XVII: Holy Week

Q: What are the typical Lutheran services of Holy Week?

A:   Holy week begins on the Sunday of the Passion (also referred to as Palm Sunday) which is the Sunday before Easter. The Sunday before Jesus’ crucifixion is marked by His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Palms were spread on the ground as He entered Jerusalem and the crowds shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” However, in a few short days, the same people would call out, “Crucify him!”

The Thursday of Holy Week is called Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” is an anglicized version of the Latin word “mandatum” which means “command” and refers to Jesus’ command to serve one another, seen initially in His washing of the disciple’s feet and exemplified fully in His death on the cross for our sins. Thursday is the night in which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. Holy Thursday service includes the typical elements of the Divine Service, including the sacrament of the altar, and culminates with the reverent stripping of the altar.

The Friday of Holy Week is called Good Friday because it was on that day that Jesus Christ was crucified and died as a propitiation for our sins. The altar remains bare. The service is one of restrained joy. The sacrament of the altar may be offered, and the lessons focus on Christ’s crucifixion and death. The chief service is generally offered during the hours which Christ hung on the cross (9am – 3pm). Sometimes a Tenebrae service (Tenebrae means “darkness”) is offered in the evening and the candles are gradually extinguished during the service.

The Vigil of Easter is observed at the end of the day on the Saturday of Holy Week and ushers in Easter Sunday. Traditionally, a vigil was kept in expectation of Christ’s return. In the Vigil of Easter Service, the Paschal candle is prepared and lit for the first time and provides the light for procession into the darkened church. 

Easter Sunday may include services at sunrise, morning, and evening. Easter Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every Sunday in fact is a “mini-Easter” in which we celebrate that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!