The roots of the liturgical observance of Holy Week go back to the second century.
Benedictine Fr. Juan Javier Flores Arcas said in a 2006 interview “The most ancient original core of Holy Week is the Easter Vigil, of which there were traces already in the second century of the Christian era. It was always a night of vigil, in remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.”
“To it was soon added the reception of the sacraments of Christian initiation: baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist, so that it became in turn the great sacramental night of the Church.
Subsequently, the Easter Vigil was extended in time and transformed into the triduum of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, which St. Augustine already mentioned as a very generalized celebration.”
In the United States faithful Catholics might choose to attend various religious services during Holy Week. It is usually a quiet, contemplative time, often marked by prayer and fasting.
However, in many African countries, South America, and Central America, Holy Week is celebrated with reenactments and processions. Thousands of people turn out for the various processions – Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday – which often take all day and into the evening.
In 2016 Comboni Lay Missionary Mark Banga wrote of his experience in Ethiopia. “Walking towards Easter in Ethiopia requires you to take off your shoes and feel the rocky soil between your toes. Ethiopians celebrate Easter with their whole body and mind.
They manifest their spiritual journey through the week with tangible expressions: joyous palm waving as the King enters on a real donkey, 10km long stations of the cross processions in the blazing sun which literally scale up the hill of Calvary, dramatic reenactments to supplement the liturgies, four straight hours of prostrations and prayers on Good Friday morning to enter into the Passion with one’s full body and soul.”
Even in Cincinnati, Ohio thousands of area residents of all faiths visit Holy Cross-Immaculata parish for the annual Good Friday Praying of the Steps. The faithful climb hundreds of steps up to the church, praying as they go.
For many, this is an annual tradition. Rain or shine, area faithful climb the steps, one by one, from the base of the steps to the church. It is thought that this tradition dates back to 1860, when Immaculata Church was still under construction.
This year, as you celebrate Holy Week and the Easter Triduum, participate in a different tradition. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy the liturgy and experience.