Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn week in the church’s calendar. This year Palm Sunday is March 25. There will be Masses on Saturday at 5PM and on Sunday at 7AM, 9AM, 10:30AM, 12 noon and 5PM. There will also be a Spanish Mass on Sunday at 6:30PM. Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. In the Gospels we are told that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a young donkey, and was praised by the townspeople who believed he would free them from Rome’s power. The customary practice at the time to honor people of great respect would be by laying down garments or throwing olive or palm branches in front of them as they processed. To remember this event, on Palm Sunday, palm branches are distributed to all who attend. The mass begins with the blessing of the palms and a short gospel reading recounting the events of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Then the ministers walk in a procession into the church, with the parishioners holding their palm branches, symbolizing the people praising Jesus. At the Sunday 9AM Mass some children from our parish, waving palm branches and singing “Hosanna”, will be included in the procession. During the reading of the gospel, all participate as we hear the account of the passion of Jesus. After mass, the palm branches are taken home and returned the following year prior to Ash Wednesday, so they can be burned to make the ashes that will be given out on that day.
THE SACRED TRIDUUM
Sundown on Holy Thursday to sundown on Easter Sunday is considered the most solemn part of the liturgical year. This three-day period is referred to as the Easter Triduum or Paschal Triduum.
The Sacred Triduum is one great festival recounting the last three days of Jesus’ life on earth, the events of his Passion and Resurrection, when the Lamb of God laid down his life in atonement for our sins. “Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery” (USCCB).
It is known as the “Paschal Mystery” because it is the ultimate fulfillment of the ancient Jewish Passover (or Pasch), which itself recalls how God brought the Jews out of their slavery in Egypt. The spotless lamb was killed for the Passover meal and consumed, and that night the destroying angel “passed over” the homes marked with the blood of the Passover Lamb, and those covered by the Blood were saved. This was the Old Testament pre-figuring of Jesus’ work, where he becomes the Paschal Lamb and is sacrificed on the cross to save us from our sins.
The Paschal Mystery is, therefore, God’s plan of redemption for the fallen human race through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is one marvelous event stretched out over three days.
Here is a breakdown of each of the three days that make up the Easter Triduum:
The 7:30 evening Mass on Holy Thursday, which this year is March 29, is referred to as The Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This is where the Church relives the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, as well as the institution of the priesthood, which took place the evening before Jesus was crucified. The scripture readings at this Mass will be in English and Spanish.
After the homily there is a washing of the feet ceremony, where the priest washes the feet of others to signify his role as servant, just as Jesus did with his disciples. Extra hosts are consecrated at this Mass to be used on Good Friday when no Mass will be celebrated.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday concludes with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the “altar of repose,” a place where the consecrated host is kept other than the tabernacle, a cabinet near the altar where it is usually kept. Eucharistic Adoration at this altar of repose will follow.
This is the day of the crucifixion, the day Jesus died for the sins of the world. The parish altar looks very different on Good Friday, it is plain and bare. There is no holy water in the fonts, the paschal candle is removed and there are no consecrated Hosts in the Tabernacle; it was carried away on Holy Thursday to the “altar of repose” to signify Jesus’ death. The candle by the Tabernacle is blown out, and the Tabernacle doors are left open to show that it is empty. This highlights that Good Friday, which this year is March 30, is a solemn day of prayer and fasting. Although Good Friday is the day on which Jesus died, it is called “Good” Friday because it is the day we are saved from our sins.
The ceremony on Good Friday is not a Mass, but rather a communion service using the consecrated hosts from Holy Thursday. It takes place at 3pm, the hour that Jesus breathed his last on the cross. The priest and ministers will begin the service by prostrating themselves in front of the altar. Veneration of the Cross also takes place at this service by either touching or kissing it. There is no formal dismissal at the end of the service and all leave in silence.
On this day, which this year is March 31, Christ is in the tomb. There is no daytime Mass on Holy Saturday. It is still a day of sorrow, the final one before the Easter Vigil begins that evening. We remember, with Mary and the disciples, that Jesus died and was separated from them for the first time as he lay in the tomb.
Jesus descended to the realm of the dead on Holy Saturday to save the righteous souls, such as the Old Testament patriarchs, who died before his crucifixion.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls Jesus’ descent into the realm of the dead “the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission,” during which he “opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him.” Before the first Holy Saturday, there were no souls enjoying the beatific vision of God in heaven!
The Easter Vigil is held after nightfall on Holy Saturday, in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. This year it begins at 7:30PM on March 31. It is the most glorious, beautiful, and dramatic liturgy for the Church. The vigil is divided into four parts: 1) the service of light, 2) the liturgy of the Word, with five readings recalling salvation history (one in Spanish), 3) the liturgy of Baptism and Confirmation of those being baptized, and 4) the liturgy of the Eucharist. The Vigil begins in complete darkness until a fire is lit, recalling God’s creation, bringing light from darkness: “Let there be light.” From this fire the new paschal candle is lit and then the candles of all at Mass are lit, bathing the once dark church in light. The Alleluia, that has been absent throughout Lent, resumes with this celebration. The Vigil, all masses on Easter Sunday and throughout the octave of Easter, ends with the priest or deacon announcing to all, go in peace, alleluia, alleluia, signifying the joyous celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Easter Sunday Masses, in addition to the Easter Vigil, will be celebrated at Lake Ronkonkoma at 6:15AM and in the Church at 7:00 AM, 9:00AM, 10:30AM and noon and in Spanish at 1:30PM.