A Guide to Holy Week
What is Holy Week?
Holy Week, also known as Passion Week, is a significant week in the Christian calendar that leads up to Easter Sunday. It commemorates the final week of Jesus Christ’s life on earth, from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem to his crucifixion and resurrection.
How Holy Week is celebrated differs by church and denomination. Here we discuss the meaning of Holy Week and outline what to expect from each day of the celebration. We’ve included a Holy Week bible reading plan and some select quotes for Holy Week to assist you.
We give glory to You, Lord, who raised up Your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to You who put on the body of a single mortal man and made it the source of life for every other mortal man. – St. Ephrem of Edessa
When is Holy Week in 2023?
In 2023, the Holy Week dates run from April 2 to April 9.
What are the Seven Days of Holy Week?
- Palm Sunday: Commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, where he was welcomed with palm branches and hailed as the Messiah.
- Holy Monday: Jesus returns to Jerusalem, curses the fig tree, and cleanses the Temple.
- Holy Tuesday: Jesus teaches in the Temple and engages in theological debates with religious leaders.
- Spy Wednesday: Refers to the day when Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver.
- Maundy Thursday: Marks the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples, where he washed their feet and instituted the Eucharist.
- Good Friday: A solemn day of fasting and penance to remember the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross.
- Holy Saturday: A day of reflection and mourning, as it is believed that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb on this day.
These events culminate in Easter Sunday, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the triumph of life over death.
Preparing for Holy Week
Holy Week includes some of the Church’s most joyous celebrations and solemn observances. It’s often used as a time to recommit to prayer and draw closer to God. Take some time to reflect on your faith and pray for guidance and strength.
Read and meditate on passages related to Jesus’ death and resurrection, such as the accounts of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.
“Holy Week is a privileged time when we are called to draw near to Jesus: friendship with him is shown in times of difficulty.” – Pope Francis
Some denominations encourage fasting or giving up something during Holy Week. It’s a powerful way to focus your mind and heart on the meaning of the week. Think of something meaningful to you, such as a favorite food or activity, and use the time or energy you would have spent on that thing to focus on prayer or reflection.
Churches should expect a much higher turnout during Holy Week. Church management software ChMeetings allows churches to create free or paid ticketed events to better manner this swelling congregation. Volunteers can be sent a rotational schedule, and churches can optionally track attendance with desktop, mobile, or QR code scanning.
What Happens on the Days of Holy Week?
Suggested reading: Zechariah 9:9, Luke 19:28-40
The beginning of Holy Week is marked by Palm Sunday, a liturgy (public worship ritual) featuring a Gospel reading about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.
Those in attendance are given palm branches to remind them of how people welcomed him to Jerusalem. Palm Sunday is the first time the Lord’s Prayer is heard in the liturgical calendar.
Suggested reading: Isaiah 56:1-8, Luke 19:41-48
Daily masses occur as usual during the next three days of Holy Week. Taizé Prayer, a meditative form of worship, is often held in the evenings.
Holy Monday commemorates the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem and cursing the fig tree that had no fruit.
The Gospel readings during Holy Monday focus on these events and encourage believers to reflect on the themes of judgment, repentance, and the importance of bearing fruit in one’s spiritual life.
Suggested reading: Psalm 118:19-27, Psalm 110, Luke 20
Daily masses continue on Holy Tuesday.
The Gospel readings during Holy Tuesday often include Jesus’ teachings on the end times, such as the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the Parable of the Talents.
Suggested reading: Luke 21, Mark 14:1-11
Expect another daily mass on Spy Wednesday, which is also known as Holy Wednesday.
The Gospel reading will focus on Judas, who, on this day, is believed to have made a secret deal with the religious authorities to betray Jesus. According to the Gospels, on this day, Judas went to the chief priests and agreed to hand over Jesus in exchange for 30 pieces of silver.
Suggested reading: Isaiah 50:4-10 Luke 22:1-65
Maundy Thursday is also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, or Sheer Thursday. It commemorates the Last Supper, where Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples and instituted the sacrament of Communion.
It was during this meal that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, a symbolic act of humility and service. Maundy Thursday was also when Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before his arrest and crucifixion.
In some Christian traditions, Maundy Thursday is a day of confession and forgiveness, where believers are encouraged to reflect on their sins and seek absolution.
Suggested reading: Psalm 22:1-18, Luke 22:66-71, Luke 23:1-56
Good Friday is one of the most important days of Holy Week, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. The Gospels recount that Jesus was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death by crucifixion on Good Friday. He was mocked, beaten, and forced to carry his cross to the place of execution. At the “ninth hour” (around 3:00 pm), Jesus died on the cross.
Christians remember this sacrifice with prayers, hymns, and solemn services. In some traditions, the cross is venerated, and believers fast or give alms as a sign of repentance and gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice.
Suggested reading: Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53, Luke 23:56
Holy Saturday is also known as the Great Sabbath or Black Saturday. It is a day of mourning and waiting for Christians.
According to tradition, Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb on Holy Saturday, and his disciples observed the Jewish Sabbath.
In some Christian traditions, Holy Saturday is a day of silence and reflection, where believers meditate on the mystery of Christ’s death and the promise of his resurrection. In others, it is a day of preparation for Easter, where churches are decorated with flowers and banners, and Easter candles are blessed.
Suggested reading: Isaiah 52:7-10, Luke 24
Easter Sunday is arguably the most significant and joyful day of the Christian calendar, as it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
On Easter Sunday, Christians gather in churches to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with hymns, prayers, and the reading of the Gospel accounts. The day is also associated with symbols of new life and renewal, such as Easter eggs and flowers.
In many Christian traditions, Easter Sunday is a day of feasting and rejoicing, where families and friends gather to share meals and exchange gifts.
Celebrate Holy Week
Be assured of God’s love for you. Seek by his grace to heal the damage of sin. Seek communion with him and with those who make up his Church and those who are not yet within. His love for all of us is unconditional. His joy is infinite. His mercy overflows. – Deacon Michael Bickerstaff
Holy Week is a time for reflection, prayer, and contemplation while attending church services and meditating on the Bible. Through fasting, discussion, and serving others, Christians deepen their relationship with God.
Overall, Holy Week is an excellent opportunity for Christians to reaffirm their faith, remember Jesus’ sacrifice, and celebrate the hope and joy of the Resurrection.