Holy Week and Easter Triduum

Holy Week and the Easter Triduum — the culmination of the entire liturgical calendar — engage our senses in a profound way: the feel of the palm fronds we carry during the Palm Sunday processional; the haunting beats of the hymns that lament Christ’s death on Good Friday; the scent of incense at the Easter Vigil as it rises toward heaven. 

And, of course, the many sights of this sacred time — penitents kissing Christ’s feet while venerating the Cross, the faithful commemorating Christ’s final journey along the Via Crucis. 

To capture some of those profound images, OSV Newsweekly asked four Catholic photographers — Karen Callaway in Chicago, Sam Lucero in Green Bay, Wis., Bob Mullen in Vernon, Conn., and Tom Tracy in South Florida — to contribute their photographs of Holy Week and the Triduum. We hope these photographs offer a glimpse of the united heart of the Catholic Church.

Sacred Images

EASTER VIGIL Victor Alvino holds a candle after receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation during the Easter Vigil liturgy April 23, 2011, at Misión San Juan Diego Parish in Arlington Heights, Ill. Ten people became full members of the Church during the celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. Karen Callaway of Catholic New World
HOLY WEEKDAY A cross draped with a purple cloth and displaying a crown of thorns is erected at St. Philip Church in Green Bay during Holy Week. Sam Lucero/Inspired Images
PALM SUNDAY Palms, Gospel reading and Holy Water for blessing the palms at St. Joseph Cathedral, Hartford, Conn. Bob Mullen/The Catholic Photographer
PAVING THE WAY FOR THE LORD Parishioners and visitors to St. Joseph Cathedral, Hartford, Conn., pick up palms for the Palm Sunday procession. Bob Mullen/The Catholic Photographer
PALM SUNDAY Arthur Kiluk prepares to watch a Palm Sunday procession before Mass at St. James Church in Chicago April 5, 2009. Karen Callaway of Catholic New World
PALM SUNDAY Parishioners from Polish parishes across the Archdiocese of Chicago join membersof Holy Trinity Polish Church to pray the Stations of the Cross in Polish on Palm Sunday, April 1, 2012. Karen Callaway of Catholic New World
HOLY WEEK PROCESSIONAL Adriana Martinez and Adriana Aniquito lead a procession to express condolences to Mary after the Good Friday liturgy at Providence of God Church in Chicago on March 21, 2008. Karen Callaway of Catholic New World
HOLY THURSDAY On Holy Thursday at St. Mary’s Cathedral in the Archdiocese of Miami, the crucifix is draped with purple and red stoles. Tom Tracy
HOLY THURSDAY Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami washes the feet of parishioners during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at The Cathedral of St. Mary. Tom Tracy
CHRISM MASS Priests from the Archdiocese of Chicago process past the sacred oils during the Chrism Mass at St. John Brebeuf Parish in Niles, Ill., on April 7, 2009. Three oils are blessed by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago each year during Holy Week. Karen Callaway of Catholic New World
CHRISM MASS Deacon Shawn Gould (ordained a priest May 22, 2010, for the Archdiocese of Chicago) carries oil to be blessed by Cardinal Francis E. George during the Chrism Mass at Holy Name Cathedral on March 30, 2010. Karen Callaway of Catholic New World
GOOD FRIDAY Patricia Hirthe venerates a cross at St. Patrick Church in Menasha, Wis., on Good Friday with her children. Sam Lucero/Inspired Images
GOOD FRIDAY Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami lies prostrate before the altar Good Friday 2011 at the Cathedral of St. Mary. Photo by Tom Tracy
ADORATION OF THE CROSS John Barry bows to kiss the Crucified Lord on Good Friday 2010 at St. Joseph Cathedral, Hartford, Conn. Bob Mullen/The Catholic Photographer
HOLY SATURDAY The faithful, including a member of the Missionaries of Charity, gather for the annual Easter Vigil Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in the Archdiocese of Miami by lighting candles from the Easter fire. Tom Tracy
HOLY SATURDAY Catechumens and candidates are received into the Church during the 2012 Easter Vigil at Holy Name Cathedral in Chi- cago on April 8. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was the chief celebrant. Karen Callaway of Catholic New World
HOLY SATURDAY Father Michael Meany, pastor of St. Damian Parish in Oak Forest, Ill., baptizes Jack Spinks during the 2010 Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil, one of the most lengthy ceremonies in the Catholic tradition, culminates in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Karen Callaway of Catholic New World
HOLY SATURDAY Norbertine Father Tim Shillcox, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in De Pere, Wis., lays hands on Amy DeBroux at the Easter Vigil. Sam Lucero/Inspired Images

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord 

Holy Week begins with the Procession of Palms, a commemoration of Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, with crowds singing praise to the Messiah. The liturgy for the day focuses on the Paschal mystery, with the account of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (Is 50:4-7) and the Gospel reading of the Passion.


Monday of Holy Week: The Gospel reading for this day is the Anointing at Bethany (Jn 12:1-11), when Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed the feet of Jesus with perfumed oil and dried them with her hair, a foreshadowing of his suffering and death. 

Tuesday of Holy Week: The Gospel reading is John’s account of the Last Supper (Jn 13:21-33, 36-38), when Jesus announced that one of his disciples would betray him. 

Wednesday of Holy Week: Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to prepare a place for the Last Supper is recounted in this day’s Gospel (Mt 26:14-25).

Holy Thursday

Chrism Mass: An ancient celebration that traditionally takes place on Holy Thursday morning, the liturgy features a bishop’s blessing of holy oils used in baptisms, confirmations and ordinations, and for the consecration of buildings. Also at the Mass, priests renew their dedication to priestly service. Though often held on Holy Thursday, it may be moved to a different day.

Mass of the Lord’s Supper: The liturgy on this evening recalls the institution of the Eucharist and includes the mandatum, remembering when Christ washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. Like the Chrism Mass, this liturgy commemorates the institution of the ordained ministry. Holy Thursday ends with a procession of the reserved Eucharist to an altar of repose and the faithful are asked to spend time with Jesus.

Good Friday

Mass is not celebrated on this day. In many parishes, the liturgy is held between noon and 3 p.m., the time that Christ spent on the cross before His death. The service features Scripture readings from Isaiah and Hebrews, and the Passion account from the Gospel of John. Prayers and intercessions for the Church and the world follow, after which the Cross is venerated.

In many communities, the Via Crucis processions take place in addition to the solemn liturgy.  

Holy Saturday

On this day, faithful are called meditate on Christ’s passion and death, keeping vigil with the Virgin Mary and other women at Christ’s tomb. 

Somber reflection gives way to joy at the Easter Vigil, celebrated after sundown on Saturday night, when the darkness of Christ’s death gives way to the light of Christ’s victory.