Holy Week Liturgies and Masses

Holy Week is the highpoint of our Church year. The liturgies during Holy Week include an abundance of rituals which connect us to the Paschal Mystery–Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

  • Read: What Palm Sunday Means at Simply Catholic.
  • Watch: This three-minute video, Palm Sunday, at Catholic Online.
  • Palms: Palms have long been a sign of victory, success and glory. Victorious armies or leaders returning from the battlefield or a long military campaign were welcomed by the populace jubilantly waving palm branches. Despite Jesus’ peaceful manner, when the Jews waved the palms at Him and spread their clothing over which He rode, they were affording Him the honors of a conquering hero and simultaneously defying the Roman occupiers…. The palms we take home [from Palm Sunday Mass] and put in a special place serve to remind us that Palm Sunday is not lost to the ages but that by Christ’s victory we, too, can achieve everlasting life.1
  • Reading of the Passion: We hear a reading of the Passion–the Gospel story of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Usually, the Passion is read by several different readers; the assembly may assume the role of the crowd demanding Jesus’ death.

Chrism Mass

During Holy Week bishops bless sacred oils in the diocesan cathedral at a special liturgy known as the Chrism Mass. The oil of chrism is used during baptisms, confirmation, ordination and the consecration of altars. The oils are then distributed to the parishes for sacramental celebrations throughout the year. As part of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, the renewal of priestly promises was incorporated into the Chrism Mass. The Chrism Mass is an ancient celebration that traditionally takes place on Holy Thursday morning. But in recent years, many dioceses celebrate the Chrism Mass on an evening earlier in Holy Week so that more people can attend.2

The Sacred Triduum

The word “Triduum” comes from the Latin word meaning “three days,” and encompasses the three most sacred days in the Church year. It begins at sundown on Holy Thursday, reaches a high point at the Easter Vigil, and concludes with evening prayer at sundown on Easter Sunday. The liturgical celebrations during the Triduum on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday are rich with symbolism and flow from one to another in a seamless way. While it may appear as if these liturgies are separate and distinct, they are actually intended to be one continuous celebration that commemorates the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. For this reason, Catholics are encouraged to observe the entire Triduum by attending all of the liturgies.3

The following resources provide a listing of the special rituals and their meanings for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.