Easter symbols

We explain what Holy Week is in the Christian calendar, information on each day and what each of its symbols means.

The cross is a symbol of Holy Week but also of Christianity in general.

What are the symbols of Holy Week?

Holy Week or Holy Week is, in the Christian calendar, a celebration of variable dates that annually commemorates the passion of Jesus of Nazareth: his entry into Jerusalem, his last supper surrounded by his apostles, his arrest, viacrucis and crucifixion, and finally his death and resurrection. This celebration lasts about a week and usually takes place between March and April of each year, and is usually accompanied by processions, mass liturgies and holidays.

Holy Week covers an entire week, whose days have specific names:

  • Palm Sunday, which commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.
  • Holy Monday, which recalls events such as the anointing of Jesus in the house of Lazarus and the expulsion of the merchants from the temple.
  • Holy Tuesday, which recalls the anticipation of Jesus Christ to the betrayal of Judas and Peter’s denial.
  • Holy Wednesday, which recalls the conspiracy of Judas with the Sanhedrin to deliver Jesus to the Romans.
  • Holy Thursday, which commemorates the washing of the feet of the apostles and the last supper they had with Jesus Christ, before the Romans imprisoned him.
  • Good Friday, also called Friday of Sorrows, which recalls the interrogation of Jesus Christ, the flagellation, the viacrucis and finally his death by crucifixion.
  • Glory Saturday, which recalls the loneliness of Mary and the eve of the resurrection.
  • Resurrection Sunday, which commemorates the resurrection of the Messiah, in full celebration of Easter.

These events are central to Christian mythology and are contained in very different symbols and representations, present in churches and temples, especially during the rites of Holy Week. Chief among these symbols are: the palms and branches; wine and bread; the washing of feet; the Paschal candle; the color purple; and the cross.

See also: Corpus Christi

palms and branches

Palm Sunday commemorates the welcome given to Jesus upon his arrival in Jerusalem.

According to the Christian story, when Jesus of Nazareth made his appearance in Jerusalem, on the back of a donkey, the people welcomed the Messiah, spreading cloaks as he passed and throwing palm branches along the way. This welcoming gesture is commemorated every Palm Sunday, distributing among the parishioners palm leaves, sometimes woven in the shape of a cross, or branches of other trees such as boxwood, olive, willow or yew, in those places where palm is hard to come by.

wine and bread

The Christian story tells that at his last Passover dinner and in the company of his apostles, Jesus of Nazareth offered each one a cup of wine and a loaf of unleavened bread. As he handed them the wine, Jesus told them that it was his own blood, and as he handed them the bread, he told them that it was his body.

This divine transformation of bread into body and wine into blood is what is remembered in the Christian celebration of the Eucharist, present at every mass. During Holy Week, these foods are used as a symbol of the acceptance of the Christian faith during Holy Thursday, since the faithful eat the Messiah and become one with him.

the washing of feet

Washing the feet is a gesture of extreme humility, brotherhood and acceptance of the other.

According to the Gospel of Saint John, Jesus of Nazareth washed the feet of each of his disciples before they had their last supper. This gesture was typical of slaves and serfs at the time, and the fact that the Messiah performed it is interpreted as a gesture of extreme humility, brotherhood and acceptance of the other, at whose service every good Christian is.

In many Christian religious communities, this message is remembered through the washing of the feet of the faithful, sometimes in the hands of other faithful and sometimes in the hands of the priest or parish priest. In this case, the practice takes place on Holy Thursday, before the Eucharist.

the paschal candle

The Paschal candle represents the connection between the beginning and the end, that is, the eternity of Jesus Christ.

The Paschal candle is a large, continuously lit candle on which the Greek letters alpha (𝛼) and omega (⍵) are inscribed, the first and last of the Greek alphabet, as a sign of the connection between beginning and end. end, that is, the eternity of Jesus Christ.

It is, in fact, a symbol of Easter, but since the resurrection of Jesus occurred during the Jewish celebration of Easter, the candle is interpreted as the light of hope and life, compared to the darkness of suffering. and of death. For this reason, the Paschal candle is lit from the Easter Vigil until Pentecost Sunday.

the color purple

At present, the faithful who pay penance wear purple.

Purple or purple is one of the main colors of the Holy Week. It was a color used since Roman times as a symbol of penance and renewal, and according to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal it is typical of the times of Advent and Lent.

Numerous representations of Jesus of Nazareth’s way of the cross show him dressed in a purple tunic, which is popularly known as the image of the Nazarene. That is why today the faithful who pay penance or who embody the place of Jesus Christ in the procession wear purple, on their painful journey to Mount Golgotha, where he was crucified.

The cross

The cross is not only a symbol of Holy Week, but of Christianity in general: it is the place where Jesus Christ died and that is why it is present in all Christian temples, as a reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth.

According to the Christian interpretation, his sacrifice constituted the gesture of confirmation of the new pact between God and humanity, since when Jesus Christ died he paid for the sins of all. The cross during Holy Week can be seen practically everywhere, in decorations, clothing, religious icons and even in the sign of the cross of the faithful.

Continue with: Sacraments of the Catholic Church


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