While the timeline of the actual sequence of Holy Week is debatable, many of today’s liturgies can be traced to the practices that were already in place in the early Church. Biblical Scholars are familiar with the writings of Egeria, sometimes known as Etheria (McClure & Feltoe, 1919), a 4th century nun who visited important pilgrimage sites of the Holy Land, and much of the Eastern Mediterranean coast. Many parts of her letters have been lost to time, but a fragment of her vivid correspondence from the sites of pilgrimage to her sisters back in the convent, spanning 22 pages, was rediscovered as part of the Codex Aretinus, VI 3. This Codex was in turn discovered by an Italian Scholar in a monastery of St. Maria in Arezzo, Tuscany in 1884 (Wilkinson, 1981; Sivan 1988; Gingras, 1970; Bruyne, 1909; Blackman & Betts, 1989, Parra-Guinaldo, 2019)

The robust descriptions of the Holy Week proceedings tell us that while these rites and rituals did not originate in the time of Egeria, to have attained such certitude and sturdiness of celebration at that time, tell us that they had already been ongoing and developing for some time. Egeria writes the following about Palm Sunday for instance,

“And as the eleventh hour approaches, the passage from the Gospel is read, where the children, carrying branches and palms, met the Lord, saying; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, and the bishop immediately rises, and all the people with him, and they all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people going before him with hymns and antiphons, answering one to another: Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. And all the children in the neighbourhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old. For all, even those of rank, both matrons and men, accompany the bishop all the way on foot in this manner…” (McCLure & Feltoe, 1919, 66.)

Today, we still carry branches in procession as part of the liturgy of Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday

On the Sunday preceding Easter, Jesus enters Jerusalem. The crowd had heard of him via word of mouth, and they were excited at the prospect that he could be the Messiah whom they were waiting for. In the course of history, no one had cured the sick and fed the multitudes of the hungry as Jesus did. While Jesus enters Jerusalem humbly and quietly, the crowd soon gathered about him.

The four Gospels record different perspectives of the event. Some things were important to particular writers, and other things not so much, but placing the four different historical perspectives together gives us a fuller sense of what transpired that day.

Matthew 21:7-8 writes, “They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road.”

Mark 11: 8 states, “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.”

Luke 19: 36-37 says nothing of the branches, but places the focus on the cloaks and the essence of what the crowd was doing: “As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen.”

And John 12: 13 omits the cloaks, to record “they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.’”

The symbolism of the “cloak” has deeper biblical significance. In 2 Kings 8-14, Elisha succeeds Elijah in his prophetic ministry. The cloak is a sign of God’s power – as it is used to part the waters (recalling in the same light, Moses’ staff), and is a seal and assurance of Elisha’s work as a prophet. Elisha picks up the mantle that Elijah had dropped. The baton has been passed on, and Elisha is newly appointed to continue and further Elijah’s work. As a marker of identity, we also recall 1 Kings 19: 13 when Elijah meets God at Horeb – and he “hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” Elijah also throws his cloak over Elisha in 1 Kings 19: 19 to signify his vocation – “Elijah set out, and came upon Elisha, son of Shaphat, as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen; he was following the twelfth. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak on him.”

Old Testament law speaks of cloaks as pledges of surety: “If you take your neighbour’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this is his only covering; it is the cloak for his body. What will he sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will listen; for I am compassionate.” (Exodus 22: 25-26). Jesus recalls this ancient law and goes one step further: “If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.” (Matthew 5: 40) – in this case, the cloak is representative of one’s personal belongings. Jesus invites his disciples here to go beyond the normal expectations of conduct, and to surpass these with the Greek word, perisseuō (USCCB, n.d.).

The cloak is like an extension of the person and is constitutive of a person’s status and identity. To lay it at the feet of Jesus, tells us that the people at this time, even albeit momentarily, were willing to lay down their lives for this Messiah King. It was not difficult to see why – for generations, the coming of the Messiah had been prophesised.

Yet, Jesus is not the earthly Messiah who was expected by the people. On Palm Sunday, the sign of Jesus riding a donkey, heralds a reign of peace, rather than of war, and the people desired a warring Messiah. There will however, come a time for Jesus to come riding victoriously in battle, at his Second Coming – “Then I saw the heavens opened, and there was a white horse; its rider was called ‘Faithful and True.’ He judges and wages war in righteousness. His eyes were a fiery flame, and on his head were many diadems. He had a name inscribed that no one knows except himself. He wore a cloak that had been dipped in blood, and his name was called the Word of God. The armies of heaven followed him, mounted on white horses and wearing clean white linen. Out of his mouth came a sharp sword to strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he himself will tread out in the wine press the wine of the fury and wrath of God the almighty. He has a name written on his cloak and on his thigh, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’” (Revelation 19:11-16)

Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday

Little is said about the events unfolding on Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday. However Mark 11:12 – 14 has attributed that Holy Monday was the day when Jesus who was feeling hungry, looked to the fig tree for fruit and finding none, cursed it to the ground – The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs. And he said to it in reply, ‘May no one ever eat of your fruit again!’ And his disciples heard it.”

This text has always befuddled me. Was Jesus feeling moody and cranky? However, when we examine his actions a little more, we come to understand that these actions are prophetic and refer to the earlier prophets who used the motif of the fig tree to reference Israel (cf. Jeremiah 8:13; 29:17; Joel 1:7; Hosea 9:10, 16). The curse of the fig tree symbolises Jesus’ call to judgement and accountability of Israel – Israel is called out for not bearing fruit, and hence thereafter, Jerusalem is implicated for failing to receive the admonishments and teachings of Jesus (cf. Isaiah 34: 4; Hosea 2: 14; Luke 13: 6-9) (USCCB, n.d.b)

The times are not definitive, but around late Holy Monday Jesus enters the temple and begins overturning the tables of the money changers and the seats of the temple sellers (Mark 11: 15-19). We know that “When evening came, they went out of the city.” (Mark 11: 19)

The next day, Holy Tuesday, from the textual evidence, we know that the disciples with Jesus were walking about – “Early in the morning, as they were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered to its roots. Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’” (Mark 11: 20-21) The disciples were then exhorted to have faith (cf. Mark 11: 20-25). On Holy Tuesday, we come to understand that when Jesus and the disciples returned to Jerusalem, Jesus had his authority questioned by the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders (Mark 11: 27-33).

Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday, would likely correspond to the time when Jesus spoke about the parables of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22: 1-14),  the Tenants (Matthew 21: 33-46), the Two Sons (Matthew 21: 28-32), and when the Scribes and Pharisees would try to trip Jesus up with questions about the Resurrection(Matthew 22: 23-33), whom to pay taxes to (Matthew 22: 15 -22), what the greatest commandment was (Matthew 22: 24-40), and whether the Messiah was King David’s offspring (Matthew 22: 41-46).

Holy Wednesday

Jesus visits the house of Simon the leper, and there, he is anointed with an expensive bottle of nard (Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; Luke 7:36–50; John 12:1–8).

Holy Wednesday is also known traditionally as Spy Wednesday as it is on this day that Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus to the Pharisees and Scribes – “Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Matthew 26: 14-16). This act of betrayal earned Judas Iscariot the title of “Spy” from the medieval Christians (Kosloski, 2018).

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday corresponds to the first day of the celebration of the Feast of Unleaven Bread in Jewish culture. According to the Jewish calendar, it is celebrated over 7 days. It overlaps with the celebration of the Passover. According to Jewish custom, they are to eat unleavened bread for 7 days, and to remove anything with leaven from their homes during this time. Jesus would use this day to institute the New Passover, found in the Eucharist, and the Priesthood. As an example, he washes the feet of his disciples (John 13: 1-17, Matthew 26: 17-30; Mark 14: 12-26; Luke 22: 1-23). The washing of feet is only explicitly recorded in John 13: 1-17.

After the celebration of the Passover meal, the disciples and Jesus head to the Mount of Olives as it was customary of them to do so. At the Mount of Olives, Peter’s denial is foretold (Mark 14: 26- 31; John 13: 36-38; Luke 22: 31-34; Matthew 26: 30-35).

Jesus then proceeds to the Garden of Gethsemane where he prays in agony. It is here where he is arrested by the soldiers and pointed out by Judas Iscariot by a kiss (John 18: 1-14; Mark 14: 32-52; Matthew 26: 36-56; Luke 22: 39-53).

On that same night Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin and as foretold, Peter denies Jesus three times. If Holy Thursday were the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, then we must understand that on the same day of his ordination, Peter denied Jesus three times. Despite the gravity of his sin, we can take heart, that if there was hope for Peter’s redemption, there is hope for us too. When their eyes meet in the courtyard. It is not a look of judgement or condemnation, but of love, and it was love that allowed Peter to weep and repent – “But Peter said, ‘My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ He went out and began to weep bitterly.” (Luke 22: 60-62)

Good Friday

We already know what happens on Good Friday – Jesus is beaten, bruised, tortured, spat on, mocked, made to carry his cross and crucified. He would have spent the day being dragged about as a criminal to see the Chief Priests, and Pilate, before he is finally sentenced in place of Barabbas. There is gravity and importance, to note that he who is innocent, takes the place of a hardened criminal, who through his account gains his freedom.

Only the Gospels of Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34) record the utterance of Jesus as he cries out before he takes his last breath: “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”  In Mark’s Gospel, the verse is cited entirely in Aramaic, while in Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew partially retains the structure of the sentence, but changes the invocation of God to the Hebrew Eli, likely because that is more easily related to the statement of the following verse about Jesus’ calling for Elijah (USCCB, n.d. c) This line is an interesting line and has often been misinterpreted and used in the battle of apologetics to say that Jesus felt despair and that God our Father turned his face from him and abandoned him completely, because Jesus took on our sin and God our Father hence had to turn his face away. This is theologically erroneous. There is error in this teaching, because we know for a fact that this behaviour is contrary to who God our Father and Jesus are. Jesus in his earthly ministry did not turn his face away from the tax collector or the prostitute, or from those carrying grievous sin like the woman caught in adultery. Also, when Adam and Eve sinned, God our Father did not turn his face away from them but sought them out more actively as seen in Genesis 3: 8-9 “When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you?”

A closer reading reveals that these words are the same words that open Psalm 22: 2 – “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Many would end there without reading the entirety of the psalm, but if we did complete the reading of Psalm 22, we would realise that that psalm begins as a lament to voice out the people’s feelings that they felt far away from God – a feeling again, not correlated to the actual reality that God was always near; alludes prophetically to the torture that Jesus would undergo – “All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me: ‘He relied on the LORD—let him deliver him; if he loves him, let him rescue him.” (Psalm 22: 8 – 9) which parallel the exact words spoken by the Chief Priests at the crucifixion: “’He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27: 42-43) as an example; and concludes on a note of hope.

Towards the end of Psalm 22, we see the prophetic utterance that “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD; All the families of nations will bow low before him. For kingship belongs to the LORD, the ruler over the nations.” (Psalm 22: 28-29)

This hope is confirmed in Jesus invoking Psalm 31: 5, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” (cf. Luke 23:46). Despite the pain that Jesus is undergoing, he is surrendering his life to God our Father, with a firm trust that there is something more beyond the crucifixion.

Hence what is expressed on the cross by Jesus, is not despair, but hope, albeit an agonising and painful one that there is assurance and guarantee of deliverance in the hands of God.  While he is living out an affliction, there is confidence that the affliction is not the end of the story, but leads on to the promise of salvation, not just for the chosen people, but for the entire ends of the Earth (Broussard, 2019).

Holy Saturday

Guards are installed with Pilate’s permission at the tomb of Jesus to prevent his disciples stealing the body away: “The next day, the one following the day of preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember that this impostor while still alive said, ‘After three days I will be raised up.’ Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day, lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ This last imposture would be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘The guard is yours; go secure it as best you can.’ So they went and secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard.” (Matthew 27: 62-66).

Holy Saturday coincided with the Jewish practice of the Sabbath Day, so the disciples would have returned to their respective homes and rested.

On Holy Saturday, we recall the words of the Apostle’s Creed we profess: “…he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead…” This “hell” refers not to the place of Eternal Damnation, but a holding place – Sheol. In Sheol, those there are deprived of the sight of God – whether evil or just – with different paths and final destinations for these two categories of souls. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC. 633) Christ “did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.” Before Jesus – the souls were waiting in Sheol and waiting there for God’s final judgement, but with Jesus descending into hell, it tells us that Jesus really did die, but because He holds the keys to Heaven and hell, has conquered death and the devil who has the power of death (CCC. 636), and thus Jesus freed the just souls who were previously waiting there, and because of this, henceforth all other just souls would be freed as well from the power of hell.

CCC. 635 tells us, “Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. the earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him – He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

Easter Sunday

On the Third Day, Jesus rose again. Early that day, with the prepared herbs and spices, Mary Magdalene and some women disciples went to the tomb, to continue the work of embalming that they had left aside on the Sabbath Day, only to find that the tomb was empty (cf. Luke 24: 5-6).

The linen cloths lying there, were left in such a manner that was not the work of human hands as the Beloved Disciple affirmed.

Jesus then appears to various people simultaneously –  to the disciples at the shore of Tiberias, to Cleopas and the other disciple at Emmaus, to the disciples hiding in the room, and again to the disciples with Thomas. His having a meal with them tells us that he is not a ghost, but is truly risen. St. Paul testifies that Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at the resurrection event (1 Corinthians 15:4-8; cf. Acts 1:22.)

It is important that the women, considered a subjugated class in Jewish culture were the first witnesses. The synagogue’s silence on the matter speaks volumes, for they had done everything to prevent deception, and would have definitely be the first to report any deception –  they could say nothing further about the matter, except about “that they speak no more in this name to any man” (Acts 4: 17). Also the thousands who believed and held firmly to their belief in the face of horrible persecution unto to death, when they would have preserved their lives quickly by stating if it were a lie, stand as testaments of how real the Resurrection is. As the rise of the Church without the Resurrection would be an even greater miracle than the Resurrection itself (Maas, n.d.).


Concluding Remarks:

Holy Week is the most holy week in the Church’s calendar. Easter is a greater feast than Christmas, and provides us with the very reason for our Faith. Without the Resurrection our faith is hollow and meaningless.

It also provides us an opportunity to reconnect with who God is in our lives, and to allow the sanctity of the celebration of Holy Week to transcend time and permeate every aspect of our being, as we journey with Christ from Palm Sunday to Easter.

Our roles oscillate. We are at once the crowd welcoming Jesus, the disciples frantically searching for a donkey, Peter denying Jesus, Peter reconciling and repenting, the Sanhedrin, the mocking torturers and soldiers, the one who betray Jesus, the sleeping guard, the weeping women, the person who provided the tomb, the disciples who returned despondently to their home towns, the ones who ran joyfully to the tomb, the ones who place our hands into the sides and wounds of our Risen Lord.

We have wasted too much time. Let us hurry to meet the Risen One.


By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan



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