This year, Easter Day falls on 16th April. The week leading up to it, which begins with Palm Sunday on 9th April, is very special in the church year and is known as Holy Week.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, the day when the Church remembers the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. He had gone up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and when He entered the City, the crowds gave him a rapturous welcome, throwing palms into his path. Today churches distribute crosses of palm fronds.
The next highlight of Holy Week falls on Maundy Thursday, which recalls the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus. The ceremony of the ‘washing of the feet’ was an important part of the liturgy of the
Medieval church. ‘Maundy’ relates to the opening words of a typical service on this day from John 13: ‘A new command I give you: Love one another…..’ In Latin, this begins ‘mandatum novum do vobis’ The word ‘mundy’ is a corruption of the Latin ‘mandatum’. In England, in by-gone years, the monarch would wash the feet of a small number of his or her subjects. Nowadays the Queen distributes specially minted coins to the elderly at various cathedral services.
Good Friday is the day on which Jesus died on the Cross. It is the most solemn day in the Christian year. Decorations are removed from churches. In Lutheran churches, the passion narrative from a gospel was read out, a practice, which lies behind the ‘passions’, composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750).
The custom of observing a period of three hours’ devotion from midday to 3 p.m. on Good Friday goes back to the 18th century.
Lent ends with Holy Saturday. The Eastern Orthodox churches hold the ‘Paschal Vigil’, which leads directly into Easter Day.