Why Do Catholics Do That?

We Catholic Christians have now entered the holiest time of the Church’s Liturgical year — Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday — also known as the Triduum (the Three Days of prayer leading to the celebration of Easter Sunday).

Each of these days brings with it special services and traditions.

Holy Thursday

Mass is celebrated as usual, but right after the homily (sermon), a re-enactment of the Washing of the Feet (John 13:1-17)  is held.

Some parishes choose a set number of people (twelve, representing the Apostles). Those selected can be young people (candidates for Confirmation, for example), church leaders, or others. Sometimes, it’s the priest who does the washing; other times, volunteers get their feet washed, then return the favor to the person in line behind them.

This Liturgy recognizes Jesus’ institution of the rite of Holy Communion at His Last Supper. During the Consecration part of the Mass, the priest blesses sufficient Communion wafers for the next day’s service (I’ll explain why in a minute!). Those consecrated hosts are transferred in a solemn procession to a special place away from the main part of the church.

Good Friday

Commemorating the day Jesus died, this is the only day of the year when no Masses are offered.

At all.

The service begins in quiet. The priest enters, lies face down before the altar, then rises. The Passion according to John is read. Or sung. It’s followed by prayers for a multitude of intentions — the Pope, leaders of countries, those who don’t believe in Christ or in God, etc.

A cross is brought in, which the congregation venerates. In some churches, it’s customary to kiss the wood or the feet of Jesus; in others, a simple bow or genuflect suffices. This takes places to the accompaniment of a solemn song — “Were you there?” is a favorite. Remember those Communion wafers from the day before? They’re returned to the church and distributed to those attending.

Holy Saturday

This is the Easter Vigil. While no Mass is offered this day, much rejoicing, pomp, and ceremony accompany this evening’s Mass (which suffices as a Sunday liturgy). Traditionally, it begins in complete darkness. The priest enters bearing the Pascal Candle, from which the candles of the congregation are lit.

The reading of Scripture, singing of psalms, recitation of prayers, and renewing of Baptismal promises take place. This is the day new members are fully initiated into the church.

Space prohibits me from elaborating on the other rituals surrounding Easter, but I hope now it isn’t a complete mystery!

(I’ll be taking a few days off to celebrate the holy days. Happy Easter — Happy Spring!!)

28 thoughts on “Why Do Catholics Do That?

  1. Oh Debbie, having been raised Catholic myself (and also going to Catholic school for eight years), it was a joy to read this post because I had forgotten much of what you shared about the rituals surrounding Easter.

    I also clicked over on the video you shared (“Were You There”), and yes….I remembered that song!

    Enjoy your days off, my friend. And Happy Easter-Happy Spring to you as well!


    • “Were You There” never fails to bring me to tears. Never! I remember several years ago when I was in the choir at church and we had to sing it — I’d get so choked up that I’d have to look away and recompose myself before tackling the rest of it!
      Thanks for dropping by to reminisce, Ron. Here’s hoping your Easter Sunday was glorious!

  2. What a lovely explanation —even if I am not Catholic this is one of my very favorite times of the year. Tonight I will be attending the services led by my very own sister who is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I am sure it is going to be amazingly special.

    • How special to have a sister in the ministry, Beth Ann! Yes, I’m sure the services will be most meaningful for you. I’m glad you got something out of my explanation, and I hope your Easter was as wonderful as you deserve!

  3. I’ve only been to Easter Sunday services. Not being Catholic, it was interesting to read about the celebrations and services that you have. Enjoy your time off for Easter!

    • Thanks, Janna. I’m glad I was able to demystify the whole thing a little. I hope you and your family had a lovely Easter Sunday, with plenty of yummy candy for young and old alike!

  4. I was raised Catholic too and went to Catholic schools for the first 6 grades. I have fond, reverent memories of the rich traditions. Happy, sacred Easter to you.

    • Blessings to you, Barb. If I was able to nudge some of those old memories to the forefront, my post was successful. Happy Easter to you and yours — bet the babies looked darling in their new Easter outfits!

    • Thanks, Terri. It was wonderful taking just a couple of days off (of course, now I get to play catch-up, but….). I hope Easter was memorable for you and your family, and that you finally are getting some Spring-like weather!

    • Really? How timely is that? Thanks for letting me know — I hope my simplified version was sufficient. Wasn’t Sunday beautiful? I was outside in a T-shirt and no coat — Woot! Happy Easter to you, and I hope the Big Bunny brought you lots of tiny Cokes and rich chocolates!

  5. Interesting, and very similar to the practices of the Lutheran church. My favorite service of the year is the Easter Vigil. On Maundy Thursday, we have a service called Tenebrae, where the stripping of the altar takes place in the context of readings. Slowly, all the candles are extinguished, and the church is left in darkness until the Easter Vigil begins.

    We even have the chanting of the Easter Proclamation – perhaps the most thrilling of all.

    A blessed Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter to you!

    • Linda, I seem to recall the stripping of the altar from when I was a child. I know we still do it because it was bare for Friday services, but somehow the mystery and ritual of the removal have gone by the wayside. Sad, huh, when it’s such a beautiful, stark reminder of Our Savior’s death.
      I haven’t been to an Easter Vigil service in ages, and I miss it. When Domer was little, he couldn’t sit through something that long (and now, my mom can’t sit through it!). I love how everything slowly goes from darkness to wonderful light, though!
      Happy Easter, my friend, and thanks for sharing your memories and traditions!

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  7. Thanks for sharing this Debbie. I was raised in the Methodist church as a child and my Catholic friends never could explain all their traditions and rituals. Have a blessed holiday weekend, my dear friend.

    • Many of my good friends also were Methodists, Pat (still are, in fact). I’m glad if my explanation helped. We’re finally getting Spring Fever here — the grass is greening up, daffodils are blooming, trees are starting to bud, birds are singing. Easter Sunday was particularly lovely — no coat needed for early morning Mass, either! I hope you and your family had a wonderful Easter, too!

    • Thank you, Monica. Sadly, I think we don’t fully appreciate the beauty of our rituals and ceremonies, especially the ones held during special times of the year. Instead, we ought to be grateful that we can worship freely, for so many across the world can only dream of that privilege. Happy Passover, my friend!

    • We’re STILL celebrating, Tanya — in fact, we’ll be celebrating the Easter season all the way to Pentecost!! I hope Easter was wonderful for you and yours!

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