The period of our catholic liturgical year which is the most important period of the year is the Easter period. This period defines our faith and the beliefs we have are founded in the actions and the reactions to Jesus and his teachings by the Romans and the rest of the most senior and learned groups around at that time. They didn't know how to deal with Him and just wanted the problem to go away. The series of events leading up to the killing of Jesus on the cross is shown in the document below and can be read or dowloaded from within the window.
Easter is the time of the Christian year when we remember the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus, who was the son of God, died for everyone's wrong-doings and then came back to life three days later to defeat death and evil thereby leading us into eternal life.
The full Easter period lasts for a long time. Easter officially starts with Lent on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter Day. (Lent lasts for 40 days but the Sundays don't count!) Then 39 days after Easter Sunday, we celebrate Ascension Day, when we remember Jesus going back into Heaven and promising to come back to earth one day. Easter officially ends 49 days after Easter Day with the Festival of Pentecost or Whitsun, when we remember that God sent his Holy Spirit to help us. So Easter is a very busy time for all Christians!
Lent is the period of 40 days before Easter. It starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Saturday. The name 'Ash Wednesday' comes from the tradition of putting a small cross of ash on peoples forehead at Ash Wednesday church services. This is a sign of confession and helps people to remember that they rely on God for forgiveness from their sins.
For Christians, Lent is a time to prepare for Easter and to think about our relationship with God. It represents the 40 days when Jesus was tempted by the Devil in the desert. During this time he didn't eat or drink anything. It's for this reason that we give up some food or 'fast' for Lent. For some people this means giving up all food and just drinking, but others (the majority) just give up food like chocolate or cream cakes or alcohol!
During Lent, the altar is covered with a purple cloth. Purple is traditionally a royal colour and having a purple cloth on the altar helps us to remember that Jesus is king and that he died at Easter. There are no flowers or any other decorations displayed in the church.
Lent started at a time that people that were being baptised would use Lent to prepare for their baptism on Easter Sunday. Over the years it has turned into a time of reflection and thought for all Christians.
In the U.K. and Ireland, Mothering Sunday is always on the middle Sunday of Lent. In the 16th century, it was the day when people were expected to visit their 'mother' church. This was the church where you had been baptised (christened when a baby) or your local parish church; if it was too far to travel. This could also then be the nearest cathedral to your 'mother' church (as cathedrals are seen as the mother church of all the local churches in an area or as we know it an Archdiocese).
Later it also became a day when servants and maids could have the day off work and go back and visit their families and especially their mothers. This might also have been done so that servants could visit their 'mother' church as well. Now it is when Mums traditionally get the day off housework and have presents given to them.
The Last week of Lent is called Holy Week. It starts with Palm Sunday and helps us to guide us through the period of mourning leading up to the death of Our Lord on Good Friday, and the subsequent period of elation as he rises again on Easter Sunday.
Palm Sunday is the first Day of Holy Week. It is when we remember how Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. It is called Palm Sunday because the people were so happy to see Jesus and knew that he was very important, so they took branches from the Palm and Olive Trees that lined the road. They waved them in the air shouting 'Hosanna' (which means 'God Saves' in Hebrew) and put some of them on the road to make it easier for the donkey to walk on the rocky road.
To remember that day, we attend a special Palm Sunday Church Service. We receive small crosses made from Palm leaves or other local woods. Palm Sunday is sometimes called Passion Sunday as Holy Week reminds us of Jesus's passion or death.
The Thursday of Holy Week is called Maundy Thursday. It represents the day that the Jewish Passover was celebrated. On that day, Jesus had his last meal with his friends and followers before he was killed and died on the cross. This meal we now know as 'The Last Supper'.
Before the meal, Jesus washed his disciples feet before the meal to show that is important to be helpful and serve others. People in Jesus time wore open sandals and the streets were very dirty, so washing peoples feet was normally done, as you entered the house, by the lowest servant who got the worst jobs! Priests wash the feet of Church go-ers to the Maundy Thursday services to remember what Jesus had done.
At the meal, Jesus and his friends would have followed the Jewish Passover custom of eating roast lamb and unleavened bread (matzah) and drinking red wine. However, Jesus gave the bread and wine a special meaning. When they got to the part of meal when the Bread was eaten and the wine drunk, Jesus said that these would be a symbol of his body and blood to help them remember that through his death, our sins are forgiven. Jesus 'commanded' the disciples to think of him when they ate bread and drank wine. This is now remembered in the Holy Mass service during the Offertory and Communion.
Maundy comes from Latin and is the word for 'Command'. At the Last Supper Jesus told the disciples "A new commandment I give to you: Love one another as I have loved you, so you too must love one another." John 13:34.
After the meal, Jesus and some of his friends went to a nearby garden called Gethsemene to pray. Later in the evening he was betrayed by one of His disciples called Judas. Jesus was arrested and taken to trial.
In the U.K. the monarch gives out special coins called Maundy Money instead of washing people feet. This is a tradition that goes back to Medieval times.
Good Friday is a very important day for all Christians. On Good Friday, we remember that Jesus died for everyone. He was crucified by the Romans on a hill outside Jerusalem although he had not done anything wrong. When a person was crucified, they were tied and nailed by the wrists and feet to a large wooden cross or scaffold and left to die. This is why a cross if often used as a symbol of the Christian faith.
The 'Good' in Good Friday comes from old English when Good meant Holy. So you could also call Good Friday, 'Holy Friday'.
There are often parades all over the world to celebrate and remember Good Friday. In Spain and some other countries, people who are very sorry for their wrong doings (called 'Penitents') walk through the streets wearing long robes with hoods and carrying a big cross of wood.
In some countries, including the U.K., sometimes a single person or group of church members carry a large wooden cross, around the streets near the church, before the Good Friday service. They may be also followed by the rest of the people going to church.
In some Central and South American countries there will be a procession of statues to the church before the service. These are often statues of Jesus, Mary and other saints. In Greece, people go to the church in a procession as if they were going to a funeral. Some Orthodox and our own Catholic church have models of tombs as the centre piece of the service to help people remember Jesus died.
In most Anglican churches, there are no flowers or decoration such as alter-cloths in the church on Good Friday.
This is the day between Good Friday and Easter Day. It represents the one full day that Jesus was dead. It is also sometimes known as Holy Saturday. Quite often, churches will not have any services on Holy Saturday but will start the Easter celebration with a Midnight service. Candles are used in churches all over the world to start the midnight Mass celebrations. Candles help us to remember that Jesus is the light of the world and that when he rose back to life on Easter Sunday he got rid of the darkness of evil. Often, the service starts in darkness. Then twelve candles are lit and these are taken round the rest of the church lighting the other candles. When a candle is lit the Priest says 'Christ is Risen!' and the congregation respond 'He is Risen Indeed!'. In Greece, fireworks are sometimes used to start the service.
Holy Saturday is also the last day of lenten observance, meaning that it's the last day when you have to give up all that chocolate 😁. This day is also sometimes incorrectly called Easter Saturday. Easter Saturday is actually the Saturday following Easter Sunday, not the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday!
Easter Sunday is the most important day of the year for Christians. It is when we celebrate the fact that three days after being killed, Jesus rose from the dead, 'the Resurrection', and defeated evil forever.
Churches are generally filled with flowers on Easter Sunday. These represent new life. Priests wear their brightest robes in celebration. If a Church has a model of a tomb in it from Good Friday, it will be empty with the stone rolled away, as it was on the first Easter Sunday.
In Italy, the Pope generally holds a very large Mass in St Peter's Square in the Vatican City. Thousands of people from all over the world go to it to celebrate Easter Sunday.