Understanding Our Faith: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter

This is the second of a two-part series on Holy Week, designed to help the faithful understand the spiritual significance and rituals of this important time in the Catholic liturgical calendar.

Holy Thursday is the beginning of the most sacred days of the liturgical calendar, known as the Paschal Triduum: The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, and the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord.

Holy Thursday marks the end of the Lenten Season, and the Church celebrates a triple anniversary: the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, the Institution of the Ministerial Priesthood, and the Commandment to love one another as Christ has first loved us.

Holy Thursday provides us a perfect opportunity to reflect upon the spiritual meaning of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Our faith teaches us that every Mass unites us to the Cross. At the altar, when the priest lifts up the Host or the Chalice, we are united with Jesus, the angels, saints, and the entire faithful. As the Body of Christ, we are all unified in this beautiful mystery of our faith.

On Good Friday, the Church marks the Crucifixion and Death of our Lord. In a prayerful and solemn manner, the Church joins together in reflection on the great sign of our salvation, the Cross. The Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion offers us an opportunity to embrace this mystery.

Filled with simplicity and starkness, Good Friday is the only day of the liturgical calendar in which Mass is not celebrated. Rather, the Church celebrates a simple liturgy filled with three key elements: the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and the Distribution of Holy Communion consecrated on Holy Thursday.

The day before Easter is the Easter Vigil. At the Easter Vigil, the Paschal Candle represents Christ and is one of the central symbols of this liturgy. It is lit near the ambo, where the readings are proclaimed, for the fifty days of the Easter Season.

Another key symbol of the Easter Vigil liturgy is water. Water symbolizes death and life. In Baptism, we die to our old way of life and rise to new life as a child of God. This Easter water is used for the Sacrament of Baptism, is sprinkled on the faithful throughout the Season, and is available as a sacramental to be used in one’s home.

For forty days of Lent, the Church refrains from singing the Alleluia. In one of the most striking moments of the Easter Vigil, prior to the Gospel, “Alleluia” is intoned three times. The Alleluia is the third great symbol of the Easter Vigil liturgy. Different than light and water, Alleluia comes from our voices. Our joy in the promise of New Life comes from within ourselves and we ring out Alleluia, (in Hebrew ‘praise the Lord’).

The Church gathers for the greatest of all Sundays, Easter Sunday, at the empty tomb. Easter is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Easter is characterized, above all, by the joy of glorified life and the victory over death: "If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, is your faith." (1 Cor. 15:14)

Unique to this Solemnity and Christmas, the celebration of Easter continues for eight days during its Octave. Each day of the Octave is celebrated as a “mini-Easter” reminding us of the truth that “Christ is alive!”

Saint Augustine fittingly described the Easter Vigil as the “Mother of All Vigils” and Easter Sunday as the “greatest of all Sundays.”

During Holy Week Masses, as at all other times, the Diocese’s strict safety and health guidelines remain in effect:

The number of people at Mass is restricted to 50 percent of the seating capacity, masks will be worn by the faithful, and by clergy when distributing Holy Communion, social distancing will be observed, and all indoor areas will be sanitized after use.

For this year’s Holy Week, mindful of the importance of sacred music, a small choir, socially distanced, is permitted in the choir loft.

Holy Week Masses will be livestreamed at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday March 31 (Chrism Mass), 7 p.m. on Holy Thursday, at 3 p.m. on Good Friday, at 8 p.m. on Saturday for the Easter Vigil, and at 10 a.m. on Easter Sunday. Livestreams will be carried on AD Today at www.ad-today.com, on the Diocese Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/DioceseofAllentown, on the diocesan YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/user/DioceseofAllentown, and on Service Electric Cable TV, channels 50 and 550.


Mass Livestream