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What to expect during the Special Seasons of the Church Year at St. Paul's:


Holy Week

Passion (Palm) Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, the heart of our Church Year. Here's a guide about what to expect at each of the Holy Week liturgies:

On Palm Sunday we gather in the Parish Hall for a prayer and a blessing. After the blessing of palm fronds, we distribute palm fronds and wave them high as we walk together down the sidewalk and into the sanctuary singing "Hosanna!" to commemorate the glorious entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The jubilant mood continues with the great hymn "All Glory, Laud, and Honor."

In recent years, many churches have combined Palm Sunday with Passion Sunday on the same day, including a reading of the story of Jesus's Passion -- his betrayal, suffering, and death. At the 10:30 service, we will follow this tradition by presenting the Passion story after the Liturgy of the Table (communion), followed by a closing hymn. Parts of the Passion story will be told by individual readers, and parts by the congregation as a whole. (If you would prefer to hear the Passion story later in Holy Week, please feel free to leave quietly before the reading begins.)

On Maundy Thursday (the first in a three-part liturgy called the Triduum), we gather to commemorate Jesus's last supper with his disciples. The  service is specially designed to incorporate children, though both adults and children. As we gather for the story of Jesus's last evening, we wash one another's feet as Jesus did. (The foot-washing ceremony is optional; many find it a deeply moving expression of our care for one another.) Then we share bread and wine for the last time until He comes again at Easter. Afterward, we strip and wash the altar, leaving it bare. All crosses are covered with a shroud. The priest closes the gates of the Rood Screen with a resounding clang. We invite you to stay for a time afterward in prayerful silence, to keep watch in the Garden as Jesus asked his first disciples to do.

On Good Friday at an evening service, we observe Christ's death on the cross. The church is darker than it normally is, and the organ is silent; all the hymns are a cappella. This is the only major service of the year when we gather without receiving bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus. We hear the story of Christ's suffering and death presented in a manner appropriate for younger children, (though again, all are welcome). At the service, we hear the story of Christ's Passion according to St. John. Acknowledging our own role in Christ's suffering, the congregation will join in shouting "Crucify him!" After hearing the news of his death, we sing hymns together, and those attending have the opportunity (if they wish) to approach and honor the cross with a bow or a kiss.

On Saturday evening is the Great Vigil of Easter. For many, this is the highlight of the Church Year. We gather in darkness and kindle a new fire on the lawn, near a busy street, for all to see. This flame is used for lighting the Paschal candle and passing its light from person to person. We hear the Exultet, the ancient chant that has marked this liturgy for centuries. Then, by candlelight, we hear the stories of our salvation, beginning with the Creation story from the book of Genesis and continuing through the sacrifice of Isaac, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Exodus out of Egypt. Some of the stories are simply read, some are performed or acted out, and some are proclaimed through music. The sermon is the classic exhortation by Somebody or other.

Then, bringing an end to the darkness, the priest proclaims, "Alleluia, Christ is risen!" and the people respond, "The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!" Then the great celebration begins, as the lights come on, the bells ring, the Easter lilies arrive, the streamers fly, and we sing the festive and traditional "This is the Feast of Victory for our God." We hear the Easter Gospel -- the story of Christ's resurrection, when the women discover the empty tomb. We then renew our baptismal vows, reflecting the ancient practice of baptism at the Vigil, and share bread and wine in the First Mass of Easter.

On Sunday morning, we gather to hear the story of Christ's resurrection and celebrate the Good News once again, with traditional hymns and communion. At the 10:30 service, the audience is invited to join the Adult Choir for glorious music, including the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. A festive coffee hour and reception follows.

If you have questions about any of these services, please see any one of us.

Have a blessed Holy Week!

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