Holy Week Liturgical Notes



Sunday of the Passion

On Passion Sunday, where conditions permit, the congregation gathers outside of the worship space.  Palms are distributed for the journey into “Jerusalem”.  The Gathering time may include joyful anthems, words of instruction about the day, and a joyful pilgrim song for entrance into “Jerusalem”.  Congregational reading of the Passion according to (Year A – Matthew, Year B – Mark, Year C – Luke) invites attention and participation.  Normally the sermon is omitted, as earlier instruction and the liturgy of the day provide for that; the Creed – a festive element – is also omitted.

Maundy Thursday

The major focus of the Maundy Thursday Liturgy is the “new” command to love one another.  The love of Christ that empowers us to love one another is experienced in absolution, in the washing of the feet, and in the eucharist.  The sermon may be placed at the beginning and serves as the homily for the Triduum. It is not so much explanation – save that for the mystagogical preaching of the Easter season – as alerting folks to the richness of the Three Days.  Gethsemane was not simply the place of prayer, but also of betrayal and arrest.  The stripping of the altar remembers that Jesus was arrested and stripped of everything – not just clothes, but followers who betrayed, denied and deserted him.


Good Friday

Good Friday takes place at Calvary, where Jesus is crucified between two thieves.  The Passion according to John may be read by the congregation, which emphasizes that Jesus’ death is for the whole world.  We act that out in the Great Bidding Prayer, where we pray for the whole world – a model for our regular prayer and life.

The Vigil of Easter

For many congregations, the Vigil of Easter is the highlight of the liturgical year.  If you don’t do one, you might contact a congregation that does.  The liturgy is like sitting around a campfire.  Against the backdrop of darkness and silence, the stories of our ancestors are told, catechumens experience the rite of initiation, and we share the meal of the resurrection.

The Vigil is a four-part liturgy.  The Service of Light begins outside by a fire.  The Paschal Candle is lit and the light is passed as each worshipper lights his/her candle.  The Lux Candle Co., Inc.( http://www.luxcandlecompany.com), provides 100% beeswax candles.  You may order a plain one and have it painted by one of the members of the congregation.  Church supply house catalogs will provide some guidance for the art work, which should include a cross, the alpha (A) and omega (W), and 2-0-1-1.  Start the liturgy late enough for the worship space to be dark.  Choose a good cantor to sing the exultet, one who will practice ahead of time.

At the words, “We sing the glories of this pillar of fire, the brightness of which is not diminished…” acolytes light candles at the reading desk from which the stories of faith may be read.  At the end of the Exultet, when the assembly extinguishes their individual candles, the only light left should be that of the paschal candle and the light for the reading desk.

The Service of Readings is a collection of salvation stories about our ancestors in the faith.  They include the creation story, the flood story, the sacrifice of Isaac, the Exodus, the institution of the Passover meal, and readings from the prophetic literature.  Twelve readings are offered in the lectionary, and it is suggested that you read 4, 7 or 12.  Whatever local custom and tolerance dictate, the pace should be relaxed and rich with opportunity for silent reflection.  There are suggested musical responses – Psalms and canticles – for each reading.  You may choose a response for each lesson, or do every other one.  You may have the choir sing them, or the whole assembly (which will mean relighting their candles).

The Service of Holy Baptism is the rite toward which the whole Lenten season has been rushing.   In those waters, the catechumens are joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As the assembly witnesses this holy moment, they, too, reaffirm their baptism and celebrate the new life they also have in Christ.  It may take some pastoral counsel and courage to lead folks to have their children baptized at the Vigil, but it is well worth it.  The more the merrier!!  If there are no baptisms, then you might have the assembly renew its vows and sprinkle them with water from the font.

The Service of Holy Communion is the meal of the risen Lord.  It begins with the Litany of the Saints, found in Welcome to Christ:  Lutheran Rites for the Catechumenate (Item # 9780806633954 from Augsburg Fortress).  The Hymn of Praise is sung and the lights are all turned on.   Some parishes encourage worshippers to bring bells to ring at this time.  For the rest of the liturgy, “let the festivities begin” and “Alleluias” should abound.  You might have one of the “bakers” in the parish bake sweet bread for the eucharist.

Many congregations have a special Vigil feast following the Liturgy.  Folks bring rich and sweet foods, with well-aged wine (or wine punch).  A full Vigil  requires a lot of work and preparation.  Again, if you haven’t done one before, you might contact a congregation that has.  You may want to start small and grow the Vigil as interest and participation grow.