|Photo Credit: Sherlock S. Sison|
Cloaked in a red chasuble, Fr. Vierling stepped out of Morrissey Manor and greeted the assembled students with the opening rites. We then processed into the hall towards the chapel with our blessed palm branches in hand. Holy Week had finally begun.
Christians around the world are entering into an intense period of prayer this week as the season of Lent comes to a close soon. Holy Week is an opportunity to contemplate the mystery of Christ’s Passion and is practiced differently by various cultures and countries. Let’s take a trip around the world to see the diversity of ways individuals celebrate what the Greeks refer to as the “Holy and Great Week,” what the Germans describe as the “Week of Mourning,” and what the Eastern Churches happily proclaim as the “Week of Salvation.”
|Photo Credit: Ivanov id|
Our journey begins in the land of yarn martenitsa and layered banitsa pastry: Bulgaria. Commemorating Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday is a celebration of Christ’s kingship. Palm Sunday, or Tsvetnitsa (“Flower Day” in Bulgarian), is a popular holiday for young girls who participate in the koumichene ritual. The girls gather by a river and place long pieces of bread into battledores, which float away downstream. Radio Bulgaria reports that a common belief is that the winner of the bread race will be the first to get married and that all who take part in the ceremony will avoid being kidnapped by a dragon. Individuals with flower-related names (e.g. Tsvetelina, Ralitsa, Zdravko) consider Tsvetnitsa to be their special feast day. Bulgarians tend to use willow twigs instead of palm branches to celebrate Palm Sunday, which is also known as Vrabnitsa (“Willow Day”).
|Photo Credit: Федоров|
Orthodox Christians observe Holy Monday with an admirable degree of liturgical complexity. On Palm Sunday evening, Vespers is prayed with stichera (hymns) followed by the chanting of a triode composed by St. Andrew of Crete at Small Compline. Matins for Holy Monday through Holy Wednesday takes the form of the Bridegroom Service, a title hearkening to the troparion’s theme of Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church. During the Bridegroom Service, an icon of Christ the Bridegroom is placed on a lectern in the church and individuals reflect on Jesus’ parable of the fig tree and remember the life of Joseph the Patriarch, son of Jacob. The structured prayer style of Holy Monday promotes the contemplation of Christ’s Resurrection and the necessity of repentance.
|Photo Credit: Eric Merced|
Holy Tuesday brings us to the Eternal City, enjoying a tradition which is as appreciative of Roman architecture as it is of the religious fervor which built them. The practice of visiting the seven ancient basilicas of Rome (i.e. St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major, St. Paul-outside-the-walls, St. Sebastian, Santa Croce-in-Jerusalem, and St. Lawrence-outside-the-walls) during Holy Week developed from popular piety. Pope Boniface VIII promoted the pilgrimage in 1300 as a part of the Pontifical Jubilee. Today, many places around the world, from the Philippines (where the tradition is known as visita iglesia) to Pittsburgh, host visits to seven local churches. Having significant theological meaning, the number seven in regards to the visitation may refer to Christ’s last words (i.e. Luke 23:34 ; Luke 23:43 ; John 19:26–27 ;Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34 ; John 19:28 ; John 19:29-30 ; Luke 23:46) or to his bodily wounds (i.e. five nail wounds, scourging marks, and injured left shoulder). Other explanations for the number seven also exist.
|Photo Credit: Tomás Cabacas García|
Meaning “arrow” or “dart,” the mournful saeta pierces the hearts of the faithful during Holy Week, inciting sorrow in our trip to Spain on Holy Wednesday. Saetas are sung a capella but can be accompanied with instruments like the Spanish guitar. Influenced by the historical practice of reciting the psalms and spiced with a flamenco musical style, these woeful songs burst out from balconies across Spain during processions featuring statues of the suffering Jesus or his sorrowful mother Mary, performed with the intense dramatic flavor of raw emotion. The saeta embodies a genuine and heartfelt religious devotion, a musical meditation on the Passion of Christ.
|Photo Credit: Ramon F. Velasquez|
As the saetas of the Iberian peninsula fade away, our senses are overwhelmed by the equally emotional displays of the Filipino senákulo. Colonized by the Spanish for 300 years, the Philippines is a hearty blend of indigenous and occidental religious practices. The senákulo brings to mind the Cenacle, the Upper Room in Jerusalem where Jesus conducted the Last Supper. A Passion play, the senákulo reenacts the life and death of Jesus. We have just arrived on Holy Thursday, the fifth day of the performance, and are able to witness the painted backdrops and actors depicting Jesus’ establishment of the Eucharist. Many senákulos are performed according to centuries-old scripts or to contemporary adaptations.
|Photo Credit: Wilfredor|
The early Christians enjoyed visiting the different holy places of Christ’s life. As Christianity spread, the feasibility of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land became too expensive and difficult for many believers and so the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) devotion was developed. The Stations of the Cross is a step-by-step meditation on Jesus’ path to Calvary. The Via Crucis helps individuals to contemplate the suffering of Christ and thereby understand the sorrow in their own lives. Most Christian churches and chapels have the Stations of the Cross depicted in some fashion on walls or outside displays. On Good Friday, we pause on our journey and gaze upon the crowds who pray at each station of the Via Crucis.
|Photo Credit: Cplakidas|
Ever wanted to shatter pottery without getting into trouble? If so, you’ll love our next stop: Corfu, Greece. At exactly 11 am on Holy Saturday, the residents of Corfu hurl pots out of their windows, prompted by the peal of local church bells. Some assert that the custom is a symbolic stoning of the traitorous Judas Iscariot, who is believed to have lived in Corfu and whose descendants may still live in the city. Accompanied by marching bands, parades snake throughout the city, contributing to greater noise and celebration of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead.
|Photo Credit: High Contrast|
On Easter morning, we return to Italy to receive the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi (to the City and to the World) apostolic blessing which follows an address to the joyful throng which makes up the audience within St. Peter’s Square. Considered by Catholics to be the Bishop of Rome and the head of the Church, the Pope offers a reflection on the meaning of Easter and greets the crowd in different languages. The special blessing given to the faithful serves as an indulgence, a remission of temporal punishment for sins previously absolved in the sacrament of Confession. The Urbi et Orbi is broadcast on a global scale, representing how Holy Week has been transformed around the world as both a religious and cultural celebration.
(As featured on Elite Millenial)