The English term, according to the Ven. Bede (De temporum ratione, I, v), relates to Estre, a Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day and spring, which deity, however, is otherwise unknown, even in the Edda (Simrock, Mythol., 362); Anglo-Saxon, eâster, eâstron; Old High German, ôstra, ôstrara, ôstrarûn; German, Ostern. April was called easter-monadh. The plural eâstron is used, because the feast lasts seven days. Like the French plural Pâques, it is a translation from the Latin Festa Paschalia, the entire octave of Easter. The Greek term for Easter, pascha, has nothing in common with the verb paschein, "to suffer," although by the later symbolic writers it was connected with it; it is the Aramaic form of the Hebrew pesach (transitus, passover). The Greeks called Easter the pascha anastasimon; Good Friday the pascha staurosimon. The respective terms used by the Latins are Pascha resurrectionis and Pascha crucifixionis. In the Roman and Monastic Breviaries the feast bears the title Dominica Resurrectionis; in the Mozarbic Breviary, In Lætatione Diei Pasch Resurrectionis; in the Ambrosian Breviary, In Die Sancto Paschæ. The Romance languages have adopted the Hebrew-Greek term: Latin, Pascha; Italian, Pasqua; Spanish, Pascua; French, Also some Celtic and Teutonic nations use it: Scottish, Pask; Dutch, Paschen; The correct word in Dutch is actually Paasen Danish, Paaske; Swedish, Pask; even in the German provinces of the Lower Rhine the people call the feast Paisken not Ostern. The word is, principally in Spain and Italy, identified with the word "solemnity" and extended to other feasts, e.g. Sp., Pascua florida, Palm Sunday; Pascua de Pentecostes, Pentecost; Pascua de la Natividad, Christmas; Pascua de Epifania, Epiphany. In some parts of France also First Communion is called Pâques, whatever time of the year administered.
In the primitive Church Holy Saturday was known as Great, or Grand, Saturday, Holy Saturday, the Angelic Night, the Vigil of Easter, etc. It is no longer, like Maundy Thursday, a day of joy, but one of joy and sadness intermingled; it is the close of the season of Lent and penance, and the beginning of paschal time, which is one of rejoicing.
By a noteworthy exception, in the early Church this was the only Saturday on which fasting was permitted (Constit. Apost., VII, 23), and the fast was one of special severity. Dating from the time of St. Irenaeus, an absolute fast from every kind of food was observed for the forty hours preceding the feast of Easter, and although the moment assigned for breaking the fast at dawn on Sunday varied according to time and country, the abstinence from food on Holy Saturday was general.
The night of the vigil of Easter has undergone a strange displacement. During the first six or seven centuries, ceremonies were in progress throughout the entire night, so that the Alleluia coincided with the day and moment of the Resurrection. In the eighth century these same ceremonies were held on Saturday afternoon and, by a singular anachronism, were later on conducted on Saturday morning, thus the time for carrying out the solemnity was advanced almost a whole day. Thanks to this change, special services were now assigned to Holy Saturday whereas, beforehand, it had had none until the late hour of the vigil.This vigil opened with the blessing of the new fire, the lighting of lamps and candles and of the paschal candle, ceremonies that have lost much of their symbolism by being anticipated and advanced from twilight to broad daylight. St. Cyril of Jerusalem spoke of this night that was as bright as day, and Constantine the Great added unprecedented splendour to its brilliancy by a profusion of lamps and enormous torches, so that not only basilicas, but private houses, streets, and public squares were resplendent with the light that was symbolic of the Risen Christ. The assembled faithful gave themselves up to common prayer, the singing of psalms and hymns, and the reading of the Scriptures commentated by the bishop or priests. The vigil of Easter was especially devoted to the baptism of catechumens who, in the more important churches, were very numerous. On the Holy Saturday following the deposition of St. John Chrysostom from the See of Constantinople, there were 3000 catechumens in this church alone. Such numbers were, of course, only encountered in large cities; nevertheless, as Holy Saturday and the vigil of Pentecost were the only days on which baptism was administered, even in smaller churches there was always a goodly number of catechumens. This meeting of people in the darkness of the night often occasioned abuses which the clergy felt powerless to prevent by active supervision unless by so anticipating the ceremonies that all of them could take place in daylight. Rabanus Maurus, an ecclesiastical writer of the ninth century (De cleric. Instit., II, 28), gives a detailed account of the ceremony of Holy Saturday. The congregation remained silent in the church awaiting the dawn of the Resurrection, joining at intervals in psalmody and chant and listening to the reading of the lessons. These rites were identical with those in the primitive Church and were solemnized at the same hours, as the faithful throughout the world had not yet consented to anticipate the Easter vigil and it was only during the Middle Ages that uniformity on this point was established.
I personally took these photos last march 15, 2008 during our trip there.
Frequently Asked Questions
Holy Week is important because it commemorates the events of Christ's final days and passion. This includes the institution of the Eucharist and the crucifixion. Obviously, Christ's institution of the Eucharist and his passion and death are important in many ways, especially in terms of their importance in the reconciliation of God and humanity (the atonement). Holy Week commemorates these important events, and is therefore a very busy time in the life of the Church. For an article explaining why Catholics spend so much time at church during Holy Week, check out You're at Church A Lot During Holy Week...How Strange.
There are various possibilities. Perhaps your particular church considers Holy Week to be unbiblical (although the whole week is based explicitly on Scripture). Some denominations that came out of the "Radical Reformation" got rid of the Church Year, believing it to be a manmade tradition. Another possibility is that your church believes Holy Week is outdated and places too much emphasis on sin and guilt. A final reason may be that your pastor is not familiar with the rich meaning behind Holy Week, which means you should send him to this site.
Fasting means eating only one full meatless (no animal flesh) meal on this day. However, one may still eat a breakfast and even a lunch in addition to a full meal if the two additional small meals do not add up to a second full meal. Snacking is not allowed. Drinking coffee, tea, juices, etc, between meals is permitted on fast days. The requirements are slightly different for those of certain ages. Fasting is only required of those from ages 18-59, although parents are expected to teach their children the reasons behind their fasting, etc. Those with health conditions are excluded. Note that some Western Bishop Conferences, Eastern Catholic Rites, and Orthodox Christians have different fasting guidelines, so it is wise to check with your local parish about expectations. These are simply the minimum expectations. Additional forms of self-denial, within reason, can also be spiritually beneficial.
The Paschal Triduum, often called the Easter Triduum or simply the Triduum, consists of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. This includes the Great Easter Vigil, the high point of the Triduum. The word Triduum comes from the Latin word meaning "three days." It begins the evening of Maundy Thursday and ends at Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday. Thus the Triduum consists of three full days which begin and end in the evening. The Triduum is not part of Lent (at least liturgically), but Holy Thursday and Good Friday are still reckoned as part of the traditional forty days of Lent. The Triduum celebrates the heart of our faith and salvation: the death and resurrection of Christ, and is thus the high point of the liturgical year.
adapted from: Churchyear
The sixth and last Sunday of Lent and beginning of Holy Week, a Sunday of the highest rank, not even a commemoration of any kind being permitted in the Mass. In common law it fixes the commencement of Easter duty. The Roman Missal marks the station at St. John Lateran (see STATIONS) and before September, 1870, the pope performed the ceremonies there. The Greeks celebrate the day with great solemnity; they call it kyriake or heorte ton baion or heorte baiophoros or also Lazarus Sunday, because on the day before they have the feast of the resuscitation of Lazarus. The emperors used to distribute branches of palm and small presents among their nobles and domestics. The Latin liturgical books call it Dominica in Palmis, Dominica or Dies Palmarum. From the cry of the people during the procession the day has received the name Dominica Hosanna or simply Hosanna (Ozanna). Because every great feast was in some way a remembrance of the resurrection of Christ and was in consequence called Pascha, we find the names Pascha floridum, in French Pâques fleuries, in Spanish Pascua florida, and it was from this day of 1512 that our State of Florida received its name (Nilles, II, 205). From the custom of also blessing flowers and entwining them among the palms arose the terms Dominica florida and dies floridus. Flower-Sunday was well known in England, in Germany as Blumensonntag or Blumentag, as also among the Serbs, Croats, and Ruthenians, in the Glagolite Breviary and Missal, and among the Armenians. The latter celebrate another Palm Sunday on the seventh Sunday after Easter to commemorate the "Ingressus Domini in coelum juxta visionem Gregorii Illuminatoris" called Secundus floricultus or Secunda palmarum dominica (Nilles, II, 519). Since this Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, during which sinners were reconciled, it was called Dominica indulgentioe, competentium, and capitilavium from the practice of washing and shaving of the head as a bodily preparation for baptism. During the early centuries of the Church this sacrament was conferred solemnly only in the night of Holy Saturday, the text of the creed had been made known to the catechumens on the preceding Palm Sunday. This practice was followed in Spain (Isidore, "De off. eccl.", I, 27), in Gaul (P. L., LXXII, 265), and in Milan (Ambrose, Ep. xx). In England the day was called Olive or Branch Sunday, Sallow or Willow, Yew or Blossom Sunday, or Sunday of the Willow Boughs. Since the celebration recalled the solemn entry of Christ into Jerusalem people made use of many quaint and realistic representations; thus, a figure of Christ seated on an ass, carved out of wood was carried in the procession and even brought into the church. Such figures may still be seen in the museums of Basle, Zurich, Munich, and Nürnberg (Kellner, 50).In some places in Germany and France it was customary to strew flowers and green boughs about the cross in the churchyard. After the Passion had been recited at Mass blessed palms were brought and this cross (in consequence sometimes called the Palm cross) was wreathed and decked with them to symbolize Christ's victory. In Lower Bavaria boys went about the streets singing the "Pueri Hebræorum" and other carols, whence they received the name of Pueribuben ("Theologisch-praktische Quartalschrift", 1892, 81). Sometimes an uncoveredcrucifix, or the gospel-book, and often the Blessed Sacrament, was carried in recession. In many parts of England a large and beautiful tent was prepared in the churchyard. Two priests accompanied by lights brought the Blessed Sacrament in a beautiful cup or pyx hung in a shrine of open work to this tent. A long-drawn procession with palms and flowers came out of the church and made four stations at the Laics' cemetery north of the church, at the south side, at the west door, and before the church-yard cross, which was then uncovered. At each of these stations Gospels were sung. After the singing of the first Gospel the shrine with the Blessed Sacrament was borne forward. On meeting, all prostrated and kissed the ground. The procession then continued. The door of the church was opened, the priests held up on high the shrine with the Blessed Sacrament, so that all who went in had to go under this shrine, and thus the procession came back into the church. The introduction of the Blessed Sacrament into the Palm Sunday procession is generally ascribed to Bl. Lanfranc who ordered the ceremony for his Abbey of Bec.