Yesterday was the start of a week-long crazy, fun, somber and celebratory week known to Christians as Holy Week. Christians of all ilk celebrate this in some way, even if just by the icing on the cake, Easter.
Orthodox Christians really make a week out of it, from Palm Sunday to Easter, which makes Catholics jealous. We don’t like to be out-liturgized. Notice of Disclaimer: Orthodox Christians typically celebrate Easter and Holy Week a few weeks apart from Catholics and other Christians, because they follow a different calendar, the Julian calendar. Forget the pope issue and that tiny theological dispute about the Holy Spirit: this is the BIG issue we need to solve in Orthodox-Catholic relations. Help a Catholic out, brother. Join the Gregorian calendar already.
Enough boring Kathleen trivia! I wanted to have fun, hopefully in a reverent way, with the craziness that is HOLY WEEK. Here are the Top 10 Things Catholics Love About Holy Week:
10. Making up for lost time: You can go to church a total of four times in one week and not seem terribly dorky! There is Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday! For those who have been remiss in church attendance over Lent, this is cram time. Yes, it’s a lot of church, but then that’s our speciality. Embrace it for this week!
9. Confessionpalooza: Many Catholic churches have extended confessional hours during Holy Week, and on Good Friday, my church has an almost-all day affair. It’s actually a very convenient offering and healing for those who haven’t been in years, decades or ever. But let’s be honest; this really is an act of penance for the poor priests sitting inside the stifling box, listening to people who come every week say they yelled at their cat. Again.
8. Foot washing!: This is the one time of the year that your priest will wash your feet (probably–if not, that’s weird). On Holy Thursday, the priest emulates the action of Christ by washing the feet of twelve men, as in the Gospels. Getting people to volunteer for this activity is harder than getting volunteers for the Vietnam War. If you are church insider, be ready, you’re gonna get asked. Do your priest a favor and wash your feet ahead of time.
7. Speaking of odd priestly behavior, what about Prostration on Good Friday! What is that, you ask? That is when the priest comes in, lies down in front of the altar (“prostration”) and prays before the service begins. This is the same action priests undertake at their ordination, to show complete obedience to Christ. It is very moving and my favorite part of Holy Week. However, if you have small children, please be ready for the silly questions. “Why is he smelling the rug? Did he fall down? Is this Simon Says?” Also, church ladies, please vacuum that morning. Remember, the night before the feet of twelve men were about.
6. Singing Were You There? Even if you go to the Hip Hop Catholic Church (not sure there is one, yet) or the Christian Rock Catholic Church, you still enjoy belting out Were You There? Most are happy with one or two verses of this, but when we get to the sun refusing to shine, we are thinking, is this going to end anytime soon?
5. Explaining Why There is No Liturgy of the Eucharist on Good Friday. This is for the diehards, the ones who like to throw their Catholic knowledge around and are, HELPFULLY, on the look out for newbies or those who haven’t darkened the door of a Catholic Church since the Nixon Administration. We wait with great anticipation to explain to those confused people in the pews why the priest doesn’t consecrate the bread and wine on Good Friday. We pounce on them, and give them a quick Catechism lesson: “Hi! Sorry, I know you are trying to worship but this is THE ONLY DAY OF THE YEAR WHEN THERE IS NO CATHOLIC MASS! Really! I’ll tell you more after this is over!”
4. KNEELINGPALOOZA. Hey, this is Holy Week. You aren’t getting away with only one Palooza. What about on Good Friday when we do the “let us kneel; let us stand” dance for about 20 minutes?! You start to hear those of a certain age grunting and finally giving up by the time we pray for the Jews, the First To Hear The Word of God. Also by this time, small children have rolled under the pews and joined different families, and teenagers are rolling their eyes or pretending they fell asleep.
3. READINGS-PALOOZA. The last Palooza is held at the Easter Vigil, where you can have up to seven (7!!!) readings before you even get to the Gospel. Note to parents: this is not the Mass for small children. Dye eggs instead.
2. Watching New Converts Get Confused at Their Confirmations. While not a fun activity for all Catholics, many of us love a good, light-hearted break in the action at Easter Vigil, when the new converts, their sponsors and others involved in the Mass stand up, and despite the rehearsal they had just a few hours ago, allow their brains to turn to spaghetti when it is Confirmation time. A few examples: -The priest asks the Confirmation name, which the sponsor announces as “Amen.” -The priest says “peace be with you,” and the convert replies, “OK!” -The reader of the converts’ names falls down the steps, going into an inadvertent and quite painful full split. All true examples, by the way.
And the Number One Thing Catholics Love About Holy Week:
1. PALMS!!! New palms! Palms twisted into crosses! Palms in a large vase! Palms behind your grandma’s front mirror or her picture of White Jesus from 1965! Palms that small boys use as swords and are taken away by embarrassed parents who insist the boys go to Confessionpalooza (see 9, above)! If you are me, this includes old palms, some five years’ worth, sitting in a fireplace, waiting to be burned. It’s turning into a fire hazard, and a reminder of how little I clean.
What’s your favorite Holy Week Thing?