Sunday before Easter, the sixth and last of Lent, and the beginning of Holy Week, commemorating Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem when olive and palm branches were strewn in His path. Before the Mass of the day the Palms are to be solemnly blessed. In connection with this blessing a procession is prescribed. The palms which have just been blessed are carried in the hands of the participants in the procession. It leaves the church proper, and should move entirely about the outer circumference of the church, where this is feasible. Before re-entering the church two chanters enter, and behind closed doors sing or chant the Gloria laus et honor, awaiting the answer from those still outside the door. The Cross-bearer strikes the door with the foot of the Cross, whereupon the door is opened and the procession enters. According to Almar this procession was already in vogue in the 9th century. There is no trace of it in Rome so early. However, in the Middle Ages it was quite common everywhere. In the 16th century the procession was often dramatic in its arrangements; it was almost a pageant in severai places in Germany, and many of the processions went from one church to another at some distance. The way was often strewn with cloths of rare texture in imitation of what was done on the first Palm Sunday. Other bits of pageantry were the figure of the Christ riding on an ass. The palms, when burned, supply the ashes for distribution on Ash Wednesday of the next year.
The Thursday before Easter, commemorating the institution of the Holy Eucharist. On this day only one Mass may be celebrated in each church, at which an additional Host is consecrated and borne in procession to the Altar of Repose to be used at the Mass of the Presanctified on the following day. The ringing of bells ceases after the Gloria in the Mass until Holy Saturday, and after vespers the altars are stripped, and were formerly washed with wine and water. This was followed by the washing of the feet, called the Mandatum from the words of the first antiphon sung during the ceremony, which is not now universally performed, when the principal priest of the church assisted by the deacon and sub-deacon washed the feet of twelve poor men in imitation of Christ, who washed the feet of the twelve Apostles. The holy oils are consecrated on this day by the bishop and it was formerly the day on which penitents were reconciled to the Church. The night office celebrated is called Tenebrae. The name Shear Thursday came from the former custom of shearing the beard on that day.
Friday in Holy Week, anniversary of the death of Christ, on which the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ are commemorated; a day of fasting and penance from the earliest ages of the Church. Black vestments are worn by the priest, and until the Mass the altar is covered July by a single linen cloth and there are no lights. The morning services are in three parts: a Prophecy; Lesson from the Scriptures, the reading of the Passion and prayers for all mankind, the unveiling and adoration of the Cross, accompanied by the chanting of the Improperia; and the Mass of the Presanctified, before which the Host, already consecrated on Holy Thursday, is taken in solemn procession from the Altar of Repose to the main altar. It is not a Mass properly speaking, as there is no consecration, but the Host is incensed, elevated before the people, and consumed by the priest. Holy Communion is given to the faithful only in case of sickness. It is customary to have services from twelve noon until three in commemoration of the Three Hours Agony of Christ, and the office of Tenebrae is sung in the evening.
Other Names for this Day: Black Saturday, Easter Eve, Easter Even, Great Sabbath, Holy and Great Saturday, Low Saturday, Sabado de Gloria, Sabbatum Sanctum, White Saturday
Eve of Easter Sunday, closing of the season of Lentand penance, and the beginning of paschal time. In the early Church no Mass was said, services starting about three o’clock in the afternoon and ending with the Mass of the Resurrection on Easter morning, but the services have been gradually anticipated so that the Mass now celebrated on Saturday morning is by origin the first Mass of Easter Sunday, and Lent is over at noon. The present ceremonies consist of the blessing of the new fire, the lighting of lamps and candles and the paschal candle, the recitation of the twelve prophecies, the blessing of the baptismal font or water, and the recitation of the Litany of the Saints. After this the altar is decked with lights and flowers and the Mass is celebrated in white, as a symbol of joy. It contains no Offertory, and the Communion and Postcommunion are replaced with Vespers. At the Gloria the bells, which have been silent since Maundy Thursday, are rung.
Feast commemorating Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. After the introduction of Christianity among Germanic nations the name Easter, denoting spring, was retained to designate the festival of the Resurrection. With other nations the term commonly used is the Greco-Latin word pascha, derived from the Hebrew pasch (passover). In this way, the Christian feast is linked with the ancient Hebrew festival of the Passover, not arbitrarily, since the Death and Resurrection of Christ coincided with a particular Jewish Pasch, and because in the designs of God there was a connection between the two incidents. Because of the fact which the feast commemorates, the Church has ever regarded Easter as the greatest of her festivals, and from Apostolic times, has assigned to it the central place in her liturgical year. All the movable feasts, from that of the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden (Tuesday after Septuagesima) to the feast of the Sacred Heart (Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi), as also the order of Sundays from Septuagesima to the last Sunday after Pentecost, are made to depend upon the Easter date. Its celebration is preceded by 40 days of prayer and fasting and followed till Trinity Sunday by some 50 days of festivity. The joyous antiphon of the Vidi Aquam takes the place of the Asperges before High Mass, and the exultant Alleluia is constantly repeated in the Mass itself and in the Divine Office. Up to the 12th century, every day within the Easter octave (the eight days immediately following the feast) was a holy day of obligation. Today, however, in most countries even Easter Monday and Tuesday as days of obligation have been abolished.