hymn is said and prayer is made, and the bishop offers the oblation there, and all communicate. …Nor is the oblation ever offered behind the Cross on any day throughout the year, except on this one day.
Good Friday…And at the first cockcrow they come down from the Imbomon with hymns, and arrive at the place where the Lord prayed, as it is written in the Gospel: and He was withdrawn (from them) about a stone's cast, and prayed,….and the Gospel is read where he said to his disciples…Watch, that ye enter not into temptation; the whole passage is read through and prayer is made. And then all, even to the smallest child, go down with the Bishop, on foot, with hymns to Gethsemane; where, on account of the great number of people in the crowd, who are wearied owing to the vigils and weak through the daily fasts, and because they have so great a hill to descend, they come very slowly with hymns to Gethsemane. …then the passage of the Gospel is read where the Lord was taken. And when this passage has been read there is so great a moaning and groaning of all the people, together with weeping, that their lamentation may be heard perhaps as far as the city.
From that hour they go with hymns to the city on foot, reaching the gate about the time when one man begins to be able to recognize another, and thence right on through the midst of the city; all, to a man, both great and small, rich and poor, all are ready there, for on that special day not a soul withdraws from the vigils until morning.
After this, when the dismissal at the Cross has been made, that is, before the sun rises, they all go at once with fervour to Sion, to pray at the column at which the Lord was scourged….The casket is opened and (the wood) is taken out, and both the wood of the Cross and the title are placed upon the table. Now, when it has been put upon the table, the bishop, as he sits, holds the extremities of the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it. It is guarded thus because the custom is that the people, both faithful and catechumens, come one by one and, bowing down at the table, kiss the sacred wood and pass through. And because, I know not when, some one is said to have bitten off and stolen a portion of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded by the deacons who stand around, lest any one approaching should venture to do so again.
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