Diocesan churches preparing for Easter celebrations as Lent ushers in Holy Week services

Diocesan churches preparing for Easter celebrations as Lent ushers in Holy Week services

The East Tennessee Catholic

Churches in the Diocese of Knoxville are preparing for Easter as Lent leads the faithful into Holy Week.

Laetare Sunday, celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent, is a time when the Church pauses the penitential reflections of Lent and “rejoices” in the hope of the coming Easter season. Parish priests will don rose-colored vestments, and faithful Catholics will look up from the somber practices of the 40 days of sacrifice and penance to see a glimpse into Easter.

Laetare Sunday will give way to Passiontide and Palm Sunday. Altars will be draped in purple, and the faithful will immerse themselves in a dark and somber reflection of the Passion of Jesus on His way to the cross. Holy Week begins with the distribution of palms at the Palm Sunday Mass.

In the diocese, the Monday of Holy Week, March 25, is when the Chrism Mass will be celebrated. The annual Mass will begin at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is a change from the usual Chrism Mass time in the diocese — the Tuesday of Holy Week.

The Chrism Mass is an opportunity for the entire diocese to come together at its cathedral to celebrate as Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre blesses the oil of the sick and the oil of the catechumens and consecrates the chrism that will be used in diocesan churches throughout the year.

It also is a special time when the priests of the diocese renew their vow to priestly service.

Many parishes will hold a Tenebrae service early in Holy Week. Tenebrae means “shadows” or “darkness,” which offers a hint into the meaning of this ritual. The Church will be lit only by candles as the prayers of the Divine Office are prayed. Each candle will be extinguished one by one until the church is in darkness and quiet, a foreshadowing of the fate of Good Friday.

The Holy Triduum begins with the reflections of Holy Thursday. The days of the Triduum are distinct in that daily Mass is not offered as usual. The only church service for Catholics on Holy Thursday is the evening service marking the washing of the feet and the Last Supper. At the end of Holy Thursday Mass, the altar is stripped in preparation of remembrance of the devastating events of Good Friday. The Blessed Sacrament is removed from the main altar and placed on a side altar for adoration until end of day.

Good Friday offers a somber day of reflection, marked by fasting and abstinence of the faithful. Many parishes produce Living Stations of the Cross, a powerful reminder of Jesus’ walk to Calvary. All are called to Good Friday service, which commemorates the death of Jesus on the Cross, including veneration of the cross. The altar is bare, the Blessed Sacrament has been removed, and the people leave quietly. Jesus is in the tomb. His disciples are alone.

Holy Saturday is the one day of the liturgical year when there is no Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, no confessions, and no activity in the church until Easter Vigil Mass begins at dusk. Easter Vigil begins with the faithful gathered around a fire outside of the church. That fire is then brought into the dark church with the lighting of the Paschal candle. This candle will burn at the altar throughout the year until it is extinguished during next year’s Holy Thursday service.

Catechumens and candidates who have been preparing for this night throughout the year will gather at Easter Vigils around the diocese. Along with godparents and sponsors, these new members of the Church will receive the sacraments, including first Holy Communion. The churches will be filled with the sounds of the Litany of the Saints and the renewal of baptismal promises. The congregation will listen and participate in an extended Liturgy of the Word, and the words of the Gloria and Alleluia will again resonate.

Easter Masses will celebrate our Risen Lord and the promise of salvation that Christ on the Cross delivers to all who are baptized. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me,” Jesus declares. On Easter, Christians celebrate the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The Easter season in the liturgical calendar lasts for 50 days until the celebration of Pentecost, this year on May 19. This season is the longest of the liturgical calendar, outside of Ordinary Time. In addition to Pentecost Sunday, one of the final celebrations of the Easter season is the Sending of the Neophytes Mass, which this year will be on Sunday, April 28. During this Mass, catechumens and candidates who entered the Church at Easter Vigil and are now in full communion are sent forth into the community to proclaim the Good News.

As Catholics move through the final days of Lent and enter Holy Week and the Easter season, they reflect on the words of Pope John Paul II, “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.”

Comments 1

  1. This is a beautiful reminder of why we are Catholic. We live our faith throughout the year, however, the Lenten and Easter seasons are the occasions of remembering and going deeper into the mystery and holiness of our God and risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank you for this reminder and meditation.

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