Easter Vigil Mass with Bishop O'Connell outside Trenton's Cathedral. Craig Pittelli photo
Easter Vigil Mass with Bishop O'Connell outside Trenton's Cathedral. Craig Pittelli photo

Catholics and Christians throughout the world will witness the pinnacle of the liturgical year when they gather to pray during the various liturgies during Holy Week.

Beginning with Palm Sunday, April 14, Holy Week .is a time when the faithful are invited to journey with Our Lord Jesus Christ and share in a story that is replete with ancient rites and sacred symbolism that solemnly commemorates the mysteries of his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

The following is an overview of some of the special liturgies, prayer services and traditions that people throughout the Diocese can look forward to in the days leading up to Easter Sunday.

Palm Sunday • April 14

Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week and celebrates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Passover. As Jesus, who was riding a donkey, entered the city, the enthusiastic crowds greeted him by throwing their cloaks down before him as a gesture reserved for royalty. The crowd also spread palm fronds along the road while shouting, “Hosanna,” a Hebrew expression meaning “save us.”

Until this time, Jesus, in his public ministry, did not allow himself to be proclaimed as the Messiah. However, in this final entry into Jerusalem, he sets the stage for an entry that fulfills the Old Testament’s foreshadowing of the coming of the Messiah. In commemoration of Passion Sunday, the faithful are called to become part of the crowd at that day’s liturgy. Prior to the start of Mass, the congregation gathers, usually outside, where the priest blesses the palms. The faithful, while carrying palms, then participate in a joyful procession into the Church for Mass. As a memorial for Christ’s suffering, the day’s Mass includes the reading of the Passion, the Gospel passages that tell of Christ’s Passion and Death.

Mass of Chrism • April 15

The Chrism Mass reflects the communion of priests with their Bishop. During the Mass, the priests of the Diocese who are gathered publicly renew their commitment to their service. The Mass is also when the Bishop blesses the oils to be used in parishes throughout the coming year. The Bishop blesses the Oil of the Sick, which brings comfort to the ill, and the Oil of the Catechumens, which is used in the preparation of catechumens for their Baptism. The Bishop also consecrates the Sacred Chrism, which is used to anoint the newly baptized, seal candidates for Confirmation, anoint the hands of priests and the heads of bishops at their ordination as well as in the rites of anointing during the dedication of churches and altars.

The Mass of Chrism will be celebrated in the Trenton Diocese at 7:30 p.m. in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, 61 Georgia Road, Freehold.

Tenebrae (dates vary)

Tenebrae, meaning darkness or shadows, is an ancient service that is prayed and sung, commemorating the Death of Jesus through psalms, lessons and chants expressing grief. A principal element of the service is the extinguishing of 15 candles, reflecting the desertion of the Apostles and three days of darkness following Christ’s Death. The candles are displayed in a triangular stand. The candle at the top, symbolizing Christ, remains lit but is hidden behind or under the altar during the closing prayer, symbolizing Christ’s burial. When the prayer is completed, a loud noise is made representing the earthquake that followed Christ’s Death on the Cross.

The lit candle is returned to its place, symbolizing Christ’s victory over death. The noise ceases and the congregation departs the church in silence.

A diocesan Tenebrae service is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., April 17 in St. Catharine Church, 215 Essex Ave., Spring Lake, with Msgr. Harold Cullen, pastor, presiding.

Easter Triduum

The Easter Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord is the culmination of the entire liturgical year. The Triduum begins on Holy Thursday evening with the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil and closes with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday, the day of the Lord’s Resurrection.

Holy Thursday • April 18

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper relates how Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover. During this Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood. It is also at this Mass when the Gospel is read of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. By washing his disciples’ feet, he set the example of what it means to love and to be of service to others.

At the end of Mass, the Eucharist is not returned to the tabernacle. Instead, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession by the priest. This movement symbolizes Jesus’ walk to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus agonized over the suffering he was soon to endure.

It is also at the end of the Mass when the altar is stripped. This ancient ritual is a powerful re-enactment of the Lord’s humiliation at the hands of the Roman soldiers. The now-bare altar symbolizes the transformation of the Communion table of Holy Thursday into the tomb slab of Good Friday.

Good Friday • April 19

Good Friday, a day of fasting for the Church, commemorates Jesus’ Crucifixion and Death. This is the only day in the year when Mass is not celebrated. Instead, the commemoration of the Lord’s Passion takes place within the context of a Communion service and is held at 3 p.m., which places the prayer close to the traditional hour of Jesus’ Death.

The service includes a Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross and reception of Holy Communion. The Passion is read again, but on this day, it is John’s Gospel account that is proclaimed, which is more personal than the ones found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Holy Saturday • April 20

The Roman Missal explains: “On Saturday, the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb, meditating on his suffering and Death. The altar is left bare, and the holy sacrifice of the Mass is not celebrated. Only after the solemn vigil during the night held in anticipation of the Resurrection does the Easter celebration begin, with a spirit of joy that overflows into the following period of 50 days.”

Easter Vigil in the Holy Night • April 20

Although celebrated on Holy Saturday evening, the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night marks the beginning of Easter. The Vigil is arranged in four parts: a service of Light, rich in symbolism, which includes the blessing of fire and lighting of the Paschal Candle; the Liturgy of the Word when faithful remember all of God’s blessings; the liturgy of Baptism, when new members of the Church are welcomed through the Sacraments of Initiation, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice by which faithful are freed from sin and have new life in God’s grace.

During the Liturgy of the Word, there are seven Readings from the Old Testament that may be proclaimed. The Readings tell the salvation history of God’s people from the creation of the world to the “fullness of time,” when God sent his son to be the redeemer of all.

Easter Sunday • April 21

Easter Sunday continues to proclaim the glorious news of the Resurrection. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and the power of sin and death has been destroyed forever. Alleluia!