Easter Week

In the lead up to Easter, the church celebrates Holy Week. Holy Week begins on Passion (Palm) Sunday, continues through the final week of Lent and includes the Easter Triduum, the three days from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday.

As the title ‘Holy Week’ suggests, we enter this time with reverence and celebrate its rites with care and devotion. Usual parish activity is put on hold so that the community can focus on these special days, with many parishes celebrating communal reconciliation and Stations of the Cross during this week.

Just as the church has a week of preparation leading up to Easter, its calendar provides a week after Easter to continue the joy of the resurrection. The week of preparation beforehand is balanced by a period of celebration afterwards.

Most Catholics would be know the term ‘Holy Week’, have some understanding of its purpose and nature, and attend at least one of its liturgies. My guess is, however, that few Catholics know what the Octave of Easter - or ‘Easter Week’ - is, understand its purpose and nature, or attend Mass during this time. Perhaps this is because, as has often been suggested, Catholics are much better at guilt than at joy!

The Easter Octave is the period of eight days from Easter Sunday through to the following Saturday. The days of this week are called ‘Easter Monday’, ‘Easter Tuesday’, and so on. In the early Church, the newly initiated wore their white baptismal garments in public for the entire time. In Tertullian’s community they even abstained for a whole week from their daily bath!

There are some interesting parallels and, obviously, differences between the days of Holy Week and the days of Easter Week.

According to the table of liturgical days, no solemnity or commemoration can take precedence over the days of Holy Week or the Easter Octave, nor may Ritual Masses (nuptial Masses, Confirmation Masses, etc) be celebrated during these two weeks.

Masses during Easter Week include several features that set them apart from weekday Masses at other times of the year. The Gloria is part of the Introductory Rites on these days. The Sequence from Easter Sunday may also be sung or said before the Gospel Acclamation during the Octave. It would be interesting to know how many parishes take up this option. To do so would be a challenge, but would certainly signal to all worshippers that the resurrection celebrations did not finish on Easter Sunday!

As the days of Holy Week use a common preface, so for the days of Easter Week when the Preface of Easter 1 is used:
“We praise you with greater joy than ever on this Easter night (day), when Christ became our paschal sacrifice. He is the true Lamb who took away the sins of the world. By dying he destroyed our death; by rising he restored our life.”
Note the phrase “on this Easter day”. It is still Easter!

Masses finish with the Easter form of the Dismissal and the response: “Thanks be to God, alleluia, alleluia!”

If we marked Holy Week by taking part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Stations of the Cross or the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, should we not make a special effort to celebrate Christ’s resurrection by participating in Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours during the Easter Octave?

Elizabeth Harrington