Church History


THE week in which the Church commemorates Christ's death and burial, and which is spoken of by ancient writers as the Great, the Holy Week, the Week of the Holy Passion (ion hagiön pathön, tou sötëriou pathous, pascha staurösimon), the Penal Week, the Week of forgiveness (hebdomas indulgentiæ). The observance of Holy Week is mentioned by Irenæus (apud Euseb. "H.E." v. 24), towards the end of the second century; while Eusebius (ii. 17) evidently believed that the custom of keeping Holy Week dated from Apostolic times. In the East, Holy Week was distinguished from the rest of Lent by the extreme strictness of the fast. Thus Dionysius of Alexandria, in his Epistle to Basilides, tells us that some Christians kept an absolute fast the whole week, others did so for one, two, three, or four days.1 Epiphanius, in his exposition of the orthodox faith, says much the same. In the Latin Church (according to Thomassin, "Traité des Jeûnes," p. 50), it is difficult to discern any proof that the fast of Holy Week exceeded the strictness of the ordinary Lenten fast.

We have said that in Holy Week the Church commemorates Christ's Passion, and it may be objected that the definition is incomplete, since on Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, it is Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem which is chiefly contemplated. But, in fact, Holy Week begins with the Monday, not with the Sunday. At least this is the reckoning of St. Cyril, Theophilus, and St. Epiphanius, quoted by Routh in his "Reliquiæ Sacræ" (tom. ii. p. 52). We therefore reserve our account of Palm Sunday for a special article, and confine ourselves here to the ceremonies of Holy Week.

The Tenebræ. This is the name given to the matins and lauds of the following day, which are usually sung on the afternoon or evening of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in Holy Week. The "Gloria Patri" at the end of the Psalms and in the responsories, the hymns, antiphons of the Blessed Virgin, etc., are omitted in sign of sorrow. The lessons of the first nocturn are taken from the Lamentations of Jeremias, the Hebrew letter which begins each verse in these acrostic2 poems being retained in Latin. At the beginning of the office thirteen lighted candles are placed on a triangular candelabrum, and at the end of each psalm one is put out, till only a single candle is left lighted at the top of the triangle. During the singing of the Benedictus the candles on the high altar are extinguished, while at the antiphon after the Benedictus the single candle left alight is hidden at the Epistle corner of the altar, to be brought out again at the end of the office. This extinction of lights (whence probably the name tenebræ or darkness) is best explained by Amalarius Fortunatus, who wrote in 820. It figures, he says, the growing darkness of the time when Christ, the light of the world, was taken. The last candle, according to Benedict XIV., is hidden, not extinguished, to signify that death could not really obtain dominion over Christ, though it appeared to do so. The clapping made at the end of the office is said to symbolize the confusion consequent on Christ's death.

Holy Thursday. On this day one Mass only can be said in the same church, and that Mass must be a public one. The Mass is celebrated in white vestments, because the institution of the Eucharist is joyfully commemorated, but at the same time there are certain signs of the mourning proper to Holy Week. The bells, which ring at the Gloria, do not sound again till the Gloria in the Mass of Holy Saturday, and the Church returns to her ancient use of summoning the faithful or arousing their attention by a wooden clapper. Nor is the embrace of peace given. The celebrant consecrates an additional Host, which is placed in a chalice and borne in procession after the Mass to a place prepared for it. In ancient times this procession occurred daily, for there was no tabernacle over the altar for reserving the particles which remained over after the communion of the faithful. Medieval writers connect the procession with the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday with our Lord's journey to the mount of Olives after the Last Supper. The "Pange lingua" is sung during the procession, and the place to which the Blessed Sacrament is removed _ often called the Sepulcher, but properly the altar of repose _ is decked with flowers and lights. Afterwards the altars are stripped. This used to be done, according to Vert in his explanation of the ceremonies of the Mass, every day after the celebration of the sacrifice, and is retained on Holy Thursday to remind the Christians of the way in which their Master was stripped of his garments. In St. Peter's the chief altar is washed with wine, and a similar custom prevails among the Dominicans and Carmelites, and in some churches of France and Germany.3

The stripping of the altars is followed by the washing of the feet, called "Mandatum" from the words of the first antiphon sung during the ceremony _ "Mandatum novum," etc., "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another;" whence our English word Maundy Thursday. The principal priest or prelate of the church, assisted by deacon and subdeacon, washes the feet of twelve poor men. The Pope washes the feet of thirteen poor persons, all of whom are priests; and some churches follow the Papal custom. The observance of the Mandatum is mentioned as a recognized custom, and is enforced under penalties, by the twentysecond Council of Toledo in 694.

Since the seventh century the holy oils, formerly consecrated at any time, have been blessed by the bishop in the Mass of this day. Twelve priests and seven deacons assist as witnesses of the ceremony. The bishop and priests breathe three times upon the oil of the catechumens and the chrism, meaning by this action that the power of the Holy Spirit is about to descend on the oils; and after the consecration is complete they salute the oils with the words, "Hail, holy oil; hail, holy chrism."
Another rite proper to Holy Thursday, now passed into disuse, was the reconciliation of penitents. This reconciliation on Holy Thursday is mentioned by Pope Innocent I. and St. Jerome. The Mass now celebrated is one out of three which used to be said, the other two being for the consecration of the chrism and the reconciliation of penitents.

Good Friday (pascha staurösimon, parasceve, or paraskeuë _ i. e. the day of preparation for the Israelitic Sabbath _ cæna pura, dies absolutionis, dies salutaris). _ On this day the Church commemorates the Passion of Christ, so that it is the most sad and solemn of all the days in Holy Week. The officiating clergy appear in black vestments, and prostrate themselves before the altar, which still remains stripped. Nor are the candles lighted. After a short pause, the altar is covered with white cloths, and passages of the Old Testament, followed by the history of the Passion from St. John, are read. Next, the Church prays solemnly for all conditions of men, for all the members of the hierarchy, for the prosperity of Christian people, for catechumens, heretics, Jews, and Pagans. Before each prayer the sacred ministers genuflect, except before that for the Jews, when the genuflection. is omitted in detestation of the feigned obeisance with which the Jews mocked Christ. When the prayers are ended, the cross, which has been up to this time covered with black, is exposed to view, "adored" and kissed by clergy and people. During the adoration the "Improperia" are sung, each improperium being followed by the Trisagion in Greek and in Latin. Improperium is a barbarous word used by Latin writers of a late age, meaning "reproach," and these "reproaches" are addressed in dramatic form by Christ to the Jewish people. They begin with the touching words, "My people, what have I done to thee, wherein have I vexed thee? Answer me." The Trisagion is so called because the word "holy" occurs three times in it: "Holy God, holy [and] strong, holy [and] immortal, have pity on us." It was first introduced at Constantinople, and it is probably because of its Greek origin that it is recited in the Good Friday office in Greek as well as in Latin.

We have now to speak of the most striking and singular feature in the Good Friday ritual. From very ancient times, as appears from the Council of Laodicea, canon 49, and the Synod in Trullo, canon 52, the Greek Church abstained from the celebration of Mass in the proper sense of the word during Lent, except on Saturdays and Sundays, and substituted for it the Mass of the Presanctified, in which the priest received as communion a Host previously consecrated. The Greeks still observe this ancient use, but the Latin Church contents herself with abstaining from the celebration of Mass on Good Friday, the day on which Christ was offered as a bleeding victim for, our sins. This Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday is mentioned by Pope Innocent I. in his letter to Decentius. The Blessed Sacrament is borne in procession from the chapel where it was placed the day before, while the choir sing the hymn "Vexilla Regis." The priest places the Host on the altar, the candles of which are now lighted. The Blessed Sacrament is elevated and. adored while the wooden clapper is sounded; it is divided into three parts, one of which is put into a chalice containing wine and water. Finally the priest receives the portions of the Host which remain on the paten, and then takes the wine with the third portion of the Host. According to a Roman Ordo written about the year 800 and quoted by Thomassin ("Traité des Festes"), the ceremony ended with the silent communion of the faithful; but the present discipline of the Church forbids communion to be given on Good Friday except in the case of sickness.

Holy Saturday. _ Before entering on the history of the ceremonies for this the last day of Holy Week, it is necessary to say something about the time at which they are performed. We learn from the Epistle of Pope Innocent already quoted that in his time no Mass was said during the day hours of Holy Saturday. The office began at the ninth hour, i.e. at three o'clock P.M.; the faithful kept vigil in the church, and the Mass celebrated at midnight belonged rather to, the morning of Easter Sunday than to Holy Saturday. This state of things lasted till late in the middle ages. Hugo of St. Victor (died 1140) mentions the custom then creeping in of anticipating the vigil office; but the old mode of observance is spoken of as still subsisting in some churches by Durandus (lived about 1280) and Thomas Waldensis (after 1400). Though the time is changed, the words of the office remain as they were. This explains the joyous character of the Mass, the fact that the history of the resurrection is sung in the Gospel, and the allusion to the night time in the Preface, the "Communicantes," and the majestic language of the Collect, "O God, who didst illumine this most holy night with the glory of the Lord's resurrection."

At present the ceremonies begin early in the morning with the blessing of the new fire struck from the flint. This blessing was unknown at Rome in the time of Pope Zacharias (anno 751), though it is recognized about a century later by Leo IV. Apparently it was the custom in some churches daily to bless the fire struck for the kindling of the lamps, and about the year 1100 this benediction was reserved exclusively for Holy Saturday, when the fire is an appropriate image of the Light of light rising again like "the sun in his strength." From this fire a candle with three stems, and placed on a reed, is lighted and carried up the church by a deacon, who three times chants the words "Lumen Christi." The same symbolism reappears in the paschal candle, which is blessed by the deacon, who fixes in it five grains of blessed incense in memory of the wounds of Christ and the precious spices with which he was anointed in the tomb, and afterwards lights it from the candle on the reed. The use of the paschal candle goes back very far _ as far at least as the time of Zosimus, who was made Pope in 417 _ and the sublime words of the "Exultet," a triumphant hymn of praise which the deacon sings in the act of blessing the candle, can scarcely be less ancient. The great critic Martene attributes it to St. Augustine.

The blessing of the candle is followed by the twelve prophecies, and after they have been read, the priest goes in procession to bless the font. This last blessing carries us back to the days of the ancient Church in which the catechumens were presented to the bishop for baptism on Holy Saturday and the vigil of Pentecost. The water in the font is scattered towards the four quarters of the world, to indicate the catholicity of the Church and the worldwide efficacy of her sacraments; the priest breathes on the water in the form of a cross and plunges the paschal candle three times into the water, for the Spirit of God is to hallow it, and the power of Christ is to descend upon it; and lastly, a few drops of the oil of catechumens and of the chrism are poured, in order, says Gavantus, to signify the union of Christ our anointed king with his people. On the way back from the font the Litanies of the Saints are begun, they are continued while the sacred ministers lie prostrate before the altar, and, as they end, the altar is decked with flowers and the Mass is begun in white vestments. At the Gloria the organ sounds and bells are rung, and the joyful strains of the Alleluia peal forth after the Epistle. The vespers of the day are inserted in the Mass after the Communion.

The reason for the jubilant character of the Mass has been given above, but there are some other peculiarities which need explanation. The kiss of peace is omitted, because in the ancient rite the faithful kissed each other in the church as day was breaking, with the words, "The Lord is risen," there was therefore a natural objection to anticipating the ceremony in the Mass at midnight. The Agnus Dei, which was introduced by Pope Sergius towards the end of the seventh century, was never added to this Mass. The Communion and Postcommunion are simply replaced by vespers. But why is there no Offertory? Liturgical writers give many different answers, none of which are satisfactory. Gavantus alleges that the celebrant alone communicated, and that hence there was no oblation of bread and wine on the part of the faithful. But, though now custom, and a decree of the Congregation of Rites forbid communion, it is certain, as Meratus points out, from the Gelasian Sacramentary, that the faithful in former times did communicate and did make the usual oblations on this day. Meratus himself has no better explanation to give than the desire to shorten the Mass as much as possible on account of the long offices which preceded it. (Chiefly from Gavantus, Meratus, Thomassin, "Sur les Festes." and Benedict XIV. "De Festis.")

In Hoc Signo Vinces


LABARUM (derivation uncertain). The banner of the cross., used by Constantine in his campaigns. Eusebius, a contemporary writer in his "Life of Constantine," gives the following account of it: "He [Constantine] kept invoking God in his prayers, beseeching and imploring that He would declare Himself to him, who He was, and stretch forth His right hand over events. While the king was thus praying and perseveringly entreating, a most extraordinary sign from Heaven appears to him, which perhaps it were not easy to receive on the report of anyone else; but since the victorious king himself, a long time afterwards, when we were honored with his acquaintance and friendly intercourse, repeated the story to us who are compiling the record, and confirmed it with an oath, who would hesitate to believe the recital? especially as the ensuing period furnished unerring testimony to the tale. About midday, when the day was now on the turn, he said that he saw with his own eyes in the sky, above the sun, the trophylike figure of a cross (staurou tropaion) composed of light, and that a writing was attached to it, which said, `By this conquer.' That astonishment at the sight seized upon both himself and all the troops whom he was then leading on some expedition, and who became spectators of the portent." That same night, Constantine went on to say, "the Christ of God" appeared to him in a dream with the same sign which he had seen in the sky, and bade him have an imitation of it made, and use it in war. Constantine sent for goldworkers and jewelers, and had a costly banner made surmounted by a crown, on which was the monogram formed of the first two letters of the name of Christ. With this borne at the head of his army, he crossed into Italy, defeated Maxentius in several battles, and became master of Rome. Fifty men of his guards were selected to have charge of the Labarum, and victory was the unfailing attendant of its display.

1 This strictest form of fasting, which Implies a total abstinence from food till the dawn of the next day, was called huperthesis or superpositio.

2 I.e. acrostic in the original Hebrew, No attempt is made to preserve the acrostic in the Vulgate

3 So says Benedict XIV. speaking of his own time.

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