In the video below, Dean Thomason shows you some of the ritual objects that he will be using to observe Holy Week from his own home. Read on for more detailed instructions! (You may wish to print out this page for convenience—just hit ctrl-p!)
Holy Week is upon us.
Holy Week is the most solemn and sacred time of the Christian year, when we are invited by our liturgical tradition to contemplate the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and death. But more than that, we are also invited to take these ancient liturgies into our own hearts and consider what they might mean for us in this moment, opening ourselves to the possibility of grace and transformation. That more personal dimension can be a challenge while the cathedral building is closed during this time of pandemic. While livestreamed liturgies afford a way of remaining connected, there exists a temptation to engage with them as a passive spectator rather than a vital participant.
As with all livestreamed liturgies, during Holy Week you are encouraged to sing along with the music; speak the responses; stand, sit, and kneel (as able); and send out greetings electronically at the Peace. It’s about being connected—we are one Body, many parts.
Because Holy Week liturgies are especially designed to be multi-sensorial, in this guide you will find other practical, embodied ways of participating, meant to help you more fully engage with the Holy Week journey. Throughout Holy Week, we trust that our distanced and diverse community is bound into a single expression of faith: the liturgical actions in the cathedral nave are woven with those that happen in your own home. Many people, wherever they might be located, will be undertaking these same actions at the same time.
Engage with any or all of these practices as you wish or are able. You are very much encouraged to make them your own, adapting them as makes sense in your life and your circumstances right now. The important thing is to perform them with intention. Perform the actions slowly, remaining aware of what thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations may arise. Consider all five senses: make note of how things smell, taste, sound, and feel in addition to how they look. It may help to use special objects or utensils that you don’t normally use or that you find particularly beautiful. At the same time, a ritual using a plastic tub can be just as spiritual as one using a crystal basin—the key is the thoughtfulness and attention you bring to the act.
And finally, keep in touch! Let us know, in whatever way is convenient, what the experiences of these liturgies was like for you. Take a photo and post it to Facebook or email to the cathedral. Call a fellow parishioner to share your experience. The community of Saint Mark’s remains one Body during this time, and we all look forward in prayerful hope to the time when we may embrace each other again in the Holy Box.
Checklist for the Week
- Home altar (including cross, a candle, and a bowl of water, in addition to other items meaningful to you)
- Cushions for kneeling (as able)
- Branches (for Palm Sunday)
- An aspergillum – a bundle of small fragrant branches for sprinkling (see below)
- Noisemakers and Bells
- Material for washing: A basin or tub, a pitcher, soap, several towels
- Food for the Agapé Meal Thursday evening (see below)
- Easter Eggs, real or plastic
- A sweet treat (berries, chocolate, candy, etc.) and/or sparkling wine or other festive beverage to celebrate the Resurrection
PREPARE IN ADVANCE:
branches, noisemakers, cushions for kneeling
Liturgy of the Branches:
All four Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, greeted with shouts of “Hosanna!” and cloaks and branches strewn in his path. However, only the Gospel of John specifies palm branches. Matthew and Mark mention branches without saying what kind they were, and Luke does not mention branches at all. We can imagine that those who greeted Jesus grabbed whatever branches were available.
You will need a branch to participate in the opening of the Palm Sunday liturgy, and it need not be from a palm. Is there a tree or other plant in your yard or in your neighborhood that has special meaning to you, because of an association with a particular person or happy memory? Or is there a plant which you have personally witnessed growing and changing over many years? Alternatively, take a walk in your neighborhood and be the lookout for a branch that strikes you as particularly beautiful. If you are at home with others, everyone in the house can have the same kind of branch, or each person can pick their own. Choose a branch that you can remove without damaging the plant, and which you can carry easily in one hand.
In the first part of the Palm Sunday service, you will be asked to raise your branches as they are blessed. As everyone sings All glory, laud, and honor, you are invited to make a procession around the room or around you home. Saint Mark’s Palm Sunday procession is famous for its raucous boisterousness, so if you’d like to accompany your procession with noisemakers and trumpets, you should! But only three verses of the hymn will be sung, so be sure your procession makes its way back to the start as the hymn concludes.
After the end of the service, you may place your branch(es) on your home altar, or in a vase nearby, or on your front door.
At two moments in the reading of the Passion Gospel, the congregation plays the role of the crowd, crying out “Let him be crucified!” Words will appear on the screen at this point, and you are invited to raise your voice. At the moment of the death of Jesus, everyone is invited to kneel for a period of silent prayer. If you would like to kneel, and this requires an extra cushions or other preparations in your home, be sure you have these ready before the service.
The Stations of the Cross
(Wednesday in Holy Week)
Processing is a fundamental aspect of the Stations of the Cross liturgy, or, as the Book of Occasional Services calls it, "The Way of the Cross." It is a ritual reenactment of Jesus’ final journey to his execution. In this video experience, the movement of the officiant between each station is depicted by images of shoes on the floor and the sound of footsteps. If you wish, you are invited to move your body in some way during these moments. This could mean moving to a different place in the room for each station, or simply walking in a circle and returning to your place between each station.
You are welcome to print a leaflet in advance and follow along (available at saintmarks.org/bulletin), but the text of the responses spoken by the congregation will appear on the screen, so you may fully participate in the liturgy without a leaflet, if you prefer.
PREPARE IN ADVANCE:
material for foot- and handwashing (basin, pitcher, towels); food for the Agapé Meal; a Bible; small cloth or paper towels
On Maundy Thursday we remember the events of the Last Supper, Jesus’ final meal with his friends on the night before he died. During the meal, Jesus stooped down to wash his disciples’ feet, demonstrating by example the humble service and love for one other that he asks of all his followers.
The first part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy will be livestreamed from the cathedral nave, beginning at 7 p.m. Then, after the homily, the Presider will offer an invitation to footwashing as we remember Jesus’ call to serve on another. The livestream will then pause. You are invited to engage in the footwashing ritual at this time. If you are in isolation with others, consider washing each other’s feet using a basin and pitcher as is our practice in the nave. If you are alone, or physical limitations preclude the washing of another’s feet, consider washing your feet in the tub or shower, letting water flow over your bare feet, mindful of all those who serve us in supplying clean water in our city, and all those who care for the bodies of others.
After the footwashing is completed, each person then engages in a handwashing ritual. The act of washing hands is an ancient holy act of preparation and purification, but in addition, in this time of pandemic, washing our own hands is a very real way of serving others. By washing our hands, we can all reduce the chance of infection and slow the spread of the virus, and in this way we express care and concern for everyone whose life is linked with ours, especially the most vulnerable. Perform this act slowly and with intention—consider using a special basin you have prepared, or rinse your hands using water poured out of a special pitcher or cup. As you wash, you are invited to speak slowly and with intention, the netilat yadayim, which Jews of the Orthodox tradition say every time they wash their hands:
Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments, and has commanded us concerning the washing of hands.
Following the washing, you are invited to partake in an Agapé Meal.
Long before there was a formalized ritual called “The Holy Eucharist,” followers of Jesus would meet in private homes to hear stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry, his death, and resurrection, followed by a simple meal including bread and wine, which they shared as Jesus commanded: “Do this in remembrance of me.” This is sometimes referred to as an “Agapé Meal” because God’s love (Greek: αγάπη) brought them together and bound them into one Body. This year on Maundy Thursday we are all invited to reclaim that ancient practice of a simple meal in the home, knowing that even if we live alone, we are joined with community of Saint Mark’s by sharing this meal.
This meal is not a feast. The food should be meatless, simple, and sparse. Appropriate foods for this meal might include: a vegetarian soup, cheese, olives, dried fruit (especially dates), bread (especially unleavened bread such as pita), and wine or non-alcoholic grape juice – or whatever simple fare is safely and readily available to you. You may wish to present the food in a particularly intentional way, perhaps using a special dish or utensils.
Immediately following the handwashing, gather around the table and remain standing as able. After a time of silence, two or three blessings are recited, as appropriate—one over the bread, one over the wine if it is part of your meal, and one over the other food. (The texts of these blessings are printed in the Maundy Thursday leaflet, available at saintmarks.org/bulletin or posted on the livestream page on the day of the service). If several are gathered, each participant first serves some food to all the others, and then all may dine.
As the meal nears its end, a designated person reads aloud chapter 17 of the Gospel according to John. Songs or simple hymns may then be sung together. The Agapé meal concludes with all saying in unison Psalm 63:1–8, followed by a concluding prayer, as printed in the Maundy Thursday leaflet.
Stripping of the (Home) Altar:
The livestream service resumes at 8:15 p.m. for the Stripping of the Altar. The ancient practice of stripping and then washing the altar ritually prepares the worship space for the Good Friday liturgy, while poetically calling to mind the stripping of Jesus’ body before his scourging, and the washing of his body after his death. When this ritual from the cathedral nave has concluded, you are invited to remove all the objects and decoration from your home altar as well, carefully and with intention, placing them in a special place where they will be accessible on Saturday. Then wash your altar using a damp cloth or paper towels. It will remain bare until the Good Friday .
Night Watch with the Altar of Repose:
As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, he asked his disciples to stay with him: “Could you not watch with me for an hour?” As a community, we are invited to keep watch with Jesus overnight, as symbolized by the reserve sacrament in the altar of repose. You can view this from your home overnight on the live stream, and you are invited to set aside thirty minutes to an hour to sit in quiet contemplation of Jesus’ journey to the cross.
PREPARE IN ADVANCE:
kneeling cushions, your home altar’s cross or crucifixion icon
The Good Friday liturgy is solemn and austere. The service at noon and the one at 7 p.m. are similar, the principal difference being that the noon liturgy is almost entirely spoken, while much of the 7 p.m. liturgy will be chanted.
Both during the reading or chanting of the Passion according to John, and during the Solemn Collects, you are invited to kneel at certain moments as you are able. Prepare cushions to kneel on if necessary.
The liturgy concludes with the Contemplation of the Cross. At this time you may place a cross or an icon of the crucifixion back on your bare altar.
PREPARE IN ADVANCE:
candle, matches or a lighter, a small container of water, aspergillum, bells, the remaining components of your home altar, a sweet treat, sparkling wine or other festive beverage
The Service of Light:
Before the service, the cathedral nave is in total darkness. The liturgy begins with the lighting of the New Fire and the Pascal Candle. Darken your own home as much as is practical. When the Paschal Candle is carried through the nave, light the candle or candles on your home altar, and light additional candles to the extent that can be done safely.
After we hear Holy Scripture, the Bishop will bless the water in the Baptismal font and sprinkle the participants with water as a sign and reminder of their baptism. At this time, you are invited to sprinkle yourself and others with pure water as an act of remembering your baptism. You many simply use your fingers to do this, or make your own aspergillum (sprinkler) using a few small branches, preferably from a plant with a beautiful fragrance, bound together with string or tape or wire. At Saint Mark’s, the tradition is to make aspergilla out of fragrant cedar branches, but consider using rosemary, juniper, jasmine, or even basil!
Proclamation of the Resurrection and the Gloria in Excelsis
At the high point of the liturgy, the Bishop shouts the Proclamation of the Resurrection, the great doors of the reredos are opened, and the cathedral is flooded with light. If you have bells, ring them now!
At this time (or any time after this) you may replace all the items onto your home altar which you stripped from it on Thursday. If you had been using a red cloth for Holy Week, now is the time to switch it for one that is white or gold. You may also place new items on your altar now that were not there earlier in the week, such as: fresh candles, Easter eggs, sweet treats, things you plan to include in your Sunday morning breakfast, an icon of the resurrection, or an image of the word ALLELUIA!
After the Vigil Liturgy concludes, before you go to sleep, you are encouraged to indulge in a sweet treat—such as strawberries, chocolate, or a pastry—and a glass of sparkling wine or other celebratory beverage.
If you are isolated with other people, an Easter egg hunt can be a fun activity either before or after the 11 a.m. livestreamed Eucharist—and not just for kids! Adults may be surprised at how much fun an Easter egg hunt can still be.
Enjoy your Easter breakfast, reach out to those you love with whatever device is best for you, and then participate in the Feast of the Resurrection via livestream at 11 a.m. – and remember to join early if you can, starting about 10:45 a.m.