THE P RTAL April 2017 Page 9 The Great Week Fr Julian Green has been thinking about Holy Week F ull central to the month of April, this year, is the celebration of the Great Week, or Holy Week. From Christian antiquity, the principal Christian feast day was Sunday, the weekly feast day of the Resurrection. Certainly by the second century, the first day of the week was observed as the Christian ‘sabbath’ and it was on this day – the Day of the Lord – that the Christian people gathered for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Alongside this weekly celebration, the annual celebration of the great Passover of the Lord was the first annual celebration to be established. Indeed, in time, the exact date for the celebration of Easter became something which was not only controverted, but also defined a person’s orthodoxy and communion with the Church. The first historical reference we have to the celebration of Holy Week is found in the Apostolic Constitutions, an anonymous collection of treatises on the organisation of the Church dating from the late fourth century, and being compiled in Antioch in Syria. In that text, we can read that Holy Week, which it refers to as the Passover Week, is kept as a fast from Monday to Saturday. Quite specifically, it tells us that the faithful would eat only bread, salt, and herbs for food, and only water for drink. Meat and wine were absolutely forbidden. Furthermore, it tells us that Good Friday and Holy Saturday were observed as complete fasts. Having exhorted the people to fast, the Constitution then in the time when the Christian communities lived in gives us an account of the Easter Vigil: a pagan world. It is certain that they managed to keep Sundays, even when the first day of the week was a “From the even till cock-crowing keep awake, normal working day. and assemble together in the church, watch and pray, and entreat God; reading, when When we look around our churches, while Good you sit up all night, the Law, the Prophets, Friday may still attract a crowd, the rest of Holy Week and the Psalms, until cock-crowing, can be the preserve of only the most devout. In an age and baptising your catechumens, and which is newly pagan, many Christian people’s lives reading the Gospel with fear and trembling, are shaped more by work and commerce than by a and speaking to the people such things as fervent adherence to the central teachings of the faith. tend to their sal vation… Now the Lord is risen, offer your sacrifice, concerning which The challenge to us is really to live this great week He made a constitution by us, saying, ‘Do this as a week above all weeks, a week in which to place for a remembrance of me’; and thenceforward prayer, fasting, liturgy, devotion before all the other leave off your fasting, and rejoice, and keep cares and worries we may have. First and foremost, it a festival, because Jesus Christ, the pledge of is the way in which we respond to the call of the Lord our resurrection, is risen from the dead.” to take up his Cross and follow him which we are most able to show in the way in which we not only observe The historical origin of these feasts and fasts is very but truly live Holy Week. interesting. What shines out from the evidence is that Let’s allow Holy Week this year really to impinge on the early Christians took these commemorations of the Passion and the celebrations of the Resurrection very our daily routine, and let it stand out as a week of true seriously. While our earliest records of Holy Week come devotion to the Lord. But let that devotion also overflow from the period after the establishment of Christianity into works of charity, which allow us to share in the as the official religion of the Roman Empire, we can mission of Jesus Christ, who came not to serve but to guess that the keeping of Holy Week had its origins be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many.