Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle; Sing the ending of the fray. Now above the cross, the trophy, Sound the loud triumphant lay. Tell how Christ, the world's Redeemer, As a victim won the day.
-- Venantius Fortunatus, 530-607
Lententide & Holy Week
The season of Lent has been a time of preparation for the commemorating the suffering and death of Jesus. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends as we begin the Triduum (“three days”) of Holy Week: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The mood is one of repentance and reflection on faith-life. It is a time to meditate prayerfully on the meaning of Christ's suffering and death for our salvation. It is a time of self-discipline when we concentrate on the importance of amending our sinful lives.
The word "Lent" comes from the middle English "lente" (springtime) and the old Anglo-Saxon word "lengten" (the time when days grow longer). It is the holy springtime of our souls, a time for preparation, planting and growth. By the second century AD Christians were preparing for the festival of Easter with a two-day fast. In the third century it was extended to all of Holy Week and, by the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325, a forty-day period of fasting was being observed. Originally this period seems to have begun on the sixth or seventh Sunday before Easter and lasted until Holy Thursday; Sundays may or may not have been included among the forty days. By the sixth century the current Lenten calendar was established. Historically, the season of Lent was developed as a time of fasting, recalling the forty-day temptation in the wilderness after Jesus' baptism.
Lent has always had a baptismal emphasis, since it has traditionally been the period when new Christians are prepared for their baptism at the Easter Vigil. It is a time for us to recall how we are buried with Christ in our baptism, called to live a new life in him (Romans 6:3-11).
The spirit of Lent is most solemn. We focus upon the mystery of our redemption in Jesus Christ and the gift of Holy Baptism. Significantly, the lessons and Gospel for each Sunday in Lent present not defeats but a series of victories beginning with the account of Jesus’ victory over Satan when tempted in the desert for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11). This Gospel account has been read on the First Sunday in Lent since the fifth century.
During Lent we hear consistently about the way of the cross. We must die with Christ, crucifying our sinful flesh. The Sundays in Lent pry us loose from our earthly securities and continually plunge us into the baptismal waters. The lessons for these weeks take us to the heart of Jesus’ gospel message that "whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25).
At Jerusalem our Lenten journey from ashes to death to resurrected life begins on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday received its name in 1091 when the imposition of ashes on the heads of all worshippers was made mandatory in Rome. This first day of Lent emphasizes how we must acknowledge and confront our mortality. Many Christians symbolize this through the placement of a cross of ashes on their foreheads with the words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return." The ashes remind them that one day each of us will die.
The Annunciation of Our Lord (March 25)
It is interesting that the Annunciation of Our Lord nearly always falls in Lent (sometimes during Holy Week). As early as the third century AD March 25, then the spring equinox, was regarded as the beginning of creation, the date of Jesus’ conception and the date of his crucifixion, symbolically tying the creation and the new creation together. The prayers for the day join in a noteworthy way the themes of announcement of Jesus’ birth with his cross and resurrection, thus connecting Christmas with Good Friday and Easter.
The Church Year finds its high pointand center in Holy Week, when we celebrate the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord. No other week is celebrated with such solemnity, devotion and reverence. This is the week toward which the entire liturgical year moves and from which it receives its meaning and content. Here the Church crowds together as she sings her most earnest laments and her songs of repentance alongside rejoicing most heartily in Jesus’ victory over sin, death and hell. Here is laid the basis of our own salvation, of our own life, of our own redemption.
Palm Sunday (The Sixth Sunday in Lent)
The palms of Palm Sunday greet the Victor who by his death frees his people. But even as we celebrate the Church Year, not as a sort of historical society commemorating past events but rather as Christians who relive the year with our Lord who comes to us by Word and Sacrament, even so in Holy Week we adore our Lord Jesus Christ as our true King who is not humbled by his Passion and cross but rather glorified and exalted. We recognize him as the one who will be revealed by week’s end as the victor over sin, death and hell.
The three sacred days of the Triduum (“three days”) – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday – are seen as one celebration in which we commemorate the mystery of redemption. None is complete in itself - all three join to relive the account of Jesus' passion.
Maundy Thursday derives its name from the words Jesus spoke to this disciples on this evening: “A new command (the Latin word for command is mandatum) I give you: Love one another” (John 13:34). Many Christians call this evening Holy Thursday. In this day is known as Gründonnerstag (Green Thursday) because the pastors would traditionally wear green vestments on this day. For this reason Jerusalememploys green paraments and vestments on this evening as well. Maundy Thursday is dedicated to the remembrance of Jesus’ institution of Holy Communion. With its celebration of the Holy Supper this day is set off from the rest of Holy Week as a day of festive joy.
The celebration of Good Friday as a separate day developed in fourth-century Jerusalem. The Christian pilgrim Etheria (a woman), visiting Jerusalemafter the middle of the fourth century, found a full religious observance of Good Friday. Prior to the fourth century, however, what is now Good Friday was part of the fast which preceded Easter – a single festival which commemorated our redemption won by Jesus, and which began at sundown on Saturday. By the middle of the third century this fast had been extended to forty hours from the time our Lord was crucified until his resurrection on Sunday morning. Yet, even at this early date, the latter part of the fast on Saturday was the more important.
When Good Friday emerged as a separate day commemorative of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, it became at once the church’s great day of mourning and fasting. Since then, in all lands and in all periods of Christian history, there has been agreement on the nature of Good Friday as on almost no other day in the Christian calendar. It is to be a day of mourning. The name Good Friday is of English origin and is possibly derived from “God’s Friday” just as “good-bye” is derived from “God be with you.”
Holy Saturday: The Easter Vigil The Easter Vigil closes the Triduum. In the early church this vigil was a watch through the night for signs of the rising dawn. It evokes responses from deep within the human experience: darkness and light, death and life, chaos and order, slavery and freedom. The cross is vindicated and the fullness of salvation finds expression: creation and redemption, old covenant and new covenant, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. This most holy night is the solemn remembrance of the central mystery of salvation, Christ's saving death and powerful resurrection.
The fullness of the Christian faith is eloquently expressed in the vigil. This is the Christian Passover. In its deepest sense this celebration is not just the festival of an individual, but of a people: the heroic and victorious deeds of Christ were accomplished not for himself but for the people of God and ultimately for all people.
A traditional vigil has four parts: (1) the Service of Light in which the new fire is struck as a visible sign that Christ who proclaimed himself the Light of the World and who at Easter arose and conquered sin; (2) the Service of Readings which presents a review of the whole history of salvation; (3) the Service of Holy Baptism centering on water, for through the waters of Baptism sin is drowned and we are washed and made new children of God; and (4) the Service of Holy Communion. Currently at Jerusalema version of the Easter Vigil is used at the Easter Dawn service.