The Springtime Holy Feasts and Special Days


During the time leading up to Easter, beginning at Lent, through the 50 days after ascension, known in Christianity as the Pentecost, there are certain days, most particularly in Holy Week (the week preceding Easter), that have specific importance in the Christian Church.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday traditionally began 40 days before Easter, but since it originally required fasting for 40 days, the Western Church extended it to last six and a half weeks, which allows for the 40 days, excluding Sundays.

Palm Sunday
Jesus's triumphant ride into Jerusalem, cheered by admirers and fanned by palm branches. Palm Sunday begins Holy Week.

Holy Monday
24 hours after arriving in Jerusalem, it is said Jesus cleansed the temple by chasing out the money changers. Then he preached and healed the sick. This day is commemorated through private meditation and Mass.

Holy Tuesday
Jesus addresses his disciples on the Mount of Olives on this day when the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus into saying a blasphemous statement. Commemorated with private meditation and Mass.

Holy Wednesday
Widely known as Spy Wednesday, the day attributed to Judas Iscariot's agreement to show his enemies where they could capture Jesus. Commemorated with private meditation and Mass.

Maundy Thursday
This day is associated with the three tragic events near the end of Jesus' life: the Last Supper, his Agony in the Garden, and his arrest.

Maundy is derived from mandatum, or commandment of God. At the Last Supper, Jesus gave a new commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you." Thus, this Thursday is traditionally celebrated as the day of brotherly love.

Services on this day are variety and deeply symbolic of Jesus's arrest and predicament; altar candles are extinguished to symbolize the temporary victory of the forces of darkness ~ the altar is stripped bare and washed in preparation for Christ's Resurrection, Hosts or wafers are consecrated in commemoration of Christ's initiation of the Sacrament to the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

Good Friday
Scourged and forced to carry his own cross, Christ is crucified on "Good" Friday, the blackest day in Christian history.

The origin of the word good is somewhat perplexing. Some scholars argue that good is a corruption of God and early Christians commemorating the sad event called it God's Friday. Others claim that good signifies the bounty of blessings, salvation itself, Christ won for humankind for his sacrifice.

Tre Ore, the "three hours" is the name of the solemn service from noon to 3 pm. During that time Christians meditate on the Seven Last Words of Christ, the seven utterances Jesus delivered from the cross, which are culled from the Four Gospels:

1. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
2. "Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
3. "Woman, behold your son! ... Behold, your Mother."
4. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
5. "I thirst."
6. "It is finished."
7. "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit."

Holy Saturday
brings both the Holy Week and the 40-day season of Lent to a close. This is a day for baptisms in the early Church. A tall Paschal candle was lit, placed on the altar and embedded with five grains of incense, representing Christ's five wounds. The candle remained on the altar for 40 days as a living presence of the risen Christ, until the Feast of Ascension. Holy Saturday is also called Easter Eve.

Ascension Day
According to the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus "presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs" and appeared to the disciples during a period of 40 days, speaking of the Kingdom of God. On the fortieth day, after promising them "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you," He ascended into Heaven: "a cloud received him out of their sight."

This day is always celebrated on a Thursday. There is some dispute about this day and what is really symbolized. In the Gospel according to John, the glorification took place immediately after the Resurrection. And while the account in Luke is similar, it makes no mention of the forty days. The day was first said to be celebrated in 68 C.E., and 300 years later Saint Augustine claimed it originated with the apostles.

The Feast of the Pentecost
Ten days after Christ's ascension into Heaven, His promise to empower the apostles was kept by a visitation from the Holy Spirit on the Pentecost. This day is celebrated 50 days after Easter and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, prior to their going out into the world to spread the teachings of Christ. It is also known in English, especially in Britain, as Whitsun (Whitsunday), because of the white robes traditionally worn this day by those newly baptized on the previous Easter.


Background information synthesized from Chapter 12 "Christian Feasts" from
Sacred Origins of Profound Things, Charles Panati
© 1996, Penguin/Arkana Books


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