Holy Week is a time-honored rite occurring in the final week of Lent that celebrates life arising from death and the brilliance emerging from places of desolation and despair. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. In the Catholic faith, the purpose of Holy Week is to reenact, relive, and reflect on the passion of Jesus Christ.
Domingo de Ramos commemorates Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem. We read in Scripture that as Jesus rode in, the people laid palm branches in his path. Today, you may see processions reenacting this event and find woven palms made by artisans being sold outside churches. The woven palms range from simple crosses to very intricate designs.
Invite kids and families to make a woven palm cross with this Palm Cross Activity. It includes simple instructions to make palm crosses to commemorate Domingo de Ramos, Palm Sunday. Paper can be cut as a substitute for palm fronts in this activity.
In different parts of the world Catholics celebrate the Lenten season and Holy Week with unique traditions and popular devotions that reflect the rich cultural diversity in the Catholic Church.
Jueves Santo is Holy Thursday, sometimes called Maundy Thursday. For Catholics, Holy Thursday commemorates the washing of the feet of the apostles and the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist. Scripture also recounts Jesus' arrest in Gethsemane. In some Latin American countries, Catholics visit seven churches to recall the Apostles’ vigil while Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Foot-washing ceremonies are commonplace, as well as celebrating the Sacrament of the Eucharist at Mass.
In many Hispanic parishes, Jueves Santo includes a blessing of a special bread called pan bendito, or “blessed bread.” After Mass, this bread is given out so it can be shared with those who were unable to celebrate the liturgy.
Viernes Santo, Good Friday, is a day of mourning for all Christians as we remember Christ’s crucifixion and death for the redemption of the world. No Mass is celebrated on this day but instead a three-part service. There are many popular devotions celebrated on Good Friday.
On Good Friday, many Hispanic Catholics celebrate Passion Plays, which include the Vía Crucis, or “Way of the Cross.” The Vía Crucis likely originated in Spain and was brought to the Americas by Spanish missionaries. These missionaries used Passion Plays as tools to teach the Catholic faith to indigenous people. The plays were relevant to indigenous people who often held public rituals.
What sets Vía Crucis apart from a Stations of the Cross experience in church includes the venue. Vía Crucis an outdoor procession to re-enact the Passion of Christ. During this dramatic procession, several to thousands of participants gather together in the streets and dress in costumes to bring this Catholic practice to life. The long procession leads participants to the church or cathedral for the re-enactment of the crucifixion. The Vía Crucis is a powerful way to remember and honor Jesus’ love and sacrifice.
Follow in the footsteps of Jesus at your own parish church with the Oración del Via Crucis that includes imagery, background, and reflections for each station and is available in Spanish and English.
Siete Palabras translates to the “Seven Words,” referring to the last seven words Jesus spoke from the cross. During a special service, some Hispanic Catholics remember these words through a solemn event that may include liturgical dancing and meditation.
Pesame translates to “sympathy,” in English. During a pesame service, sympathy is given to those who are grieving with a focus on Mary, Mother of God, Our Lady of Sorrows. The purpose of this service is to accompany Mary in her suffering. The service often includes a procession, Marian prayers, and music.
These are just some of the unique traditions and popular devotions of Hispanic Catholics. Learn more about these Semana Santa traditions and other popular devotions during Lent and Holy Week in your own parish and community.