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Preparing for Holy Week

Palm Sunday at St. Paul’s, Chatham. Photo © The Rev. Kristen Aikman

Traditions vary widely about what services are held and look like throughout Holy Week, and clerics, worship committees, altar guilds, choirs, those preparing orders of service, and many more are diligently getting ready! What are some of your favourite traditions of the week? How does it look and feel in the context of your community?

 

 

 

 

Procession at the Church of the Nativity. Photo (c) William Pleydon

The community I serve will begin its annual Palm Project this week, making more than 4,000 palm crosses and preparing about the same number of palm strips to go out to church communities near and far from many different denominations. The work of so many people here means that the day is celebratory and festive. Palms adorn the pews, the pillars, and stand in place of flowers. The procession that starts the service is exciting and joyful. The past few years, with permission, we’ve moved the passion gospel to the end of the service. It’s helped us to continue to hold the tension between the joy and parody of Jesus entering Jerusalem with the depths of what the week holds and makes present. In more and more places, concerns about the ethics of sustainable palm acquisition, or the fact that palms are less ubiquitous in our climate, mean that some communities use branches local to where they are. How do you make sense of this rich day?

Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Spy Wednesday

There’s something deeply moving about quiet and small eucharists on these days. The richness of the stories from John’s gospel as we move closer to Jesus being seized and condemned inspire reflection and prayer. The story of the woman washing and anointing Jesus’s feet on Tuesday mean that in some dioceses, clerics will gather for the annual Chrism Mass, when the bishop will bless the oil for baptism and anointing for healing for the year ahead. The scent of her loving action must have filled the room—how does it linger where you are? Will there be services with prayers for healing?

Maundy Thursday

It would be interesting to know just how many communities will gather for a potluck feast this night! In some places, the eucharist will be shared amid that meal. In the community I serve, we will move upstairs from the halls to the nave after the meal. We divide up the readings a little differently than normal, after we hear the story of the exodus from Egypt. We hear the first section of the gospel for the day, reflect briefly on it, and offer foot-washing for all. We hear the second section, reflect, and share the peace. Then we hear the epistle, reflect, and share in the eucharist. The remaining elements are taken solemnly to the chapel, and the ornaments of the church are stripped. The altar is washed with a branch of yew. We leave in silence, and some stay behind to wait and pray before the reserved sacrament on the altar in the chapel.

Reredos in the Chapel of the Holy Family, Church of the Nativity. Photo (c) William Pleydon

I suspect there are even more local variations for Good Friday than for any other day in Holy Week!

If your custom is to meditate on the Seven Last Words from the Cross, how do you leave space between the different readings and reflections to help folk to ponder?

What do the clerics and servers wear? Many communities are used to only plain black cassocks, or plain white albs. In some places, red stoles are worn, or put on for the administration of the reserved sacrament. Some places use black vestments. How will vesture help the community enter into the mystery of Christ’s death?

If you venerate the cross, what will it look like? Will it be in place before the service, or be brought in? How will you leave space for people to come forward and interact if they are moved to do so?

Holy Saturday

The morning office doesn’t seem to be in wide-spread use, but if Altar Guild members are coming into prepare for the Vigil or the next morning, it can be deeply moving to spend a few minutes together in prayer with the propers on page 320 of the BAS. It’s a powerful way to frame the preparations as waiting as we long to celebrate the resurrection.

Matthew Griffin

About Matthew Griffin

I'm a priest serving in the Diocese of Niagara, with both a pastoral and an academic interest in the relationship between liturgy and theology. I enjoy reading, cooking, and spending time with my beloved and our young son.
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6 Responses to Preparing for Holy Week

  1. No plain black cassocks, please. The liturgies are celebrations, even Goof Friday (check your BAS). Cassocks are not vestments for worship. Also, don’t overdo the palms so that the Passion is overwhelmed on The Sunday of the Passion. Hint: it’s not called Palm Sunday. It’s the Sunday of the Passion with the Liturgy of Palms. Once the Palm part is done, no more palms or hymns about them. And do not omit or minimize the Passion. Read it carefully and solemnly.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your local option Adam Armstrong. In my context, I’ve found the abundant use of palms helpful. In a world filled with screens and noise, small careful symbols can be easily lost. But generous extravagant use of symbols reminds us that palm/passion Sunday is different. That it marks the beginning of the most important week in the Christian calendar. It’s not a feria Sunday, not ordinary time. It is other, and visual and other sensory cues such as walking on the palms seem to reinforce that rather than detract from it. My first Sunday back to church (after a baptist upbringing) was Palm Sunday, and I was so intrigued by what I’d seen, heard and felt, I went to service every day in Holy Week, and never looked back.

    • Fair enough. But there is an unfortunate trend for clergy and congregations to play down the Passion. I have heard of some who make the “Palm Gospel” the only one of the day. They say that the Passion is a “downer”. The reality is that many fewer people will be in church on Good Friday. The contrast between palms and Passion can be quite moving. Also, it’s important not to skip the Vigil. The excuse for not having it is poorer attendance than Easter morning or that it’s inconvenient or too long. How can we think that the central Liturgy of the Church Year should be something to skip or rush through because we have something more important to do? We should have it because it is deeply meaningful for those who do attend and it will grow. Numbers aren’t everything. How many were at the empty tomb?. The Vigil is the most spiritual and meaningful Liturgy of the year, as welll as the most ancient. Trumpets and crowds are nice, but the candle light and Scripture of the Vigil, as well as the Renewal of Baptismal vows, bring a deeper amd fuller sense of sharing in the experience of dying and rising with Christ.

  3. I love the music of the Palms. We had an arrangement of “All Glory Laud and Honour” we did with two trumpets and two trombones. The arrangement was made by a late organist who passed away in her mid-fifties of cancer. We transfer into the Passion during our service. I find it a lot of spiritual work moving into the “passion” part of the service. Many years ago in our church the choir and organist would do a major work on Good Friday. Requiems by various composers were done. I am not sure what is most meaningful for me. Last year my wife and I went to the Easter Vigil at Huron College Chapel for the the first time. I had never experienced anything like it.

  4. I think it was the Anglican orders of service during Holy Week that brought me back into the church as a whole. Growing up in an evangelical community where the ‘pageantry’ of such services was seen negatively, I didn’t know what I was missing until I experienced it. (So thanks, Matthew, for ‘dragging’ me out to see some of it 16 years ago!)

    If I had one wish it would be for St. Paul’s in London to always sing the Allegri setting of the ‘Miserere’ on Maundy Thursday. That Psalm was my favourite even before the obsession with it crystallized in John’s Milton class (how I miss discussing Charles’ Eikon Basilike sometimes…). A near second would be the Sanders Reproaches on Good Friday. This year, St. Paul’s is doing both, so I am really excited. It’s an interesting thing that the music is so integral to my experience of these holy days.

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