“In Holy Week, the Church celebrates the mysteries of salvation accomplished by Christ in the last days of the earthly life, beginning with his messianic entry into Jerusalem”(141).
The people are notably involved in the rites of Holy Week. Many of them still bear the traces of their origins in popular piety. It has come about, however, that in the course of the centauries, a form of celebrative parallelism has arisen in the Rites of Holy Week, resulting in two cycles each with its own specific character: one is strictly liturgical, the other is marked by particular pious exercise, especially processions.
This divergence should be oriented towards a correct harmonisation of the liturgical celebrations and pious exercises. Indeed, the attention and interest in manifestations of popular piety, traditionally observed among the people, should lead to a correct appreciation of the liturgical actions, which are supported by popular piety.
Palms, olive branches and other fronds
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, or “Passion Sunday”, which unites the royal splendour of Christ with the proclamation of his Passion”(142).
The procession, commemorating Christ’s messianic entry into Jerusalem, is joyous and popular in character. The faithful usually keep palm or olive branches, or other greenery which have been blessed on Palm Sunday in their homes or in their work places.
The faithful, however, should be instructed as to the meaning of this celebration so that they might grasp its significance. They should be opportunely reminded that the important thing is participation at the procession and not only the obtaining of palm or olive branches. Palms or olive branches should not be kept as amulets, or for therapeutic or magical reasons to dispel evil spirits or to prevent the damage these cause in the fields or in the homes, all of which can assume a certain superstitious guise.
Palms and olive branches are kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic king, and in his Paschal Victory.
The Paschal Triduum
Every year, the Church celebrates the great mysteries of the redemption of mankind in the “most sacred triduum of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection”(143). The Sacred Triduum extends from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper to Vespers on Easter Sunday and is celebrated “in intimate communion with Christ her Spouse”(144).
Visiting the Altar of Repose
Popular piety is particularly sensitive to the adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the wake of the Mass of the Lord’s supper(145). Because of a long historical process, whose origins are not entirely clear, the place of repose has traditionally been referred to as a “a holy sepulchre”. The faithful go there to venerate Jesus who was placed in a tomb following the crucifixion and in which he remained for some forty hours.
It is necessary to instruct the faithful on the meaning of the reposition: it is an austere solemn conservation of the Body of Christ for the community of the faithful which takes part in the liturgy of Good Friday and for the viaticum of the infirmed(146). It is an invitation to silent and prolonged adoration of the wondrous sacrament instituted by Jesus on this day.
In reference to the altar of repose, therefore, the term “sepulchre” should be avoided, and its decoration should not have any suggestion of a tomb. The tabernacle on this altar should not be in the form of a tomb or funerary urn. The Blessed Sacrament should be conserved in a closed tabernacle and should not be exposed in a monstrance.
After mid-night on Holy Thursday, the adoration should conclude without solemnity, since the day of the Lord’s Passion has already begun.
Good Friday Procession
The Church celebrates the redemptive death of Christ on Good Friday. The Church meditates on the Lord’s Passion in the afternoon liturgical action, in which she prays for the salvation of the word, adores the Cross and commemorates her very origin in the sacred wound in Christ’s side (cf. John 19, 34)(149).
In addition to the various forms of popular piety on Good Friday such as the Via Crucis, the passion processions are undoubtedly the most important. These correspond, after the fashion of popular piety, to the small procession of friends and disciples who, having taken the body of Jesus down from the Cross, carried it to the place where there “was a tomb hewn in the rock in which no one had yet been buried” (Lk 23, 53).
The procession of the “dead Christ” is usually conducted in austere silence, prayer, and the participation of many of the faithful, who intuit much of the significance of the Lord’s burial.
It is necessary, however, to ensure that such manifestations of popular piety, either by time or the manner in which the faithful are convoked, do not become a surrogate for the liturgical celebrations of Good Friday.
In the pastoral planning of Good Friday primary attention and maximum importance must be given to the solemn liturgical action and the faithful must be brought to realize that no other exercise can objectively substitute for this liturgical celebration.
Finally, the integration of the “dead Christ” procession with the solemn liturgical action of Good Friday should be avoided for such would constitute a distorted celebrative hybrid.
In many countries, passion plays take place during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. These are often “sacred representations”which can justly be regarded as pious exercises. Indeed, such sacred representations have their origins in the Sacred Liturgy. Some of these plays, which began in the monks’ choir, so as to speak, have undergone a progressive dramatisation that has taken them outside of the church.
In some places, responsibility for the representations of the Lord’s passion has been given over to the Confraternities, whose members have assumed particular responsibilities to live the Christian life. In such representations, actors and spectators are involved in a movement of faith and genuine piety. It is singularly important to ensure that representations of the Lord’s Passion do not deviate from this pure line of sincere and gratuitous piety, or take on the characteristics of folk productions, which are not so much manifestations of piety as tourist attractions.
In relation to sacred “representations” it is important to instruct the faithful on the difference between a “representation” which is commemorative, and the “liturgical actions” which are anamnesis, or mysterious presence of the redemptive event of the Passion.
Penitential practices leading to self-crucifixion with nails are not to be encouraged.
Our Lady of Dolours
Because of its doctrinal and pastoral importance, it is recommended that “the memorial of Our Lady of Dolours”(150) should be recalled. Popular piety, following the Gospel account, emphasizes the association of Mary with the saving Passion her Son (cf, John 19, 25-27; Lk 2, 34f), and has given rise to many pious exercises, including:
the Planctus Mariae, an intense expression of sorrow, often accompanied by literary or musical pieces of a very high quality, in which Our Lady cries not only for the death of her Son, the Innocent, Holy, and Good One, but also for the errors of his people and the sins of mankind;
the Ora della Desolata, in which the faithful devoutly keep vigil with the Mother of Our Lord, in her abandonment and profound sorrow following the death of her only Son; they contemplate Our Lady as she receives the dead body of Christ (the Pietà) realizing that the sorrow of the world for the Lord’s death finds expression in Mary; in her they behold the personification of all mothers throughout the ages who have mourned the loss of a son. This pious exercise, which in some parts of Latin America is called El Pésame, should not be limited merely to the expression of emotion before a sorrowing mother. Rather, with faith in the resurrection, it should assist in understanding the greatness of Christ’s redemptive love and his Mother’s participation in it.
“On Holy Saturday, the Church pauses at the Lord’s tomb, meditating his Passion and Death, his descent into Hell, and, with prayer and fasting, awaits his resurrection”(151).
Popular piety should not be impervious to the peculiar character of Holy Saturday. The festive customs and practices connected with this day, on which the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection was once anticipated, should be reserved for the vigil and for Easter Sunday.
The “Ora della Madre”
According to tradition, the entire body of the Church is represented in Mary: she is the “credentium collectio universa”(152). Thus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, as she waits near the Lord’s tomb, as she is represented in Christian tradition, is an icon of the Virgin Church keeping vigil at the tomb of her Spouse while awaiting the celebration of his resurrection.
The pious exercise of the Ora di Maria is inspired by this intuition of the relationship between the Virgin Mary and the Church: while the body of her Son lays in the tomb and his soul has descended to the dead to announce liberation from the shadow of darkness to his ancestors, the Blessed Virgin Mary, foreshadowing and representing the Church, awaits, in faith, the victorious triumph of her Son over death.
Easter Sunday, the greatest solemnity in the liturgical year, is often associated with many displays of popular piety: these are all cultic expressions which proclaim the new and glorious condition of the risen Christ, and the divine power released from his triumph over sin and death.
The Risen Christ meets his Mother
Popular piety intuits a constancy in the relationship between Christ and his mother: in suffering and death and in the joy of the resurrection.
The liturgical affirmation that God replenished the Blessed Virgin Mary with joy in the resurrection of her Son(153), has been translated and represented, so as to speak, in the pious exercise of the meeting of the Risen Christ with His Mother: on Easter morning two processions, one bearing the image of Our Lady of Dolours, the other that of the Risen Christ, meet each other so as to show that Our Lady was the first, and full participant in the mystery of the Lord’s resurrection.
What has already been said in relation to the processions of “the dead Christ” also applies to this pious exercise: the observance of the pious exercise should not acquire greater importance than the liturgical celebration of Easter Sunday nor occasion inappropriate mixing of liturgical expressions with those of popular piety(154).
Blessing of the Family Table
The Easter liturgy is permeated by a sense of newness: nature has been renewed, since Easter coincides with Spring in the Northern hemisphere; fire and water have been renewed; Christian hearts have been renewed through the Sacrament of Penance, and, where possible, through administration of the Sacraments of Christian initiation; the Eucharist is renewed, so as to speak: these are signs and sign-realities of the new life begun by Christ in the resurrection.
Among the pious exercises connected with Easter Sunday, mention must be made of the traditional blessing of eggs, the symbol of life, and the blessing of the family table; this latter, which is a daily habit in many Christian families that should be encouraged(155), is particularly important on Easter Sunday: the head of the household or some other member of the household, blesses the festive meal with Easter water which is brought by the faithful from the Easter Vigil.
Visit to the Mother of the Risen Christ
At the conclusion of the Easter Vigil, or following the Second Vespers of Easter, a short pious exercise is kept in many places: flowers are blessed and distributed to the faithful as a sign of Easter joy. Some are brought to the image of Our Lady of Dolours, which is then crowned, as the Regina Coeli is sung. The faithful, having associated themselves with the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin in the Lord’s Passion and Death, now rejoice with her in His resurrection.
While this pious exercise should not be incorporated into the liturgical action, it is completely in harmony with the content of the Paschal Mystery and is a further example of the manner in which popular piety grasps the Blessed Virgin Mary’s association with the saving work of her Son.
The Annual Blessing of Family Homes
The annual blessing of families takes places in their homes during Eastertide – or at other times of the year. This pastoral practice is highly recommended to parish priests and to their assistant priests since it is greatly appreciated by the faithful and affords a precious occasion to recollect God’s constant presence among Christian families. It is also an opportunity to invite the faithful to live according to the Gospel, and to exhort parents and children to preserve and promote the mystery of being “a domestic church”.
The Via Lucis
A pious exercise called the Via Lucis has developed and spread to many regions in recent years. Following the model of the Via Crucis, the faithful process while meditating on the various appearances of Jesus – from his Resurrection to his Ascension – in which he showed his glory to the disciples who awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14, 26; 16, 13-15; Lk 24, 49), strengthened their faith, brought to completion his teaching on the Kingdom and more closely defined the sacramental and hierarchical structure of the Church.
Through the Via Lucis, the faithful recall the central event of the faith – the resurrection of Christ – and their discipleship in virtue of Baptism, the paschal sacrament by which they have passed from the darkness of sin to the bright radiance of the light of grace (cf. Col 1, 13; Ef 5, 8).
For centuries the Via Crucis involved the faithful in the first moment of the Easter event, namely the Passion, and helped to fixed its most important aspects in their consciousness. Analogously, the Via Lucis, when celebrated in fidelity to the Gospel text, can effectively convey a living understanding to the faithful of the second moment of the Pascal event, namely the Lord’s Resurrection.
The Via Lucis is potentially an excellent pedagogy of the faith, since “per crucem ad lucem”. Using the metaphor of a journey, the Via Lucis moves from the experience of suffering, which in God’s plan is part of life, to the hope of arriving at man’s true end: liberation, joy and peace which are essentially paschal values.
The Via Lucis is a potential stimulus for the restoration of a “culture of life” which is open to the hope and certitude offered by faith, in a society often characterized by a “culture of death”, despair and nihilism.
Devotion to the Divine Mercy
In connection with the octave of Easter, recent years have witnessed the development and diffusion of a special devotion to the Divine Mercy based on the writings of Sr. Faustina Kowalska who was canonized 30 April 2000. It concentrates on the mercy poured forth in Christ’s death and resurrection, fount of the Holy Spirit who forgives sins and restores joy at having been redeemed. Since the liturgy of the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday – as it is now called – is the natural locus in which to express man’s acceptance of the Redeemer’s mercy, the faithful should be taught to understand this devotion in the light of the liturgical celebrations of these Easter days. Indeed, “the paschal Christ is the definitive incarnation of mercy, his living sign which is both historico-salvific and eschatological. At the same time, the Easter liturgy places the words of the psalm on our lips: “I shall sing forever of the Lord’s mercy” (Ps 89 2)”.
The Pentecost Novena
The New Testament tells us that during the period between the Ascension and Pentecost “all…joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1, 14) while they awaited being “clothed with the power from on high” (Lk 24, 49). The pious exercise of the Pentecost novena, widely practised among the faithful, emerged from prayerful reflection on this salvific event.
Indeed, this novena is already present in the Missal and in the Liturgy of the Hours, especially in the second vespers of Pentecost: the biblical and eucological texts, in different ways, recall the disciples’ expectation of the Paraclete. Where possible, the Pentecost novena should consist of the solemn celebration of vespers. Where such is not possible, the novena should try to reflect the liturgical themes of the days from Ascension to the Vigil of Pentecost.
In some places, the week of prayer for the unity Christians is celebrated at this time.
Source: Directory of Popular Piety