Holy Week at a Glance

We are about to go through Holy Week, where we journey with Christ towards the cross and subsequently his resurrection. Holy Week is all about Christ’s passion, but for many, Holy Week remains something of a mystery. Why is Maundy Thursday called Maundy Thursday? What in the world is Spy Wednesday? To answer some questions, here is a brief glance at Holy Week.

Palm Sunday: Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. This day commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which is mentioned in all four gospels. Palm branches are used in worship to celebrate, emulating the crowds that waved palm branches, crying out “Hosanna” as Jesus came into the city. Traditionally, the palms used are then saved and burned to create the ashes for the following year’s Ash Wednesday liturgy.

Holy Monday (Fig Monday): Holy Monday is also known by some as Fig Monday, due to the Scripture reading that has been traditionally tied to this day. In Mark 11, Jesus curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit. For most American Protestants, Monday in Holy Week is simply known as Holy Monday.

Holy Tuesday: There are no other names for Holy Tuesday, and in Protestant churches it is rare to have a liturgy on this day.

Holy Wednesday (Spy Wednesday): Holy Wednesday is often called Spy Wednesday to mark the day that Judas first conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus. Some Protestant churches hold a Tenebrae service, an ancient service of darkness and light that points to Christ’s death on the cross. Tenebrae is also commonly held on Good Friday.

Maundy Thursday: There are two possibilities of how Maundy Thursday derived its name. The first possibility is that it came from the Latin word mandatum, which is the first word in Jesus’ new commandment to his disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; as I have loved you.” Jesus gave his disciples this commandment as he washed his disciples’ feet before the Last Supper, which is especially commemorated on this day. The other possibility is that the name arose from maundsor baskets, which the King of England would use to distribute alms to the poor on that day. While the exact etymology is uncertain, Maundy Thursday is the day where the Church may participate in foot washing, but always celebrates Holy Communion, recalling the Last Supper.

Good Friday: This is the day that we mark Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Traditionally, Good Friday is a day of fasting, and the hours from noon until 3 pm are often used as a particular time of prayer, recognizing those as the hours that Jesus hung on the cross. Many churches will strip their altar and remove liturgical vestments to acknowledge the stark reality of the crucifixion.

Holy Saturday: Holy Saturday is the day that Jesus rested in his tomb. Historically, an Easter Vigil service would be held after sundown on Saturday evening. The first half of this liturgy would occur in near-darkness, acknowledging the darkness of death and the tomb. Scripture would be read from across the Bible, recounting God’s story of salvation. This would also be the night in which many would be baptized, the perfect night to convey the move from death to life in Christ. Following baptism, more candles would be lit, bringing light to the room, to symbolize the resurrection. Songs of celebration would be sung, and the first Holy Communion of Easter would be celebrated, welcoming the newly baptized. Holy Saturday is the final day of Holy Week. Easter Sunday marks a new liturgical season for the church.