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Holy Week — Salvation, hope, redemption

By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, April 13 2014

click on pic to zoom in
TEA TREATS: Monsignor Christian Pereira receives a box of treats from  past student Jeanne Alexie at the annual  tea party at the San Fernando Hill ho...
TEA TREATS: Monsignor Christian Pereira receives a box of treats from past student Jeanne Alexie at the annual tea party at the San Fernando Hill ho...

Holy Week officially begins today with the annual Palm Sunday observance.

Celebrated by millions of Christians all over the world, Palm Sunday recounts Jesus Christ’s triumphant entry into Jeruselem. One of the highlights of the observance is the blessing and distribution of palms (some of which are made in the form of a cross) to the faithful during church services.

“Palm Sunday recalls Christ’s final days on earth,” says Roman Catholic priest Fr Garfield Rochard. “All of the gospel accounts in the weeks leading up to Palm Sunday speak of Christ’s last day, starting with Palm Sunday where he enters Jerusalem sitting on a donkey.

“So, by entering Jeruselem, he just fulfils what the old prophets had said about him sitting on a donkey. That is the historical context to the story.”

Over the decades, countries steeped in Roman Catholicism have revisited Christ’s journey into Jeruselem through telling re-enactments.

Locally, Roman Catholic priest Father Ian Taylor has taken the observance to heart. During his past three years as parish priest of San Rafael, the outspoken clergyman has ridden a donkey at Palm Sunday services, much to the delight of the church’s members and other residents. Other priests, however, have led more conservative celebrations by way of short processions in the vicinity of their respective churches. The processions are usually followed by the singing of hymns of praise and thanksgiving.

According to Rochard, Palm Sunday sets the stage for what is commonly referred to as the Easter Triduum: Holy Thursday; Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, the climax of the season’s religious festivities. Rochard, parish priest of the Church of the Assumption, Maraval, said Holy Thursday commemorates Christ’s Last Supper with his apostles before his death.

A highlight of this observance, Rochard said, is the symbolic washing of feet among selected members of the congregation, all of whom represent Christ’s apostles.

“The washing of the feet represents leadership and service in the church,” Rochard told Sunday Newsday. Following the service, the church’s altar is made bare and the church goes into a period of mourning. The period between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday is seen mostly as a time for reflection and spiritual cleansing.

The Good Friday service is usually a solemn occasion, the event features a detailed reading of the Lord’s passion followed by the offering of intercessory prayers for the church and other specific needs, including the unemployed and non-believers.

“There is no usual mass and worship out of respect but during the liturgy, the suffering and passion of Christ is highlighted,” Rochard said.

This is followed by the veneration of the Cross among the laity and members of the congregation. It marks the only formal period on the church’s calendar when persons are urged to kiss and pay tribute to the Crucifix bearing Jesus Christ’s blood-stained body in acknowledgement of the sacrifices he made for mankind. On Good Friday, there is no entrance or recessional hymn and worshippers depart the church in silence.

The re-enactment of Christ’s suffering and death are a common feature of Good Friday observances at San Fernando Hill.

The Easter Vigil, held on what is traditionally referred to as Glorious Saturday, celebrates Christ’s joyful resurrection. “It is a unique celebration which is really a service of light,” Rochard said.

At the start of Easter Vigil services, officiating priests usually light candles from a huge bonfire outside of the church, the flames of which are passed around to members of the congregation. Seven Old Testament readings, encompassing the creation of the world to the coming of Christ in redemption, form a major part of the first portion of the service, which also urges worshippers to partake in the renewal of their baptismal vows. Babies and converts to the faith are usually baptised on Glorious Saturday night.

Following the proclamation of Easter, churches, once again, assume festive looks with the use of flowers, a brilliantly-coloured altar cloths and other decorations. Hymns are also dedicated to the risen Lord.

Describing Easter as a period of new life, Rochard urged churchgoers to experience the three celebrations, beginning from Holy Thursday.

“It is a time of salvation, hope and redemption and it takes place in the period of spring,” he said.

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