Celebrations of Our Lord’s passion and his glorious resurrection date to earliest days of Christianity

In the first century, the early Christians celebrated every Sunday in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus.  By the second century, they established a particular day for the celebration of the resurrection, which was connected to the Jewish Passover.  Their observance began at sundown on Saturday evening. They called it the Night of the Great Vigil, a time of remembrance and expectation that lasted throughout the night so they could sing “alleluia” at dawn on Easter morning. It was during the Night of the Great Vigil that new Christians were received into the Church. By the fourth century, it became customary for people to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to celebrate what was called the “Great Week”  which included Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. 

The diary of a woman named Egeria in 381 contains the first accounts of the special rites, prayers and devotions that took place in Jerusalem during the Great Week.  Over time, the practice of observing Holy Week spread throughout the Christian world, with prayers, historical re-enactments and special liturgies.  During the Middle Ages, the celebration of the Easter Vigil gradually fell out of practice.  The important days of the week were Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  In 1955, the Vatican re-established the Easter Vigil as an important part of Holy Week observances.  During the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the bishops called for the restoration of the early Christian rituals for receiving new Christians into the Church at the Easter Vigil. In 1988, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was issued.

Today, Easter Vigil with the Easter fire, the lighting of the paschal candle, the reading of salvation history, the celebration of the sacraments of initiation for catechumens and renewal of baptismal promises for the faithful is once again an integral part of Holy Week celebrations.


12 ways to make Holy Week more meaningful

THINK PRAYER. If you have to work or go to school during Holy Week,
think about how you can incorporate prayer breaks into each day. MAKE AN ADDITIONAL SACRIFICE by fasting and abstaining from meat
on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday in addition to Good Friday.
on Holy Thursday until Easter morning.
GO to confession.
SET ASIDE 10 minutes every day to read Passion accounts in the Gospels.
Make it a point to FORGIVE someone on Good Friday.
PRAY the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.
OFFER UP any pain or difficulties you experience
during Holy Week and unite your sufferings with the pain of Christ.
PRAY the Stations of the Cross.
ATTEND all of the Triduum liturgies.
INVITE family members, friends and neighbours — especially people
who have strayed from the church — to come to church with you.
VOLUNTEER to help decorate your parish on Holy Saturday for Easter.


Taking time to meditate on the seven last words of Jesus is a traditional devotion during Holy Week.

Here are the last words spoken by Jesus with their Scripture citations. You might want to read the passages from your Bible and then ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what meaning these words have in your life today:



“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
(Lk 23:34)

“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with
me in Paradise.”
(Lk 23:43)

“Behold, your mother!”
(Jn 19:26-27)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Mt 27:46)

“I thirst!”
(Jn 19:28)

“It is finished!”
(Jn 19:30)

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
(Lk 23:46)


“Guide to Holy Week information courtesy of Our Sunday Visitor