Holy Week , the last week of Lent, immediately preceding Easter Sunday. It is sometimes called Passion week, but that denomination is given in the Latin and Greek churches to the week preceding Palm Sunday, and commencing with Passion Sunday. The term holy is applied to it because it is commemorative of Christ's death for the redemption of mankind. It was called in the early Christian ages the great week, both because of the mighty event it commemorates, and because it is observed with the greatest solemnity and strictness. Tertullian, Lactantius, and Chrysostom, among other ancient writers, mention the fact that during this week Christians were wont to fast on one meal of bread, salt, and water, taken in the evening, while many abstained from all food the entire week, and a still greater number took no nourishment during Good Friday and Holy Saturday. In the middle ages it was called the authentic week; and in Germany, Denmark, and the Scandinavian peninsula it is known as still week. The greater number of Protestant churches do not solemnize this week. The Lutheran churches, the church of England, and the Protestant Episcopal church have special services each day.
In the Greek and other eastern churches the observances and ceremonial are substantially the same as in the Latin. It commences with Palm Sunday, when the blessing of palm branches or other evergreens, and the distribution of them to the people who carry them in procession, are designed to recall the circumstances attending Christ's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings the office of Tenebroe (darkness, from the darkening of the churches) is chanted. It consists of the matins and lauds for the following mornings, which it is customary to recite over night. During this office a large candlestick is placed near the altar, bearing 15 tapers disposed in the form of a triangle, and representing the light of Christ and of the prophets who had announced his coming. As the psalms are sung, the tapers are extinguished, until only the topmost remains. This, as it represents Christ, is taken down and carried behind the altar during the Miserere, after which it is put back in its place, to signify the temporary extinction of the light of Christ between his death and resurrection.
Thursday, being the anniversary of the institution of the eucharist and of the priesthood of the new law, is distinguished by two ceremonies of great significance which take place at the solemn mass in cathedral churches: the consecration by the bishop assisted by 12 priests, in full sacerdotal costume, of the oils used in the administration of the sacraments, etc, and the washing of feet. At the end of mass, and after the procession, the celebrant washes the feet of 12 poor persons, while the choir sings the words of St. John, Mandatum novum do vobis, "A new commandment I give unto you," etc. Hence the name of Maundy Thursday by which this day is still known. In Pome the pope washes the feet of 13 poor priests, in memory of the body of the apostles raised to that number by the extraordinary calling of St. Paul. During the Gloria in excelsis of the mass of Thursday, all the hells are rung, and thenceforward remain silent until the Gloria in excelsis in the mass of Holy Saturday. A large host, consecrated during this mass, is carried in procession at the end of it to a side altar (called the sepulchre) richly decorated, on which it remains and where it is visited by the faithful during the whole of the ensuing day.
On Good Friday the altar is denuded to signify the desolation of the church, the prophecies are sung which pertain to the story of Christ's suffering, the whole body of the-faithful perform what is called the adoration of the cross, the passion according to St. John is chanted, and all proceed in silence to the sepulchre, whence the consecrated host is brought back in procession, offered in adoration to the people, and consumed by the celebrant. This is called the "mass of the pre-sanctified" or preconsecrated elements, no consecration taking place on that day. On Saturday the services begin by the blessing of the "new fire" obtained from flint and steel, because our true vital light and warmth come from Christ, our Rock; the blessing of the paschal candle, an emblem of Christ arisen; the chanting of all the prophetic passages of the Old Testament pointing to Christ's resurrection; then the benediction of the baptismal fonts, from which the clergy return in procession, singing the litany of the saints, and the joyous mass with its Alleluias, a foretaste of the resurrection.