Ecclesiastical Year for Catholic Schools - Andreas Petz

Second Festal Cycle

Paschal Cycle or Easter Season

1. The Paschal Cycle, or Eastertide, comprises the time from Septuagesima Sunday till the close of the octave of Ascension. The remote preparation for Easter extends from Septuagesima Sunday to Holy Saturday which forms the immediate preparation. The Octave of Easter forms the immediate subsequent commemoration, and the time from Low Sunday until after the Octave of the Ascension forms the remote subsequent commemoration.

2. The central point of this festal cycle, as well as of the entire Ecclesiastical Year, is the festival of Easter. All the movable feasts of the year are regulated by the date of this feast.

3. This festal cycle presents Jesus to us as the High Priest who offers Himself for the salvation of mankind. The work of redemption revealed in the first festal cycle will now be accomplished; the Kingdom of God which was announced will now be established.

4. Christ appeared to us in His deepest humiliation, but also in His exaltation. To every Christian He calls: "He who will follow Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me." We must suffer with Jesus so that we may be glorified with Him. We must cast off the old man and put on the new. This should be the task of every Christian in the second cycle of the Ecclesiastical Year.


1. The preparation for Easter, commonly called Lent, is of Apostolic origin; its duration varied, being sometimes forty, sometimes fifty, sometimes sixty, or seventy days before Easter. Whence we get the names Quadragesima, Quinquagesima, Sexagesima and Septuagesima. It was only in the sixth century that Pope Gregory the Great regulated the time of Easter as we have it now. Lent may be divided into four parts,

a)    The time from Septuagesima Sunday to Ash Wednesday—the preparation proper of Lent.
b)    From Ash Wednesday to Passion Sunday.
c)    Passion Week.
d)    Holy Week.

2. The faithful should enter more and more into the spirit of the sufferings of Christ,—be more moved with compassion, and inspired with a more penitential spirit.

3. From Septuagesima Sunday the Christian should resolve to follow Christ on the way of suffering and penance, especially on the three days preceding Ash Wednesday,—so called Carnival days, or Shrovetide, when the combat between the kingdom of Christ and that of Satan is so powerful. The Church has already put on the penitential violet color, and introduced many devotions, particularly the Triduum, or Forty Hour's Devotion, which St. Philip Neri and St. Charles Borromeo, in the sixteenth century, instituted for the first time at Shrovetide. This was instituted in order to keep the people from the excesses of these days, and to atone by penance and prayer for the sins committed during Carnival. Pope Clement XIII. attached a plenary indulgence to this devotion.

4. The fast of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts till Easter Sunday; during this time there are forty-six days, but as we do not fast on the six Sundays falling in this time, the fast is just forty days. For this reason it is called the forty days of Lent. Moses, Elias, the Ninevites, and even our Lord fasted forty days. The first Christians imitated their example, not only in abstaining from meat and other nutritious food, such as milk and eggs, but waited until sundown before breaking their fast. Since, in the course of time, the penitential spirit had grown lax, the Lenten regulations were mitigated, so much so, that now our fast, in comparison with the fasts of the early Christians, does not even deserve the name of fast.

5. We should fast,

a)   First, in order to imitate Christ, who fasted forty days and nights before he began His combat with Satan, thereby teaching us that we must overcome temptation and evil inclinations by mortification.
b)   Second, we should fast to purify our hearts from sin, to do penance for sins committed, so that we may arise with Christ to a new and spiritual life.

In the Preface of this season the fruits of penance are briefly given; namely, the suppression of sin and the elevation of the soul enriched with virtues and merit.

6. In this time of penance the Church forbids marriage festivities, and even avoids all signs of joy; for example, the Gloria and the Alleluia at Mass, are omitted. It also increases the public devotions and reminds us of the sufferings of Christ, or admonishes us to do penance. The Christian too should endeavor to be recollected, avoiding all pleasures and gayeties, and meditate especially upon the Passion of Christ, in order to correspond with the admonitions of Lent. Money saved in Lent should be bestowed in charity. Through such practices the heart will be moved to contrition and be prepared for a worthy reception of Communion at Easter.

Ash Wednesday

1. The name Ash Wednesday comes from the ceremony of putting ashes on the forehead of the clergy and the faithful on this day, in order to initiate them canonically into the penitential spirit. Ashes are a symbol of death. mourning and penance, and as such were used even in the Old Testament, for example, Mardocheus sprinkled ashes on his head. The Ninevites sat in ashes. In the beginning of Christianity the sinner was reconciled to the Church through public penance, by sprinkling ashes on his head. Soon the faithful began to sprinkle themselves with ashes at the beginning of Lent, as a sign of penance. This custom was established by the Church in the eleventh century as a remembrance of the former public penances. The ashes used on this occasion are the ashes of the palm branches which were blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year. Our penance, therefore, should be to combat with Christ, suffer with Him, and thereby gain the palm of victory. When sprinkling the ashes the priest says those words which God said to our first parents after their fall: "Remember man that dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return," and thereby marks upon his forehead the judgment of death, under which he fell by sin. Penance alone can mitigate the terror of death and save us from eternal damnation.

The prayers which are said at the blessing of the ashes and at their distribution implore God's forgiveness of sin, and beg for strength and protection in the spiritual combat now beginning for the true penitent.

2. From Ash Wednesday to Passion Sunday the Christian should meditate on Christ's work of redemption; he should overcome his evil inclinations by corporal and spiritual mortification, in order to suppress sin, so that his heart may partake of the Redemption.

Passion Week

The third division of Lent begins with Passion Sunday; from this day on, the Church meditates exclusively on the sufferings of Christ. The Christian should also do this, and increase his practice of mortification and self-denial. From Passion Sunday on, all the crucifixes are covered, or veiled,—every joyous thought should be set aside, and our minds turned to that cross which is to be erected upon Golgotha. We should meditate upon our Redeemer, Who in His sufferings concealed His divinity and clothed Himself entirely in the garb of an embassador. The crucifix is covered with violet to remind the faithful that their hearts should be penetrated with sorrow at the sufferings of Christ, and with contrition for their sins. In the office of the day the Prophecies of Jeremiah are read, the Gloria is omitted, also the psalm Judica at the beginning of Mass, unless a feast of our Lord or the Saints is celebrated.

Feasts of Saints

1. Formerly the feast of a Saint was not permitted to be celebrated during Lent, because the Church wished the faithful to meditate on the Passion of Christ and awaken a penitential spirit; at present it is only Holy Week which excludes these feasts. During the rest of Lent several feasts are now celebrated. Among the most important are:

1) The Feast of St. Joseph on the 19th of Mardi,
which was celebrated in the Eastern Church since the ninth century, but it is only two hundred years ago that its celebration became universal in ,the Western Church. This feast shows us the important part that St. Joseph took in the work of Redemption, for, as foster father of Jesus, as support and guardian of the Holy Family, he, next to Mary, had the greatest share in this work. Therefore, after Mary, he is our greatest intercessor with God. He is especially venerated as the patron of the dying, because he was found worthy to die in the arms of Jesus and Mary. Let us honor him so that he may nourish the work of Redemption in our hearts, and help us in completing it by a happy death. In the first centuries his feast was not celebrated, because then only the feasts of the martyrs were celebrated and principally because the celebration of his feast might lead the ignorant to believe that Joseph was the real father of Jesus.

2) The Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th,
is one of the oldest feasts of the Church; it is a feast of our Lord, as well as of the Blessed Virgin. It is in commemoration of the moment when the Angel announced to the Blessed Virgin that she was to become the mother of God. It shows us Mary's intimate participation in the redemption of mankind. The Christian should call on Mary to assist him in amending his life.

According to an old tradition, on this day Adam was created, Christ became man., and died, and Mary attained to the dignity of Mother of God,—therefore we should honor her more than all the other Saints. To the mystery of this day woman owes her freedom from the oppression and contempt with which she was treated in heathen times. The exalted dignity of Mary elevated the honor, of womanhood. We are reminded of the mystery of this feast three times a day by the ringing of the Angelus. This custom, it is true, was instituted only in the fourteenth century by Pope John XXII; but how very appropriate it is to remind us three times a day of the Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, who did so much for us, and whom we should not forget in the toils and labor of the day, but offer all to the Lord in gratitude.

3) The Feast of the Seven Dolors,
celebrated on the Friday preceding Palm Sunday, was instituted in the fifteenth century in expiation of the crimes of the Hussite image breakers, and other atrocities. It represents the Blessed Virgin as partaking in the work of Redemption and admonishes us like her, to meditate on the sufferings of Jesus. It is called the Feast of the Seven Dolors, because it reminds us not only of the sorrows of Mary at the foot of the cross, but also of her constant participation in the sufferings of Jesus from His birth to His crucifixion.

Even in the thirteenth century the Order of the Servites divided the sufferings of Mary into the following mysteries:

1st The prophecy of Simeon in the Temple,
2nd The flight into Egypt,
3rd The three days loss of the boy Jesus in the Temple,
4th The sight of her Divine Son carrying His heavy cross,
5th The Crucifixion,
6th The taking down from the Cross,
7th The Burial of Jesus.

Holy Week

1. The last week of Lent in which sympathy with our suffering Lord, and a penitential spirit should reach its highest degree is called Holy Week, because in this week the Passion and death of our Lord is presented to us.

2. Until the seventh century, during the entire Holy Week, the faithful abstained from all servile work and lived a life of penance; later, the faithful attended Mass every day, practiced severe works of penance and celebrated the last three days as Sunday. They also endeavored to obliterate past evils,—prisoners were liberated; enemies were reconciled; penitents were forgiven, and debts were paid.

3. The Christian should endeavor in this week to he recollected in spirit, to meditate on the Passion of Christ, and to do penance for his sins. He should increase his love for God and his neighbor and fervently participate in the Divine Services of Holy Week.

4. On Palm Sunday, also on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week the Passion of our Lord is read or sung, each time from a different Evangelist. This custom is found in the earliest Christian times; it is to remind us that we should have the Passion of Christ as much as possible before our eyes during Holy Week.

As soon as the priest at the reading of the Passion comes to the place where the death of Christ is mentioned he, with all the servers at the altar, kneels down, in order, thereby, to express the mourning of the Church,—at the same time, also, to offer to God, in the name of the people, the worship due him, and to express their gratitude for the redemption of mankind by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

5. During the last three days of Holy Week, in some Churches where there are more priests, the Office of Matins and Lauds, or of the so-called Tenebrae is solemnly recited, the evening before, accompanied by the singing of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, bewailing the destruction of Jerusalem. When the Lamentations are sung fifteen candles in the form of a triangle are lit,—the one at the top being white, the others yellow. At the end of each psalm a candle is extinguished and, finally, those which are upon the altar, only the white one at the point of the triangle being left; at last it is carried behind the altar. At the close the wooden clappers are used and the burning candle is brought back again and placed on the altar. The significance of this ceremony is as follows:

a) The gradual extinction of the candles is to remind us of the Prophets, who gave testimony of Christ, for which they were persecuted and put to death; it reminds us also of the Apostles and Disciples who hid themselves during His Passion.

b) The fourteen unbleached wax candles tell us of His human nature; the one of white bleached wax, on the top, signifies His divine nature. All the unbleached candles are extinguished to show that His human nature died. The white candle is not quenched, to show that His divine nature did not die.

c) The gloom caused by the extinction of the lights typifies the growing darkness, when Christ, the Light of the World, was taken; and the clapping made at the close of the Office is said to symbolize the confusion and earthquake which took place at our Lord's death.

d) The reappearance of the white candle represents the resurrection of Christ.

The origin of the Tenebrae dates from the first centuries; the early Christians celebrated these three days by night watches, or vigils, with prayer and the singing of psalms. Other vigils had long ceased to be kept; this vigil alone was retained until the tenth century, and celebrated at midnight; from this time until the fourteenth century it was celebrated at eight o'clock in the evening. Since the fourteenth century it has been kept as we have it at the present day. The Tenebrae is to remind us of the deep sorrow of the Church on the Passion and Death of Christ, and also her grief for the ingratitude of sinful man, to move him, therefore, to compassion for Christ's suffering and to do penance for his sins.

Palm Sunday

1. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday,—the name is derived from the blessing of palms, and the procession which takes place on this day.

2. The procession on Palm Sunday is of very ancient origin, dating even from the fourteenth century; it reminds us in the first place of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, when the people went forth with palm branches to meet Him and to lead Him as their King in triumph into the city. So even now the faithful go in procession with palms in their hands to offer their homage with prayer and psalmody to Christ their King. This procession also reminds us of the solemn entry of Jesus into the heavenly Jerusalem, after having conquered death and hell by His crucifixion and resurrection, when upon His ascension all the just awaiting Him in Limbo, adorned with the palms of merit, led Him into heaven, where adoring Him they offered their allegiance to Him as Lord and King. It reminds us also of that most solemn and great entry into the heavenly Jerusalem after the Last Judgment. All His faithful servants who have won the crown of victory under His banner will then offer Him their homage, and partake of His triumph and eternal glory.

3. The palms are blessed before the procession, because the Church wishes that whatever is used in the Divine Service should be blessed in order to remove the curse of sin, and to sanctify it for its sacred purpose. The Church prays especially for the bearers of these palms that they may have the grace of gaining many palms of victory over the enemy of salvation, and acquire many palms of good works, wherewith to follow the Lord in His triumphant entry, also that God may bless the houses in which these palms are preserved.

4. After blessing the palms the priest distributes them to the faithful as a sign that the Church shows the way to heaven, and must lead them in the battle against the enemy of their salvation. Then the palm bearers follow the cross in the procession, proclaiming thereby that they will fight and struggle all their life long in order to follow Jesus on the way of the Cross.

5. When the procession returns to the Church door, which is closed, it is opened only after being struck three times with the staff of the cross. This teaches us that heaven was only opened by the death of Jesus on the Cross, and that we of our own strength cannot gain heaven, except through the merits of our crucified Jesus.

6. The faithful carry the palms home and preserve them, in order to partake of the blessings that the Church invokes on those dwellings where they are preserved. Thus the faithful express that even in their homes they will remain true followers of Jesus Christ.

Holy Thursday

1. In the language of the Church, this day is called Coena Domini, the Lord's Supper. It reminds us of the great mystery of Christianity, which is presented to us by many characteristic ceremonies. On this day Christ partook of the Jewish Paschal lamb, a figure of that which was soon to be accomplished by His death on the Cross. He washed the feet of His disciples and to fulfill the type of the Paschal Lamb of the Old Law gave them Himself, His Body and Blood, under the appearances of bread and wine, and commanded them to do the same in commemoration of Him. By this command He established the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacrament of the Altar and the priesthood. He prayed for them, and on Mount Olivet in His agony sweat blood, was betrayed by Judas, made a prisoner, and throughout the whole night was maltreated.

2. The priest wears white vestments, white being the color of joy, but the psalm "Judica me" is omitted the same as in Masses for the dead. At the Gloria all the bells are rung, and then remain silent until Holy Saturday, wooden clappers being used instead. The Church wishes to express her joy on the institution of the Blessed Sacrament by the glad ringing of the bells even in the middle of Holy Week; on the other hand, the deep silence of all the Bells is a sign of her deep sorrow; it also reminds us of the sorrow of the Apostles and their concealment during the Passion of Christ, for bells are emblematic of the Apostles. The wooden clappers may remind us of the tumult that reigned in Jerusalem during these days.

3. If there are more priests at a Church on this day, only one of them says Mass; the rest receive Communion from his hand. The single Mass celebrated in each church, the Communion distributed to the clergy and the faithful, present to us the Gospel scene when Jesus Christ, the only Consecrator of the last supper, and the Apostles were seated at the Eucharistic table. Formerly all the faithful were obliged to receive Holy Communion on this day.

4. In the Mass of this day, the Bishop consecrates the Holy Oils; namely, the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of the Catechumens and Holy Chrism. According to the testimony of Pope St. Fabian and St. Basil, the consecration of the Oils dates from the time of the Apostles. Of all the ceremonies of the year it is one of the most beautiful and mystical. Even in the fifth century it was a decree of the Church to consecrate the Holy Oils on Holy Thursday. This day is chosen because on this day Christ instituted the Blessed Sacrament which is the center, yea, even the very source of all the Sacraments, and because at the same time He established the priesthood, thereby making the Apostles and their successors the dispensers of the Sacraments and all the graces that flow therefrom. The Oils are blessed with great solemnity; the Bishop is surrounded by twelve priests, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons, and many others of the clergy. 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 upon the Oils; after the consecration is complete they salute the Holy Oils three times, with the words: "Hail, Holy Chrism! Hail, Holy Oil!" The prayers and blessings, as well as the breathing upon the Oils, in fact the whole form of this consecration, was used by Gregory the Great in the sixth century and for the greater part may date back to apostolic times.

The Holy Oils are used in administering some of the Sacraments, and in consecrations of greater importance, such as altars, churches, chalices, bells, etc.

Wherever oil is used it has the property of strengthening, healing wounds, or of, at least, alleviating pain; it is also used for illuminating purposes therefore is a fitting symbol of the different effects produced by the holy Sacraments and canonical consecrations. Balsam which is mixed with oil to form the chrism is also significant, on account of its sweet odor and its property of healing as well as preserving from corruption. Even in the Old Testament oil was often used as a symbolic sign; and the New Testament testifies, plainly enough, that the Apostles also anointed with oil when administering the Sacraments; and ever since, anointing with oil has been in use, and the Holy Oils carefully preserved and held in veneration.

The Holy Oils must be distributed from the Episcopal See on the same day to the different parishes of the diocese. This shows that it is from the bishop that the sacramental graces of the whole diocese emanate; he is the head, and the cathedral is the mother church of the diocese.

5. Two Hosts are consecrated on Holy Thursday, one of which is reserved for the following day, Good Friday, because no real Mass may be said on this day. This Host with all the small, consecrated Hosts that are in the tabernacle, at the close of the ceremonies are carried in procession to the repository adorned with flowers, where they are preserved until the following day. This, as well as many other ceremonies on this day, reminds us of early Christian times. In those days the Blessed Sacrament was not reserved on the main altar, but every day after the Divine Service was carried to a place specially prepared for it, and then the altar was stripped. This custom, no doubt, is retained on Holy Thursday only to remind us that Christ, after His last supper, retired to Mount Olivet with His Disciples to begin His Passion, and was there forcibly dragged from their midst. It is customary for the faithful to visit the churches on Holy Thursday and adore our Lord hidden in the Blessed Sacrament.

6. After the Blessed Sacrament has been removed to the repository, the altars are stripped. Everything is removed excepting the candlesticks and the veiled crucifix; the tabernacle is left open, all lights are extinguished. While stripping the altar the priest prays the twenty-first psalm; the bare altar mourns because our Lord has been taken away, and reminds us of the desolation and deep sorrow of the Disciples, on having lost their Master. It is also a figure of our Lord Himself, Who after being stripped of His garments, despoiled of His beauty, yes, even of all human resemblance, suffered a most cruel death.

7. In some Cathedral churches, and Monasteries, the closing ceremony on Holy Thursday is 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 name, "Maundy Thursday." The Apostles also followed this command, and the custom has been retained to the present day.

The priest or prelate of the Church, assisted by deacon and sub-deacon washes the feet of twelve old men. Girt with white linen, kneeling, he washes the right foot of each, then dries it and kisses it. The Pope washes the feet of thirteen, all of whom are priests.

This ceremony is in grateful remembrance of the washing of the Apostles' feet by our Lord, and represents that bond of union and love which should exist in the Church between the shepherd and his flock; it admonishes the faithful to imitate the example of our Lord by the practice of humility.

Many Christian princes, and superiors of convents, follow this custom, by washing the feet of twelve of their subjects.

Good Friday

1. Good Friday, in the language of the Church is called "Parasceve that is, the day of preparation; the Jews called this day so, because they made preparations for the Pasch, which began with the evening. On this day the true Paschal Lamb, Jesus Christ, of Whom the other lambs were only a figure, was slain on Calvary.

2. This day places before our eyes the most important event of Christianity, namely, the death of Jesus Christ, whereby the whole world was redeemed; nevertheless it is not celebrated as a feast day, because a festal celebration is always accompanied with feelings of joy. The Church on this day gives herself up to mourning and sadness over the Passion and death of our Lord, and admonishes the faithful to do the same. The day reminds us specially of the price of our redemption, showing us the enormity and malice of sin. What Christ gained for us through His passion is revealed to us on Easter day, for only through His resurrection did He complete His work of redemption, and in reality conquer death. A festive celebration on this day is really not possible, because the nucleus of every festive celebration is wanting, namely, the Sacrifice of the Mass. Therefore the Church has, from the earliest times, celebrated Good Friday in silence and sadness, with solemn gravity by a strict fast and by somber mourning ceremonies. Mass is the most joyful ceremony that man can perform, but there is no joy in the world today when we celebrate the memory of the crucifixion of our Savior, therefore the Church never celebrated this day as a festival.

3. As a good child commemorates the anniversary of the death of beloved parents not in a festive manner, but in quiet mourning and grateful remembrance, so the devout Christian on Good Friday remembers with sadness and compunction of heart the death of Jesus and his own sins. He contemplates the Eternal High Priest who offers himself as a Sacrifice amidst indescribable torture, and by His obedience even unto death on the Cross, removed the curse of sin from mankind. He acknowledges the blessings of the Cross and resolves, from now on, to follow Jesus on the way to Calvary, to carry his even cross unto willingly death and to he obedient to the Divine Will even unto death.

4. Clothed in black vestments, the color of deepest mourning, the priest and his assistants come forth to the sanctuary without lights or incense; on the bare altar stands a veiled crucifix. Before this they prostrate themselves on the steps of the altar, in perfect silence. This is the Introit of Good Friday, the deepest abasement and humiliation at the sight of the ignominy and annihilation of Jesus on the Cross. The deepest mourning for the death of Jesus, the keenest remorse for the sins which were the cause of all this degradation. Meanwhile a white linen cloth is spread upon the altar, it reminds us of the winding sheet of our Lord. The priest rises, and going to the corner of the altar reads the prophecy of Osee, then the tract following the prayer, and the history of God commanding the eating of the Paschal Lamb, again followed by a tract. Then comes the chanting of the history of the Passion of our Lord, according to the Gospel of St. John.

5. After the reading of the Passion, solemn prayers for the Church and for men of all states and conditions are sung, to which a special prayer and genuflection is added. The following prayers are said:

1st     For the Church;
2nd     for the Pope;
3rd     for all bishops, priests and other ecclesiastics, as well as for all the children of God;
4th     for the Roman emperor (this prayer is omitted now for there are no more Roman emperors);
5th     for the Catechumens;
6th     for the erring, the sick, the hungry, and those in prison, for travelers and those on sea;
7th     for heretics and schismatics;
8th     for the Jews, and,
9th     for the Heathen.

Before each prayer "Oremus flectamus genua"  (let us pray and bend the knee) is sung, whereupon all kneel, and at the word Levate  (arise) all arise. By these prayers the Church wishes to express her ardent and urgent supplications. At the prayer for the Jews we do not bend the knee, because they bent their knees in mockery and derision before our Lord when they were about to crucify Him. Also at the close of the prayer for the Jews the "Amen" is omitted, because this supplication will never be entirely fulfilled until the end of the world. By these prayers the Church wishes to reveal her holy charity to all mankind and her anxious desire to enfold them in her motherly arms and make them happy. This desire of the Church is awakened specially today by the example of Jesus, Who, hanging on the Cross with outstretched arms, wishes to draw all mankind to Him and to redeem them. If you are a true child of the Church, then you must forgive your enemies from the bottom of your heart, and no one must be excluded from this charity. It is in this spirit that the Church prays today.

6. Taking off the chasuble, the priest takes the cross which from the evening before Passion Sunday has been veiled, and standing on the floor at the Epistle side of the sanctuary he uncovers the top of the cross, saying:

"Behold the wood of the cross on which the salvation of the world hung." (Ecce lignum Crucis, in quo pependit salus mundi.)  The choir sings: Come, let us adore (Venite adoremus), when all but the celebrant fall upon their knees. Coming up the steps of the altar, on the Epistle side, he uncovers the right arm of the cross, repeating the same words in a higher key; going to the middle of the altar, he uncovers the whole' cross with the same words in a still higher tone.

The unveiling and exposition of the cross is a symbol of Christ stripped of His garments, nailed to the Cross, raised thereon, and exposed to the people. The triple unveiling and chanting each time in a higher key is a representation of the gradual manifestation of the Sacrifice of the Cross. In the Old Testament this manifestation was not fully understood; this is shown by the almost entirely veiled crucifix, and the low pitch of voice in the chant. On Golgotha the Sacrifice of the Cross was accomplished, but there were only few to acknowledge it, therefore a further unveiling of the cross and a higher pitch of voice in the chant. The cross is now raised on high in the Church that all nations may look upon it; this is indicated by the complete unveiling of the cross and the still higher pitch of voice in the chant. The Christian should consider this threefold call of the Church as an admonition to do penance. Behold the cross on which the salvation of the world hung, also for your sins; cast yourself down, repent of your sins, and mortify your evil inclinations.

Then the priest brings the cross to the place prepared for it before the altar, and, out of respect, removes his shoes and genuflecting three times, at intervals, on both knees, kisses the feet of the crucifix. The acolytes and the faithful also make the adoration of the cross. During the adoration the "Improperia"  (Reproaches) are sung, in which God reproaches His people with their ingratitude for the numberless benefits He bestowed upon them, in preparing for Him the most excruciating and ignominious death. Even in the earliest times the true Cross on which Christ was. crucified was exposed at Jerusalem for veneration. In order that the faithful in distant countries might offer their veneration and homage to the sign of their redemption, this solemn unveiling and veneration was introduced into the entire Church. The same ceremony was used in the fifth century, and has come down to us without any perceptible change. The threefold genuflection reminds us of the three falls of Jesus under the weight of the Cross, as well as the threefold mockery of the Jews, the heathen, and on Calvary. The Improperia are sung partly in Greek, partly in Latin, not only because they originated at a time when the Greek and Latin churches were still united, but also because all nations should be united under the Cross in the same faith. It is not necessary to tell a Catholic that this veneration is not paid to the wood of the cross, but to Christ Who was sacrificed on the Cross. He should endeavor not only to make this veneration exteriorly but also with a contrite heart; he should consider that these reproaches also apply to him; that even every day he receives God's graces and benefits, and in return almost daily offends God, his Benefactor.

7. After the adoration of the cross follows the so-called Mass of the Pre-sanctified. It is not a Mass in the true sense of the word, as no consecration takes place, only the Host, consecrated the day before, is consumed by the celebrant; for today the world stands appalled at the remembrance of our Lord's death.

The Blessed Sacrament is now borne in procession from the chapel, or altar, where it was placed the day before. While the choir sings the hymn, "Vexilla Regis,"  the celebrant places it upon the altar, pours wine into the chalice, incenses the altar, washes his hands, says some of the customary prayers, sings the Pater Noster, then elevates the Blessed Sacrament, for adoration, breaks it as usual, says the preparatory prayer and communicates; then leaves the altar without further prayer. This so-called Mass has no Offertory or Elevation proper, for the elevation of the Sacred Host is nothing more than an exposition of the Blessed Particle for adoration, a custom which was general in former times; this custom, in a somewhat different form, still prevails. With this elevation there is no consecration, consequently there is no real Mass.

The Church is engaged this day with the bloody sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary; therefore she omits the Unbloody Sacrifice of the Holy Mass.

Holy Saturday

1. When God finished the work of creation, he rested on the Sabbath day. When He ended His work of redemption he rested in the tomb. One was but a figure of the other. In the early days of Christianity Mass was not said on this day. The entire Divine Servic,. we have it now was then celebrated in the night from Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday as the Vigil of Easter. The preparation for Easter, the change from sadness to joy, is noticeable; gradually a new life is perceptible in the spirit of the Church.

2. The ceremonies of the vigil begin with the blessing of the new fire struck from flint. Formerly fire was struck daily from flint, then blessed and used to light the lamps of the church, but since the eleventh century this benediction was reserved exclusively for Holy Saturday, when this ceremony is performed with greater solemnity, on account of its significance. As the sparks of fire come forth from the flint and diffuse light, so Christ comes forth' glorious from the tomb to enkindle and illuminate the world. Christ is the stone which the Jews rejected, but which became the head of the corner. With the blessing of the new fire is united the blessing of the five grains of incense prepared for the Easter Candle.

3. In this new fire, whatever remains from the previous year of the Holy Oils is consumed, and the new Oils blessed on Holy Thursday are used from now on. The fountain of divine grace has its source in the sacred wounds of our Redeemer. As in this holy season these sacred wounds are placed before us anew, so also the graces which flow from this source are typified by the renewal of the Holy Oils.

4. All lights in the church are extinguished; the new fire and the grains of incense are carried in procession into the church. This is to signify that through the resurrection of Christ new light and life has come into the Church. Upon entering the church, the deacon, who carries the long staff with its three candles in the form of a triangle, lights one of them, and sings in a low tone "Lumen Christi"  (Light of Christ), to which is replied "Deo gratias"  (thanks be to God). In the middle of the church the second candle is lit, at the high altar the third one, and at the same time, the same words are sung, each time in a higher key. This leading of the new light into the church. is in contrast to the solemn unveiling of the cross on Good Friday. As this reminds the faithful of the death of Christ on the Cross, and awakens sentiments of compassion and exhorts them to do penance, so the introduction of the candles reminds us of the resurrection of Jesus; and a joyous hope which gradually like a beam of light penetrates the sorrowing Christian, awakens new life and exhorts him to imbibe new hope that with Christ he may lead a new life of virtue and piety.

The successive lighting of the candles, the gradual entry into the church, and the increasing pitch of tone in the chant, signify the repeated apparition of Jesus after His resurrection, whereby His followers were filled more and more with joy. It is also an appropriate symbol of the illumination of the world by the gradual propagation of the Gospel.

The triple light on one staff tells first, how God the Father was revealed to man in the beginning of the world; secondly, it recalls how God the Son was revealed to the Jews, by the prophets, and, thirdly, it typifies the revelation of God the Holy Ghost to the world. Thus it speaks of the unity and trinity of God revealed at the time of the Apostles.

The response, "Deo gratias,"  expresses the joyous gratitude for these graces. All the faithful should join in these thanks; for if it were not for this Light of the World, we would still be in the darkness of heathendom.

5. Then follows the solemn blessing of the Paschal candle. In the first centuries this ceremony was performed only in the principal or Cathedral churches. Later on Pope Zosimus in 417 allowed this privilege to all parish churches.

The Paschal Candle represents our Lord risen from the dead; therefore it must be of pure white wax to typify His pure immaculate humanity. It reminds us of the, pillar of cloud which led the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red sea into the promised land. So Christ liberates us from the slavery of Satan by baptism; and if we faithfully follow His guidance He will surely lead us into the promised land of eternal bliss. In early times the offices of the entire year, which began with Easter, were inscribed on the Paschal Candle. Later, as their number increased, they were written on parchment, and attached to it sometimes by means of one of the grains of incense.

The blessing of this candle consists of a sublime canticle on the resurrection of our Lord (Exultet), which, from all accounts, is attributed to St. Augustine. During the chanting of the Exultet, the five grains of incense are inserted in the candle, in the form of a cross; later, it is lit at the triangle, and shortly after, all the other lights that had been extinguished are lit in like manner.

The five grains of incense remind us of the five sacred wounds which Christ received on the Cross and which marks He retained after His resurrection. From these wounds arises constantly a sacrificial fragrance, to our heavenly Father, pleading for sinful man, which is typified by the incense. The lighting of the Paschal Candle and the other lights represent Christ as the Light that came into the world to enlighten all men who are not willfully blind to the light. All mankind should partake of this newly risen light, in the new life of Christ. This is the wish of the Church as expressed at the close of the canticle. The Paschal Candle is placed on the Gospel side of the altar and remains there until the Feast of the Ascension; during this time it is often lit at Divine Service.

6. The blessing of the candle is followed by the reading of the twelve prophecies, i. e., lessons from the Old Testament, which contain prototypes of Christ. These prototypes were partly fulfilled by the resurrection of Christ, and continue partly to be fulfilled by the spiritual resurrection of the sinner. This spiritual resurrection is especially accomplished by the Sacraments; therefore the blessing of the water follows immediately after the prophecies, which serve as a preparation.

Formerly the number of prophecies varied; the number twelve refers probably to the twelve Apostles. Then, too, they place before us how the kingdom of Christ, the holy Catholic Church, rests upon the Prophets and the Apostles; the former prepared the way while the latter propagated the faith throughout the world.

7. The spiritual resurrection is accomplished by baptism, therefore on the Vigil of Easter in the first Christian centuries, the baptismal water was blessed and the Catechumens were solemnly baptised. In the course of time, this solemn baptism ceased, and only the blessing of the Easter water remained; it is probably, of apostolic origin. The ceremonies of the blessing of Easter water are greatly similar to those of Baptism. The water is first withdrawn from the power of Satan by exorcism, the laying on of hands and the sign of the cross. Then the burning candle is immersed three times in the water, and at each time the priest in a higher key invokes the power of the Holy Ghost upon the water. This immersion of the Paschal candle reminds us of Christ immersed in the waters of the Jordan at His Baptism. The intoning three times, each time in a higher key is in harmony with the unveiling of the cross, on the preceding day, and the solemn introduction of the newly consecrated fire. We are to understand thereby that it is the same Christ Who died for us on the Cross, and who through His resurrection brought new life into the Church, imparts life-giving power to this water; the breathing upon the water is also a symbol of the communication of grace. The faithful present are sprinkled with this blessed water to remind them of their baptism and to exhort them to renew the graces of baptism by prayer, and to be cleansed from their sins. The Easter water is also distributed to the faithful in order, that not only their hearts but also their houses may be cleansed from the curse of sin. A sufficient quantity of this Easter water is retained for Baptism, it is mixed with the oil of the Catechumens and Chrism, and preserved for use in the baptismal font. This mingling of the water with oil is to typify the fullness of the Holy Spirit which moves over this water and is 'imparted to the newly baptised. Formerly, solemn baptism took place after the blessing of the Easter water, which even now sometimes occurs if there be any present to be baptised.

8. Then the celebrant and assistants prostrate themselves before the altar, while the choir sings the Litany of All Saints. At the words "peccatores"  (sinners) all arise and go to the sacristy to prepare for Mass. The Church calls upon all the Saints to implore the grace of God upon those to be baptised, and to remind the faithful that they have been received into the Church and into the Communion of Saints by baptism, and are one day to become Saints. The prostration before the altar, an expression of humble and fervent prayer, is to remind us that Christ still lies in the tomb, but will soon rise again, and that all mankind through baptism or penance will arise with Him from sin and death to a new life.

9. The Mass of Holy Saturday now begins in white vestments. At the Gloria, the bells and the organ are heard again, and the Alleluia which was not heard since Septuagesima Sunday is sung three times, each time in a higher key. No Introit, Credo, Agnus Dei or Communion is sung; immediately after the Communion a short Vesper service follows. The threefold Alleluia appropriately follows the joyous ringing of the bell to exhort the Christian to praise the Lord and to participate in the great joy. The abridgement of this Mass comes to us from the earliest times. Throughout the whole Mass expressions of joy predominate, therefore the altars are somewhat more richly ornamented. The ringing of the bells is an expression of this joy; it reminds us of the Apostles who since the seizure of our Lord were silent, but now, through His resurrection, receive new life and announce their joy to the world. It is fitting that the faithful should wake from their sadness and join in this ringing of the bell as well as the threefold Alleluia (Praise the Lord).


1. Easter Sunday is the greatest feast of the year. St. Leo calls it the feast of feasts. On this day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, through which he completed the work of redemption.

2. God Himself in the Old Testament commanded the celebration of this feast in grateful commemoration of the wonderful deliverance of the Jews from the slavery of Egypt, and especially because the destroying angel passed those houses by, that were sprinkled with the blood of the Easter lamb, hence the name Pasch or Passover. The Christians have retained this feast in grateful remembrance of the completed work of redemption from the slavery of sin.

3. This feast is not celebrated on the same day each year, but always on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. All the movable feasts are regulated by the time of Easter.

4. Easter falls very appropriately in the springtime. As in this season of the year all nature awakens to new life and resurrection, so the Church likewise celebrates the actual resurrection of our Lord, and indeed the spiritual resurrection of many of her children.

5. Even in the early days of Christianity it was customary to bless food the use of which was forbidden in Lent, so that the new food might not be injurious to the health of the body, or, rather, that it should not excite sensuality and thereby injure the soul. In this also the Church wishes to show that on Easter the entire man, body and soul, should arise to a new life in God. Meat reminds us of the Easter lamb, eggs of the resurrection, and bread of the heavenly bread in the Blessed Sacrament, which Christ instituted at Easter.

6. The jubilant rejoicing of Easter is expressed not only in the oft repeated Alleluia, but also in the Mass and the Divine Office, more especially during the octave, and during the so-called Easter time, which lasts until the first Sunday after Pentecost, that is, to Trinity Sunday. According to apostolic tradition the faithful in early times prayed standing during this joyous season to show that they also had risen to a new life in Christ. Instead of the usual Angelus during Easter-tide, morning, noon and evening, the Antiphon "Regina Cocli" is said and that too, standing. Every Christian true to his faith participates in the Easter joys. Festive Divine Service and the Alleluias replace the lamentations and mourning of the past week. Friends and acquaintances greet each other with a joyful Alleluia, and even in the humblest cottage, a better meal takes the place of the fasts of Lent. Newly awakened nature enhances these Easter joys.

It is an old-time custom in Eastern as well as Western countries to distribute on Easter the so-called Easter eggs variously colored. The egg is a symbol of the resurrection, for as the bird comes out of the shell alive, so came forth the living Christ from the tomb, and so shall we, one day, come forth from the grave. In some countries it is also customary to make presents of toy lambs, called Easter lambs, bearing a little banner as a reminder of the true Easter Lamb Who conquered death.

The Octave of Easter

1. As in the Old Law the Jews celebrated Easter for eight days, it was also prescribed for the Christians to keep this octave as a continuous feast. Later it was limited to three days, and at present in this country to only one; while in some European countries two days are kept.

2. The celebration of this octave serves to enhance the glory of Easter. For eight days the joyful event should be continually. before our eyes, to strengthen our faith in the resurrection of Christ; therefore the Gospels of these days relate to the various apparitions of our risen Lord.

3. On the Saturday after Easter the so-called "Agnus Dei" are distributed in Rome. They are little disks of white wax, solemnly blessed by the Pope. The face shows a lamb with a cross and the inscription: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi  (Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world), beside the name and year of the reigning Pontiff. On the reverse side, is the image of a saint. In early times it was customary to present the newly baptised with a souvenir of wax representing the Lamb of God. From this may have originated the custom that the Pope solemnly blessed on one of the days of the octave images made out of the Easter candle of the preceding year, and distributed them on the above mentioned Saturday. Now it is customary for the Pope to bless them only in the first year of his pontificate and every seventh year following. The significance of these "Agnus Dei" is shown by the inscription as well as by the tenor of the prayers used at the blessing. They represent first the pure immaculate Lamb of God, Who redeemed us by His blood; they are also symbolical of the newly baptised who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and have become snow white lambs in the fold of Christ. The newly baptised received thereby a token of their covenant with God and, at the same time, the blessing of the Church to enable them to remain faithful to this covenant.

The efficacy of the Agnus Dei, as expressed in the prayers at the blessing and verified by history, must indeed be rich in graces. A bull of Gregory VIII. forbids the painting or gilding of Agnus Dei blessed by the Pope, under ban of excommunication. It is also forbidden to sell them; they should be preserved or worn with veneration.

Low Sunday

1. Low Sunday forms the close of the octave of Easter. Formerly the Neophytes or newly baptized appeared during Easter week in white robes, with a burning candle in their hand. Both of these were given to them at, baptism as an admonition to preserve their baptismal innocence and faithfully to observe the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. In order to make public profession of their readiness and also to express their joy, they wore the white garments during the whole octave, and only at its close on Saturday, sometimes even on the Sunday after Easter, laid them aside, and gave up their candle amid the prayers of the Church. Hence the name in the Missal and Breviary, "Dominica in Albis"  (Sunday in White). The name Low Sunday emphasizes the contrast between the great Easter solemnity and the Sunday which ends the octave.

2. This Sunday is also called Quasimodo geniti  (like newly born), because the Introit of the Mass begins with these words. Every day during the octave prayers are said for the newly baptised, and on the last day of the octave they are admonished, like the newly born, to long for the milk of heavenly wisdom, that they may grow up' in the living faith, conquer the flesh and thereby obtain the peace of heaven. This admonition applies to all the faithful, for after a fast of forty days, and after a true celebration of Easter, by receiving Holy Communion worthily, all Christians should be spiritually born anew.

3. It is customary in many places to have First Holy Communion on Low Sunday, and as a rule this is accompanied by a renewal of baptismal vows. This is a ceremony of great importance for children, as well as impressive and instructive for their elders. When the communicants, clothed in white, with lighted tapers, approach the holy table, how forcibly it admonishes us also to receive Holy Communion with pure hearts penetrated with faith, hope and charity. Let it remind us of our first Holy Communion, and the resolutions we then made.

In former times Christians publicly celebrated the anniversary of their baptism. We should never forget our baptismal day, but ever remember its graces and blessings with gratitude, and often renew our baptismal vows.


1. With Low Sunday the proximate subsequent commemoration of Easter closes; the remote subsequent commemoration lasts until the close of the octave of Ascension. This time reminds us of the forty days which Christ spent upon earth after His resurrection, in order to further instruct His disciples and, confirm them in the faith. Easter joy still continues during this period, as is shown in all the devotions and feasts of the Church; it tends to elevate the heart of every good Christian.

2. The Easter Cycle really closes with the octave of Ascension, but not the Easter joy; the Alleluia and the Antiphon, "Regina coeli laetare"  (Queen of Heaven rejoice), remain even through the octave of Pentecost, because Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Ghost, completes the work of Christ's redemption upon earth. Christ, it is true, had by His ascension withdrawn His visible presence from us, but He withdrew to send us the Holy Ghost.

Rogation Days

1. Even in the earliest times of Christianity, we find where one or more communities under the guidance of their spiritual directors went in procession, praying and singing psalms, to an appointed place to perform solemn devotional exercises. These processions were held sometimes on special occasions, sometimes on certain days of the year; to the latter, we class the procession of St. Mark's day and the Rogation days.

2. The procession of St. Mark's day is said to have been instituted by Pope Gregory the Great at the time when, in consequence of a great inundation, a pestilence was raging in Rome and vicinity. The symptoms of this dread disease were, yawning or sneezing until the victim dropped dead. Hence originated the custom of saying "God bless you" when one sneezes; also of making the sign of the cross on the mouth when yawning. To ward off this terrible disease Pope Gregory commanded a solemn procession to be held, and appointed it to be solemnized yearly on the 25th of April; it must have been, however, an ancient custom, but only became general on the occasion of the pestilence. In the beginning of spring, when all nature awakes, this procession is held to beseech Almighty God to avert various natural calamities—the dangers of drought, storm and tempest. The faithful having been reconciled to God at Easter, now beg to be reconciled with nature, in order to receive not the curse of sin resting upon it through the fall of Adam, but instead the blessings of our heavenly Father. This procession then is really the celebration of the resurrection of nature. It is placed upon the 25th of April, being the first day upon which Easter cannot occur; for the spiritual resurrection must be accomplished before the curse of sin can be taken from nature. The Feast of St. Mark, celebrated on this day, is of much later origin and has no connection with it.

3. On the three days preceding the Feast of the Ascension, processions are also held, therefore this week is called "Rogation Week," from the Latin "rogare"—to ask or to pray. The holy bishop Mamertus of Vienne, France, was the first to introduce these processions towards the close of the fifth century to avert various temporal calamities; they found imitation in France, then gradually throughout Christendom. Formerly these days were days of fast and abstinence, as well as of rest from servile work.

4. These processions have a twofold object, namely, to be reconciled with God by penance, and by prayer to obtain new graces and benefits. Our prayers should be for temporal and spiritual blessings: the prosperity of the harvest, preservation from evil, the love of God and freedom from sin. All these requests are contained in the Litany of the Saints, which is prayed on these days, either in the church or in the processions. The special Mass for these days is read in violet, the penitential color, and is intended to increase the confidence of the faithful, and to enhance the efficacy of their prayers.

5. Processions may be held on other extraordinary occasions to avert great calamities; their celebration is the same as those of Rogation week.

Ascension Day

1. This feast is of apostolic origin and is celebrated forty days after Easter (on Thursday), because Christ ascended into heaven from Mount Olivet forty days after His resurrection. The Son of God had accomplished His mission in this world; He now returns triumphant and victorious over death and hell, to His heavenly Father. With Him ascend the souls of the Just detained in Limbo ardently longing for this day. Heaven is again opened; Christ has established His Church on earth and prepared her for the coming of the Holy Ghost, whom He is to send.

2. Like Mary and the disciples, who saw Christ ascend into heaven, and ardently longed to follow Him, so should we, on this day, awaken a great longing for our heavenly home.

3. The Paschal candle which has been lit at all solemn Divine Services since Easter is extinguished on this day after the Gospel, and lit no more during the services. This typifies the withdrawal of Christ's visible presence from His Church.

Other Feasts

Other feasts belong to the subsequent commemoration of Easter.

1. The feasts of some of the instruments of the Passion of our Lord, viz:  the feast of the Lance and Nails which falls on the Friday after Low Sunday (if it has not been celebrated during Lent); the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross on the 3rd of May, and the Feast of the Crown of Thorns on the 5th of May.

These instruments of the Passion are trophies of the victory of Christ, therefore triumphant feasts of the arisen Redeemer.

Feasts of our Lord's particular sufferings, or instruments of His Passion, are celebrated on the Fridays in Lent, e. g.:  the feast of the Crown of Thorns; the Flagellation; the five, Wounds, the Precious Blood.

2. No feast of the Blessed Virgin is celebrated during the Paschal season, because Mary is so intimately united with her newly risen Divine Son, that her life forms, as it were, one with His.

3. On the contrary we celebrate the Feast of the Patronage of St. Joseph on the third Sunday after Easter. While St. Joseph could not be a witness of Christ's Passion, he has now become a witness of His triumph. With his divine Foster-Son he enters heaven never more to leave His side, and there, by his powerful intercession, becomes the foster-father of mankind.

4. Besides these feasts we find in this season the feasts of many martyrs, as well as that of the Evangelist St. Mark and the Apostles Philip and James, who also suffered martyrdom.

The martyrs imitated most perfectly the love of our Redeemer. Christ died for love of man, the martyrs died for love of God. If, then, Easter reminds us of the infinite love of Jesus Christ, so the feasts of the martyrs should remind us of that ardent reciprocal love, which makes us always ready to sacrifice everything, even life itself, for love of God.