So, on Palm Sunday, with the chant of ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ we seem to enter another world.
THE RITES OF HOLY WEEK [PART I] BY ADRIAN FORTESCUE
“The week before Easter, now commonly called Holy Week (in the missal it is ‘Hebdomada maior’) is not only the most sacred time of the year; liturgically it forms an exception to the normal course of church functions in many ways. Indeed these great days stand out from all the rest of the year, with their rites unlike anything we are accustomed to see in church. It is true that some of the services, as for instance the Mass on Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday, are not so very different from Mass on other days; but even they have many noticeable peculiarities; other services, such as those of Good Friday and Holy Saturday morning, are quite unlike anything else. To the student of liturgy these days, as no others, are full of interest for the history of our Roman rite in the past.
Perhaps the first thing to note about Holy Week is that it is part of the same feast as Easter Week following. We must think of all that fortnight, from Palm Sunday to Low Sunday, as one event. The whole fortnight makes up the Easter feast, the ‘paschalia solemnia,’ in which we remember, each year, our redemption by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. It is true that the character of these two weeks seems as different as anything could be. Holy Week is the time of mourning, the saddest week of the year, the Easter octave the most joyful. Yet they belong together; we should think of them as the two halves of one whole. The change from the mourning of Holy Week to the joy of Easter, taking place in the middle of the function of Holy Saturday, is of the essence of this Paschal solemnity. It was so at the first Easter. Our Lord said to the disciples of Emmaus: ‘Was it not necessary that Christ should suffer these things, and so enter into his glory?’ (Luke, xxiv, 26). So now, as we remember the story of our Redemption, we too, following him, pass during the one feast from the mournful memory of his suffering to the joyful memory of his glory.
The reason why this Paschal feast is the greatest of all is not so much because it is the remembrance of certain events in our Lord’s life, as that these events mean our Redemption. After our belief in the existence of God, nothing in the Christian religion is more fundamental than the idea that we are redeemed by the Sacrifice of Christ on the cross; this is the very heart of all our religion.
And we must understand too that his Resurrection is just as much part of our Redemption as his pain and death. ‘Christ was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification’ (Rom. iv, 25). The Resurrection is the great witness of Christ’s mission, without which no one would have believed in him, no one would have received the fruit of his suffering. So the Apostles say: ‘If Christ has not risen again, our preaching is vain, vain is your faith’ (1 Cor. xv, 14). The Church always looks upon the Resurrection as an integral part of our Redemption, as much as the cross. What the Apostles preached was not only Christ crucified, it was ‘Christ Jesus who died and who rose again’ (Rom. viii, 34); we believe in ‘Jesus who died and rose again’ (1 Thes. iv, 14), and so on throughout the New Testament.
Inevitably then, the early Church took all this, the memory of the Crucifixion, and of the Resurrection, as one thing. In every Mass the solemn remembrance of our redemption is of ‘the blessed passion and Resurrection from the dead of Christ thy Son, our Lord,’ and, as completing the idea of the Resurrection, also of his ‘glorious ascension into heaven.’ Inevitably too the Church makes the memory of these things the cardinal feast of all the year. More important than Christmas, greater than Pentecost, standing out from all other feast and memories, towering above the normal course of the year is this great Paschal solemnity around the Sunday after the first Spring full moon. No wonder that five-sixth of the year revolves around Easter [from Septuagesima to Advent]; no wonder that these days are unlike any other. And this Paschal feast begins on Palm Sunday and lasts till Low Sunday. The Easter octave has fewer liturgical peculiarities than the former week; it needs less explanation of its ceremonies; but it is all part of one solemnity.
So, on Palm Sunday, with the chant of [‘Hosanna to the Son of David’] we seem to enter another world. All the usual course of Saints’ days is laid aside; no other thought may disturb the yearly remembrance of our Redemption. One would like to spend these days in something in something of the nature of a retreat. That is not possible for most people. But at least, we should, as far as we can, leave behind our usual cares, at the threshold of Palm Sunday, to take them up again when we come out of the grat days after Low Sunday.
Symbols of this exceptional time are the strange rites we see then in church.
The rites of Holy Week consist chiefly of three main elements, from which others follow. The first is the blessing of palms and procession on Palm Sunday, the second the fact that no Mass is said on Good Friday, though the celebrant makes his Communion on that day, the third the Easter vigil and anticipation of Easter on Holy Saturday. The fourth element, Tenebrae, is less of an exception than it may seem.”
– Adrian Fortescue, from “The Holy Week Book”, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1913