Holy Week and the Easter Triduum

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, the Church recalls the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem to accomplish his Paschal Mystery. The memorial of this entrance of the Lord takes place at all Masses on Palm Sunday. At the principal Mass (listed as the ‘suma’ in Polish, and celebrated at 13:00 on Sundays in our parish), there is a solemn entrance. At other Masses, the entrance is simple (the priest comes in from the sacristy, not the main doors). On Palm Sunday, the priest wears red vestments.

The Easter Triduum (or ‘three days’)

Holy Thursday

On Holy Thursday, the priests in every diocese gather with their bishop in the Cathedral to consecrate holy oils, which are used throughout the year for the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick. This ancient practice originated in the fifth century, and is known as the Chrism Mass (“chrism” is a mixture of oil and balsam used for the holy oils). The gathering of the diocese’s priests with their bishops focuses on the role of the bishop as direct successor to the Apostles.

Apart from the Chrism Mass, there is only one other Mass celebrated on Holy Thursday. This is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Because it commemorates the institution of the Eucharist, it is held after sundown (in our diocese, this means 18:00). It is assumed that the Mass of the Lord’s Supper will be carried out with the participation of all the priests of the parish and everyone who is a member of the parish. The tabernacle is left completely empty, and a sufficient amount of bread is consecrated for the next day’s liturgy.


A key part of the Holy Thursday liturgy is the Washing of the Feet. This is done by the bishop when the Mass takes place in the Cathedral, and by a priest selected for the task in parish churches. After the homily, men from the parish – who represent the 12 Apostles – sit in chairs prepared in a place where everyone can see the ritual (in our parish, this means in front of the altar). The priest – who represents Christ – goes to each man and pours water on each man’s feet and dries them. This beautiful re-enactment of Christ’s washing of the feet of his Apostles is often accompanied by sung antiphons taken from the appropriate Scriptures:

Cf. John 13:4, 5, 15: After the Lord had risen from supper, he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of his disciples; he left them this example.

Cf. John 13:12, 13, 15: The Lord Jesus, after eating supper with his disciples, washed their feet and said to them: Do you know what I, your Lord and Master have done for you? I have given you an example, that you should do likewise.

Cf. John 13:6, 7, 8: Lord, are you to wash my feet? Jesus said to him in answer: If I do not wash your feet, you will have no share with me…. What I am doing, you do not know for now, but later you will come to know.

After Communion, the Most Blessed Sacrament is transferred to a place of reposition until the following day. The priest puts incense in the thurible while standing, blesses the incense, and then kneels and incenses the Blessed Sacrament three times. He puts on a white the humeral veil, rises, takes the ciborium and covers it with the ends of the veil. The Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession with candles and incense, to a place of repose. Pange lingua is sung.

  1. Of the glorious Body telling,
    O my tongue, its mysteries sing,
    And the Blood all price excelling,
    Which the world’s eternal King,
    In a noble womb once dwelling,
    Shed for the world’s ransoming.
  2. Given for us, descending,
    Of a Virgin to proceed,
    Man with man in converse blending,
    Scattered he the Gospel seed,
    Till his sojourn drew to ending,
    Which he closed in wondrous deed.
  3. At the last great Supper lying,
    Circled by his brethren’s band,
    Meekly with the law complying,
    First he finished its command,
    Then immortal food supplying,
    Gave himself with his own hand.
  4. Word made Flesh, by word he maketh
    Very bread his Flesh to be;
    Man in wine Christ’s blood partaketh:
    And if senses fail to see,
    Faith alone the true heart waketh
    To behold the mystery.

    [When the procession reaches the place of repose, the Priest places the ciborium in the tabernacle. Then he puts incense in the thurible and, kneeling, censes the Blessed Sacrament while Tantum ergo Sarcamentum (‘Therefore we before him bending…’) is sung.]
  5. Therefore we, before him bending,
    This great Sacrament revere;
    Types and shadows have their ending,
    For the newer rite is here;
    Faith, our outward sense befriending,
    Makes the inward vision clear.
  6. Glory let us give, and blessing
    To the Father and the Son;
    Honor might and praise addressing,
    While eternal ages run;
    Ever too his love confessing,
    Who, from both, with both is one.

After a period of silent prayer, the priests and ministers genuflect and return to the sacristy.

After an appropriate time, the altar is stripped; crosses are removed from the church or remain veiled. The bells of the church may be muffled; they will remain silent until the Gloria during the Easter Vigil.

Good Friday (Friday of the Passion of the Lord)

From the earliest days of Christianity, no Mass has been celebrated on Good Friday. The service that takes place on Good Friday is a continuation of the Holy Thursday liturgy.

Good Friday is a particularly solemn day, commemorating the death of Christ and his absence from our midst. It is a day of strict fasting and abstinence: Catholics between the ages of 18 and 60 are required to fast and abstain from eating any meat; Catholics 14 and older must not eat any meat. Fasting means one regular – suitably light and frugal – meal and two smaller ones with no eating between meals.

The liturgy is comprised of three parts: the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion.

At the beginning of the liturgy, the priests, in red vestments, go to the altar in silence, and prostrate themselves in veneration of the altar; the congregation kneels during this time. The presiding priest begins the liturgy with a prayer. There follows the Liturgy of the Word.

The Gospel reading is the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, similar to the Passion narrative read on Palm Sunday. Then there are Solemn Intercessions, in which we pray for the Holy Church; for the Pope; for all orders and degrees of the faithful; for catechumens; for the unity of Christians; for the Jewish people; for those who do not believe in Christ; for those who do not believe in God; for those in public office; and for those in tribulation.

The second part of the liturgy is the Showing of the Cross. The priest will stand before the people holding the veiled Crucifix. He elevates it, uncovers the top part of it and proclaims, ‘Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.’ The people respond, ‘Come, let us adore.’ The priest then uncovers the right arm of cross and proclaims again, ‘Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.’ The people respond, ‘Come, let us adore.’ The priest then uncovers the Crucifix entirely, and the antiphon and response are repeated. The Crucifix is placed in a suitable place in the church for veneration by the people. Ministers with candles stand on either side while the Priest-Celebrant, followed by the other priests and lay ministers venerate (kiss the wood or the feet of the corpus) of the Cross. Various appropriate antiphons and hymns are sung during this time.

The third part of the liturgy is Holy Communion. The altar is prepared with a cloth and the missal is put in place. The priest brings the Blessed Sacrament from its place of reposition while all stand in silence. He is accompanied by ministers carrying candles. The Lord’s Prayer is said by all, and the liturgy continues.

After Communion, the priest takes the remaining Hosts to a suitable place of repose. The people are dismissed in silence.

Holy Saturday

On Holy Saturday, the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting, meditating on his Passion and Death and on his Descent into Hell, while awaiting his Resurrection. For this reason, the Mass is not celebrated on Holy Saturday. The tabernacle is left bare and empty until after the Solemn Vigil (it takes place at night, and thus for liturgical purposes, it is the Vigil of Easter, not Saturday).

Parish churches are open all day for people to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and pray at this most solemn time. In Poland, Holy Saturday is when people bring decorated baskets of traditional foods to church to be blessed. It is not inappropriate to come to one of these blessing services just to watch, even if you do not bring a basket.

The Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil is the greatest and noblest of all solemnities, and the culmination of the three days of services before Easter, the last part of the extended three-day liturgies that began on Holy Thursday. By the most ancient tradition, this night is a night of keeping vigil for the Lord, following the Gospel admonition: “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them” (Luke 35-37). For this reason, the liturgy begins with the ‘Service of Light’: the faithful, carrying lighted candles in their hands, are like those looking for the Lord when he returns, so that at his coming, he may find them awake and have them sit at his table.

The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil must take place during the night, so it begins after nightfall. It ends before daybreak on Sunday. Even if the Mass finishes before midnight, it is a Paschal Mass of the Sunday of the Resurrection (so it ‘counts’ as Easter Sunday Mass). However, anyone who participates in the Easter Vigil Mass may receive communion again at Mass during the day on Sunday.

THE SERVICE OF LIGHT (the Lucernarium)

It is entirely dark inside the church. A blazing fire is prepared in a suitable place outside the church. If possible, the people gather outside around this fire. The priest and the ministers approach the fire. One of them carries the paschal candle. The priest and the faithful make the sign of the cross. The priest blesses the fire. The paschal candle is brought to him, and the priest cuts a cross into the candle with a stylus. He makes the Greek letter Alpha above the cross, the letter Omega below, and the four numerals of the current year between the arms of the cross. As he makes the marks, he says, ‘Christ yesterday and today; the Beginning and the End; the Alpha; and the Omega. All time belongs to him; and all ages. To him be glory and power; through every age and for ever. Amen.’ Then the priest inserts five grains of incense into the candle in the form of a cross, saying, ‘By his holy…and glorious wounds…may Christ the Lord…guard us…and protect us. Amen.’

Then the priest lights the candle from the new fire, saying, ‘May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.’ Coals are taken from the fire and put into the thurible along with incense. The paschal candle is carried in procession into the church. At the door of the church, the deacon stands, raises the candle, and sings, ‘The light of Christ.’ The people respond, ‘Thanks be to God.’ This is repeated at the middle of the church and then again before the altar, when the deacon stands facing the people and elevates the candle for a third time. During this procession, the people in the congregation light their candles from the paschal candle or one another’s candles, and slowly the church is illuminated by the light of Christ.

The Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) is sung by the priest:


In this vigil, the mother of all Vigils, nine readings are provided, seven from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament. The people set aside their candles, and the priest invites us to ‘listen with quiet hearts to the Word of God. Let us meditate on how God in times past save his people and in these, the last days, has sent us his Son as our Redeemer.’ There are psalms between each reading, and a prayer after each psalm.

1. Genesis 1:1-2:2
Psalm 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12, 13-14, 24, 35 or Psalm 33:4-5, 6-7, 12-13, 20-22

2. Genesis 22:1-18
Psalm 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11

3. Exodus 14:15-15:1
Psalm 15:1-6, 17-18

4. Isaiah 54:5-14
Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13

5. Isaiah 55:1-11
Psalm Isaiah 12:2-6

6. Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4
Psalm 19:8-11

7. Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28
Psalm 42:3, 5; 43:3, 4 or Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6 or Psalm 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19

Epistle: Romans 6:3-11
Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

Gospel: Year A: Matthew 28:1-10; Year B: Mark 16:1-7; Year C: Luke 24:1-12
Following the Gospel there will be a homily.


After the homily, the Baptismal Liturgy begins. The priest goes to the baptismal font, if it can be seen by the faithful. Otherwise a vessel of water is placed in the sanctuary. The Catechumens are called forward and presented by their godparents in front of the assembled Church, or, if they are small children, carried by their parents and godparents. Everyone stands for the Litany of the Saints.

After the Litany of the Saints, the priest blesses the baptismal water. During the prayer of blessing, the priest lowers the paschal candle into the water. After the blessing of the baptismal water, the Baptism and Confirmation of the Catechumens takes place.

When the Rite of Baptism (and Confirmation) has been completed (or if it has not taken place, after the blessing of the water) all stand, and, holding lighted candles in their hands, renew their baptismal promises, unless this was already done with those who were baptized.

After the renewal of the baptismal promises, the priest sprinkles the people while a chant such as ‘Vidi aquam’ is sung (I saw water flowing from the Temple, from its right-hand side, alleluia; and all to whom this water came were saved and shall say: Alleluia, alleluia.)

After the Prayers of the Faithful, the Liturgy of the Eucharist takes place as usual in Mass. There is a solemn blessing, and the people are dismissed. The Mass is ended.