HOLY WEEK begins with Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. First, we hear the Gospel narrative of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Then we use palm fronds and palm crosses to remind us of the palms that were waved and strewn in Jesus’ honour and of the Cross to which he was destined.
Once the procession is over, the mood changes as we hear the Passion story (the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and Crucifixion). The crowd that greets Jesus on Palm Sunday shouting ‘Hosanna becomes the crowd shouting ‘Crucify him’ by the end of Holy Week. Recognising this may make us ask whether our relationship to Jesus is just as fickle. Do we by turns applaud him and, by our behaviour and thoughts, crucify him again and again?
The climax of Holy Week is the Triduum (Latin for three days): Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Each day has its own special and moving liturgy.
Maundy Thursday takes its name from an altered form of mandatum est, Latin for ‘he commanded’. John’s Gospel records that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet when he ate with them for the last time and commanded them to do the same. For this reason, we have a symbolic foot washing at the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday. We also give thanks for Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
When the Eucharist is over at Nice, two notable things happen. First, some of the sacrament is taken to the St Michael Chapel, which has been specially decorated to represent the Garden of Gethsemane. Second, the altar is stripped of its furnishing, which reminds us of the way in which Christ’s tormentors stripped him of his clothes before the Crucifixion.
There will be a Vigil in the St Michael Chapel before the ‘Altar of Repose’ (so called because the sacrament reposes there). Doing this reminds us of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he had to decide whether to obey his Father’s will and submit to arrest and death or run away.
Good Friday is the most sombre day of the Church’s Year and, with the Easter celebration of the Resurrection, the most important. The most ancient way of marking Good Friday is with a service (the Solemn Liturgy) in the middle of the day when the story of Jesus’ Crucifixion is read dramatically.
The Solemn Liturgy at Vence will begin at noon and at Nice at 3 p.m. After the reading of the Passion, there is the Veneration of the Cross and we will also receive communion from some of the sacrament which has been kept from the night before.
To mark Jesus’ agony and death, there is no celebration of the Eucharist between Maundy Thursday and the Easter Vigil. There will, however, be an ecumenical service of prayers and readings in Nice at 7.30 a.m. on Holy Saturday, bringing together people from Sacré Coeur, Holy Spirit and Holy Trinity.
The Easter Eucharists, beginning with the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, at 8.30 p.m. in Nice, are the most joyous and important services of the year. Easter Day, according to ancient custom, begins after sunset on Holy Saturday, so the Easter Vigil Eucharist is the first celebration of Christ’s Resurrection.
The principal symbols used in this service are light, fire and water. We will light a bonfire on the parvis close to the churchyard to symbolise the victory over death that is brought about by Christ’s resurrection. From this bonfire we will light the Paschal (Easter) Candle, from which in turn the whole congregation will light their own small candles to remind them of their baptism. The level of lighting in the church is as low as practicable.
The gradual lighting of the church symbolises the victory of Christ over death, as does the singing of the Gloria, which has not been sung during Lent (it was sung on Maundy Thursday but that is not in Lent).
At every Easter Vigil, the baptismal water in the font is blessed with the Paschal Candle and the congregation then renew their baptismal vows.
On Easter Day, the greatest feast in the church’s calendar continues with a Sung Eucharist (Vence at 9 a.m. and Nice at 11 a.m.). As a further sign of the Resurrection, both churches will be filled with flowers.