6 Things You Should Know About Holy Week


1.Palm Sunday Marks the Start of Holy Week

Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week. It reminds Christians of the journey Jesus made into Jerusalem, on a donkey, to celebrate the Jewish festival of the Passover (Pesach). Jesus chose a donkey to show that He had come in peace. Many people welcomed Jesus by shouting, waving palm branches and throwing branches down in the path of the donkey. They hoped Jesus was the Savior who the Bible had promised. Palm Sunday is both a happy and sad day. Christians are happy because they are singing praises to Jesus but also sad because they know Jesus died less than a week after His arrival in Jerusalem. In churches on Palm Sunday, Christians are given small palm crosses made from palm leaves. Left over palm crosses often are kept for the following year, when they are burnt for Ash Wednesday.

2.The First Recorded Holy Week

The first recording of Holy Week observances was made by Egeria, a Gallic woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from 381-384. In account of her travels she wrote for a group of women back in Spain, Egeria describes the Palm Sunday she observed in Jerusalem: “…all the children who are gathered at the top of the Mount of Olives, including those who are not yet able to walk because they are too young and therefore are carried on their parents’ shoulders, all of them bear branches, some carrying palms, others olive branches. And the bishop is led in the same manner as the Lord once was led.” Historical details it contains set the journey in the early 380s, making it the earliest of its kind. It survives in fragmentary form in a letter copy – lacking a title, date and attribution.

3.The Monday Before Easter is Called ‘Holy Monday’

In Christianity, Holy Monday is the last Monday prior to Easter Sunday. It is the second day of Holy Week after Palm Sunday. Some denominations celebrate Holy Monday and some do not. The Eastern Orthodox Church observes the day, typically marking it with Bible readings and certain hymns. According to tradition, Holy Monday is the day on which Jesus cleansed the temple, was praised by local children, and cursed by the fig tree (Matthew 21:12-22). Scripture tells us, “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ He said to them, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:12-13).

4.The Tuesday Before Easter is Called ‘Holy Tuesday’

Holy Tuesday is the last Tuesday prior to Easter Sunday; it is the third day of Holy Week after Palm Sunday and Holy Monday. Depending on the denomination, this day may or may not be celebrated at all. Similar to Holy Monday, those that do observe Holy Tuesday, such as Eastern Orthodox churches, typically mark it with readings of particular passages of Scripture and the singing of relevant hymns. According to common interpretation in the Bible, Holy Tuesday is when Jesus was issued various challenges by the Pharisees and Sadducees over subjects such as marriage in heaven, paying taxes to Caesar and the source of His authority. By the same interpretation, this is the day Jesus commented on the widow’s donation (Mark 12; Luke 21) and was approached by a number of God-fearing Greeks (John 12:20-36). Tuesday would also be the day Jesus spoke to His eight ‘woes’ against the Pharisees (Matthew 23:13-26).

5.The Wednesday Before Easter is Called ‘Spy Wednesday’

Have you ever heard of “Spy Wednesday”? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. An archaic and infrequently used name for the Wednesday before Easter is Spy Wednesday, named for the day on which Judas betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin. Because Judas thought to be sneaky, his actions conjured up the image of a spy. The synoptic gospels all include an account of the betrayal – Matthew 26:12-14, Mark 14:10-12 and Luke 22:3-6. This is how the Gospel of Luke recounts these events: “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and begin to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present” (Luke 22:3-6).

6.Why Purple?

You may notice a lot of purple around parishes and religious iconography during Lent and carried through until Good Friday where the church color turns to black. The reason is because the color purple represents penance in the Catholic Church, as prior to Christ’s crucifixion. He was forced to wear a crown of thorns and a purple cloak as the people mocked Him. It is the color of royalty to welcome the coming of a King. It also evokes pain and suffering. It is also sometimes used to symbolize both the impending birth of Jesus yet also foreshadowing His death. Purple is still used during Lent to remind Catholics that many continue to mock God, Jesus and the Church today.