Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Week of Salvation: History and Traditions of Holy Week

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Week of Salvation: History and Traditions of Holy Week

Article excerpt

The Week of Salvation: History and Traditions of Holy Week. By James Monti. (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division. 1993. Pp. 447.$19.95.)

This is a very useful history of the Holy Week services of the Catholic Church down to and including the present rites. It is mainly concerned with the Roman liturgy, but also covers the Byzantine and other eastern rites, and the non-Roman western rites used in such places as Milan, Lyons, and Toledo. It also includes descriptions of popular devotions in various countries.

Until the recent reform of the Roman liturgy, the popular devotions of Holy Week were probably more important than the liturgical services. Of course, people had to go to Mass on Palm Sunday in order to obtain the blessed palm, but for many the Mass was only a means toward the end: getting that palm. During the Sacred Triduum (which used to mean Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but not Easter Sunday), the liturgy was celebrated early in the morning, and was attended only by the more devout. The really interesting things happened later in the day.

On Holy Thursday the reserved sacrament was enshrined in a repository in one of the side chapels, and there was a certain competition among the churches to create the most splendid shrine. This reviewer remembers, as a child, being taken in the family car on a tour of all the churches in town. Mr. Monti seems to think that this was a custom only in Latin countries, but he is not as old as I am.

On Good Friday, of course, everyone went to the Tre Ore, the three hours from noon to three o'clock. Again the churches competed with one another in hiring the most popular preachers, who preached on the seven last words of Christ. Many of us deserted our parish churches to fight our way into St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York to hear the great Bishop Sheen.

On Holy Saturday the Easter Vigil was over and done with by nine o'clock in the morning. The sacristan and his helpers could then get to work decorating the church for Easter Sunday. Meanwhile people came to the church to fill their bottles with the Easter water. In some parishes (mainly Polish, I think) the priests went from house to house for the blessing with the Easter water. This custom seems to be overlooked in the chapter on Holy Saturday.

In the Byzantine rite, on the other hand, the popular devotions are, generally speaking, incorporated into the official liturgy of Holy Week. …

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