Spain celebrates Easter Week much more than most European countries. During the whole of Semana Santa, (Holy Week), street processions are organised in most Spanish towns each evening, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.
People carry statues of saints around on floats or wooden platforms, and an atmosphere of mourning – which can seem quite oppressive to onlookers – and the Easter week processions end with Easter Sunday, a day full of light and colour when church and cathedral bells are heard ringing throughout the country.
In some of the processions, marchers wear clothes reminiscent of the klu klux klan. Infact their clothes are meant to depict the Nazareños, people from Nazareth. The religious fraternities and brotherhoods are responsable for carrying the statues and organising the penitents and musicians. The Nazareños follow the people who carry the floats bearing sculptures and models of biblical scenes.
The people who carry the weight of the floats are called “costaleros” and are expected the carry these “thrones” with solemnity and grace. They use a small cushion, “costal” to protect themselves from getting sores from the wood rubbing against their skin during the long processions.
The most famous Easter celebrations are held in various Andalusian towns, Valladolid, Toledo, Segovia, Burgos, Zamora and Cuenca.
Holy Week begins with Sunday of the Passion of the Our Lord. Before 1955 this Sunday was known in the Roman Rite simply as Palm Sunday and the preceding Sunday as Passion Sunday. From 1955 to 1971 it was called Second Sunday in Passiontide or Palm Sunday.
To commemorate the entrance of the messiah into Jerusalem, to accomplish his paschal mystery, it is customary to have before Mass a blessing of palm leaves (or other branches, for example olive branches). The blessing ceremony, preferably held outside the church includes the reading of a Gospel account of how Jesus rode into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, reminiscent of a Davidic victory procession, and how people placed palms on the ground in front of him. This is followed by a procession or solemn entrance into the church, with the participants holding the blessed branches in their hands.
The Mass itself includes a reading of the Passion, the narrative of Jesus’ capture, sufferings and death, as recounted in one of the Synoptic Gospels.
Before the reform of the rite by Pope Pius XII, the blessing of the palms occurred inside the church within a service that followed the general outline of a Mass, with Collect, Epistle and Gospel, as far as the Sanctus. The palms were then blessed with five prayers, and a procession went out of the church and on its return included a ceremony for the reopening of the doors, which had meantime been shut. After this the normal Mass was celebrated.
Monday to Wednesday
The days between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday are known as Holy Monday (or Fig Monday), Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday (sometimes called Spy Wednesday). The Gospels of these days recount events not all of which occurred on the corresponding days between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his Last Supper. For instance, the Monday Gospel tells of the Anointing at Bethany (John 12:1-9), which occurred before the Palm Sunday event described in John 12:12-19.
The Chrism Mass, whose texts the Roman Missal now gives under Holy Thursday, may be brought forward to one of these days, to facilitate participation by as many as possible of the clergy of the diocese together with the bishop. This Mass was not included in editions of the Roman Missal before the time of Pope Pius XII. In this Mass the bishop blesses separate oils for the sick (used in Anointing of the Sick), for catechumens (used in Baptism) and chrism (used in Baptism, but especially in Confirmation and Holy Orders, as well as in rites such as the blessing of an altar and a church).
When the principal services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil were celebrated in the morning, the office of Matins and Lauds of each day was celebrated on the evening of the preceding day in the service known as Tenebrae.
On this day the private celebration of Mass is forbidden. Thus, apart from the Chrism Mass for the blessing of the Holy Oils that the diocesan bishop may celebrate on the morning of Holy Thursday, but also on some other day close to Easter, the only Mass on this day is the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which inaugurates the period of three days, known as the Easter Triduum, that includes Good Friday (seen as beginning with the service of the preceding evening), Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday up to evening prayer on that day.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his Twelve Apostles, “the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and the commandment of brotherly love that Jesus gave after washing the feet of his disciples.”
All the bells of the church, including altar bells, may be rung during the Gloria in Excelsis Deo of the Mass. The bells and the organ then fall silent until the Gloria at the Easter Vigil. In some countries, children are sometimes told: “The bells have flown to Rome.”
The Roman Missal recommends that, if considered pastorally appropriate, the priest should, immediately after the homily, celebrate the rite of washing the feet of an unspecified number of men, customarily twelve, recalling the number of the Apostles.
A sufficient number of hosts are consecrated for use also in the Good Friday service, and at the conclusion of the Mass the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession to a place of reposition away from the main body of the church, which, if it involves an altar, is often called an “altar of repose”.
The altar of the church is later stripped quite bare and, to the extent possible, crosses are removed from the church or veiled.
Roman Catholic Christians treat Good Friday as a fast day, which is defined as only having one full meal or two small ones.
The Catholic Good Friday in the Roman Rite afternoon service involves a series of readings and meditations, as well as the (sung) reading of the Passion account from the Gospel of John which is often read dramatically, with the priest, one or more readers, and the congregation all taking part. In the traditional Latin liturgy, the Passion is read by the priest facing the altar, with three deacons chanting in the sanctuary facing the people. Unlike Roman Catholic services on other days, the Good Friday service is not a Mass, and in fact, celebration of Catholic Mass on Good Friday is forbidden. Eucharist consecrated the night before (Holy Thursday) may be distributed. The cross is presented, with the people given an opportunity to venerate it. The services also include a long series of formal intercessions. The solemnity and somberness of the occasion has led to a phenomenon whereby in the course of history the liturgical provisions have a tendency to persist without substantial modification, even over the centuries. Some churches hold a three-hour mediation from midday, the Three Hours’ Agony. In some countries, such as Malta,Philippines, Italy and Spain, processions with statues representing the Passion of Christ are held.
* The Church mourns for Christ’s death, reveres the Cross, and marvels at his life for his obedience until death.
* The only sacraments celebrated are Penance and Anointing of the Sick. While there is no celebration of the Eucharist, Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful only in the Service of the Passion of the Lord, but can be taken at any hour to the sick who are unable to attend this service.
* The altar remains completely bare, without texts, candlesticks, or altar cloths.
* It is customary to empty the holy water fonts in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil.
* The Stations of the Cross are often prayed either in the church or outside.
* The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord takes place in the afternoon, ideally at three o’clock, but for pastoral reasons a later hour may be chosen.
* Since 1970, the colour of the vestments is red. Previously it was black. If a bishop celebrates, he wears a plain mitre.
* ‘The liturgy consists of three parts in the Roma Rite: the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion.
Liturgy of the Word
Prostration of the celebrant before the altar.
The readings from Isaiah 53 (about the Suffering Servant) and the Epistle to the Hebrews are read.
The Passion narrative of the Gospel of John is sung or read, often divided between more than one singer or reader.
General Intercessions: The congregation pray for the Church, the Pope, the Jews, non-Christians, unbelievers and others.
Veneration of the Cross: A crucifix is solemnly unveiled before the congregation. The people venerate it on their knees. During this part, the “Reproaches” are often sung.
Communion service: Hosts consecrated at the Mass of the previous day are distributed to the people.
* Even if music is used in the Liturgy, it is not used to open and close the Liturgy, nor is there a formal recessional (closing procession).
* It was once customary in some countries, especially England, to place a veiled monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament or a cross in a Holy Sepulchre”.
* No Mass is celebrated. In cases of the danger of death, Eucharistic Hosts remaining from the Liturgies of the two previous days are used for Extreme Unction.
* A day of silence and prayer which commemorates the dead Christ in the tomb. No Mass is celebrated. In some Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, there is provision for a simple liturgy of the word with readings commemorating the burial of Christ.
* The tabernacle is left empty and open. The lamp or candle usually situated next to the tabernacle denoting the Presence of Christ is put out, and the remaining Eucharistic Hosts consecrated on Holy Thursday are kept elsewhere, usually the sacristy, with a lamp or candle burning before it, so that, in cases of the danger of death, they may be given as viaticum.
* The celebration of Easter may begin after sundown on what is therefore liturgically Easter Sunday, though still Saturday in the civil calendar.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Easter Vigil consists of four parts:
1. The Service of Light
2. The Liturgy of the Word
3. The Liturgy of Baptism: The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for new members of the Church and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises by the entire congregation.
4. Holy Eucharist
The Liturgy begins after sundown on Holy Saturday as the crowd gathers inside the unlit church. In the darkness (often in a side chapel of the church building or, preferably, outside the church), a new fire is kindled and blessed by the priest. This new fire symbolizes the light of salvation and hope that God brought into the world through Christ’s Resurrection, dispelling the darkness of sin and death. From this fire is lit the Paschal candle, symbolizing the Light of Christ. This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, remaining in the sanctuary of the Church or near the lectern, and throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals, reminding all that that Christ is “light and life.”
All baptized Catholics present (i.e. those who have received the “Light of Christ”) receive candles which are lit from the Paschal candle. As this symbolic “Light of Christ” spreads throughout those gathered, the darkness is decreased. A deacon, or the priest if there is no deacon, carries the Paschal Candle at the head of the entrance procession and, at three points, stops and chants the proclamation “Light of Christ” or “Christ our Light,” to which the people respond “Thanks be to God.” Once the procession concludes, the deacon or a cantor chants the Exultet (also called the “Easter Proclamation”), and, the church remaining lit only by the people’s candles and the Paschal candle, the people take their seats for the Liturgy of the Word.
The Liturgy of the Word consists of between two and seven readings from the Old Testament. The account of the Exodus is given particular attention in the readings since it is considered to be the Old Testament antetype of Christian salvation. Each reading is followed by a psalm and a prayer relating what has been read in the Old Testament to the Mystery of Christ. After these readings conclude, a fanfare may sound on the organ and additional musical instruments and the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is sung. During this outburst of musical jubilation the congregation’s candles are extinguished, the church lights are turned on, and bells rung while the church’s decorative funnings — altar frontals, the reredos, lectern hangings, processional banners, statues and paintings — which had been stripped or covered during Holy Week, are ceremonially replaced and unveiled and flowers are placed on altars and elsewhere. (In the pre-Vatican II rite, the statues, which have been covered during Passion Time, are unveiled at this time.) Members of the congregation may have been encouraged to bring flowers which are also brought forward and placed about the sanctuary and side altars. A reading from the Epistle to the Romans is proclaimed. The Alleluia is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent (or, in the pre-Vatican II rite, since Septuagesima). The Gospel of the Resurrection then follows, along with a homily.
After the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word, the water of the baptismal font is consecrated and any catechumens or candidates for full communion are initiated into the church, by baptism and/or confirmation, respectively. After the celebration of these sacraments of initiation, the congregation renews their baptismal vows and receive the sprinkling of baptismal water. The general intercessions follow.
After the Liturgy of Baptism, the Liturgy of the Eucharist continues as usual. This is the first Mass of Easter Day. During the Eucharist, the newly baptised receive Holy Communion for the first time. According to the rubrics of the Missal, the Eucharist should finish before dawn.