Holy Week is the precursor to the central event of Christian belief, the resurrection, and is therefore considered the focal point of the ecclesiastical and liturgical year. It is no surprise that each day has a title and a specific significance for the last stages in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ.
Palm Sunday recalls the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, while Holy Thursday marks his institution of the Eucharist. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are days of meditation on the passion of Jesus.
It is an irony that the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday would be totally reversed by the shame and cruelties of Good Friday.
On Holy Monday Jesus is in Bethany at the house of Lazarus, whom he has recently brought forth from the dead. A meal is prepared for him there and Martha, one of Lazarus’ sisters waits on them at the table.
Mary the second sister, brings in a pound of costly ointment with which she anoints the feet of Jesus. He accepts this very expensive gesture because he is a friend, and he knows how grateful she is that her brother lives again. Shortly after Mary’s actions, Judas remonstrates with Jesus saying, “Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?”
These happenings will be mirrored by events which are about to follow. Jesus will soon wash his disciples’ feet in a similar act of love and humility to that shown by Mary. Judas, so aware of the cost of everything, will betray Christ for thirty pieces of silver. He puts no value on what Mary has done because he does not understand that some moments need to be honoured.
The house is filled with the scent of the ointment and is the fragrant smell of love. Jesus unmasks his hypocrisy and tells him squarely, “Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.”
Tuesday of Holy Week is also known as “Fig Tuesday” because Jesus cursed a fig tree. He did so because it had the appearance of fruitfulness which was deceptive. It lacked fruit. It is one thing to lack fruit out of season. It is another to lack it while pretending otherwise.
The presence of a fruitful fig tree was considered to be a symbol of blessing and prosperity for the nation of Israel. Symbolically the fig tree represented the spiritual deadness of Israel, who while very religious outwardly was spiritually barren because of sin.
The lesson of the fig tree is that we should bear spiritual fruit not just an appearance of religiosity. Jesus knew that the faith of his disciples was about to be challenged and they were going to have to build their mission of building the Church.
The Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday because it was on this day that Judas went to the Sanhedrin and offered to help them arrest Jesus in return for a blood price. His motive seems to have been greed, but the gospels also say that he was possessed by Satan and acted as he did to fulfil the prophecies.
Others have suggested a more political motive for his actions. According to this theory, Judas might have become disillusioned when Jesus showed little interest in fermenting a rebellion against the Romans and re-establishing an independent Kingdom of Israel.
From the moment he kisses Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas Iscariot seals his own fate to be remembered as history’s most famous traitor. But paradoxically, by identifying Jesus to the Jewish authorities Judas set in motion the series of events that became the foundation of the Christian faith.
Holy Thursday is also known as Maundy Thursday. It is on the evening of this day and the night of his arrest that Jesus and his disciples share their Last Supper. Maundy, from the Latin root mandatum means “commandment” or “mandate”. The word is used by Jesus when he tells his disciples to love one another.
On this most important of evenings, Jesus establishes the sacrament of Holy Communion and commemorates the institution of the priesthood. He offers himself as the Passover sacrifice, the sacrificial lamb. He also washes the feet of his disciples and in so doing sums up his entire mission – he came to serve, not to be served.
In our churches on Good Friday, we read aloud the Gospel account of Jesus’ death. It does not make for easy listening. These are horrific experiences happening on the darkest of days. Nobody witnessing his humiliating death on a lonely hillside, with his followers scattered like sheep, would have predicted that this would be the most remembered day in history.
So why do we refer to it as Good Friday? Some believe that its name was originally God’s Friday which over the year evolved into its present name. In Germany, it is called Quiet Friday (from noon on Friday until Easter morning, church bells remain silent). Christians in other parts of Europe call it Great Friday or Holy Friday.
Simply put, good Friday is ‘good’ because Christ took the sins of humanity upon himself enduring the punishment for that sin also. He gave up his life for the good of the people.
The Easter Vigil held either on Saturday evening or in the pre-dawn hours of easter Sunday initiates the joyful celebration of Christ’s resurrection. His victory will reverberate for all eternity.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan