As Lent draws to a close, worshippers turn their thoughts to Jesus' final days before his resurrection on Easter Sunday. The entire week leading up to (but not including) Easter is known as Holy Week, and Christians of various sects observe it by reflecting on and even reenacting his suffering and death.
Many churches hold daily services throughout this week, commemorating the Passion of Jesus. But certain days have more specific services attached to them.
Also known as Maundy Thursday (for the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment), this day represents the day of the Last Supper, which ended with Jesus giving his disciples the commandment "that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another." Holy Thursday's main celebrations are the Chrism Mass, in which bishops consecrate the oils used for sacraments, and the Mass of the Lord's Supper, in which the priest washes 12 congregants' feet (in a nod to Jesus washing his disciples' feet) and church officials strip the decorations from the church's altar.
Good Friday, perhaps the most well-known day of Holy Week, addresses Jesus' death on the cross — and the services held on this day are the most somber of all. Bells and organs are kept silent as a gesture of mourning. Worshippers spend the day giving penance or even fasting, as they did throughout Lent. Some communities may even reenact the Stations of the Cross (Jesus' journey to the cross) as a way of feeling closer to Jesus in his suffering. Services focus on Jesus' last words and end with communion and stripping the altar again.
Holy Week ends with Holy Saturday, or the Easter Vigil. Services aren't held until nightfall, when congregants gather as if to wait for Jesus' resurrection the next day. Sometimes, the Vigil will involve a candlelit procession. And, as a way to break the silence of Good Friday, churches ring their bells to herald the end of Lent.
For Christians who observe it, Holy Week is a solemn time of worship, to say the least. But at the end of it comes Easter Sunday — the celebration of Jesus' rebirth and evasion of death. Allowing oneself to experience Jesus' suffering caps off the Lenten season of penance and makes Easter Sunday's celebrations all the more joyful. This week of mourning tells a story of immense loss, but it leaves worshippers with the message that faith will help them endure it.