Palm, Spy, Maundy, Good, Holy

It is only fitting that the days and customs of this, the holiest week of the year, be mentioned in a civilization that has largely forgotten them.


Palm Sunday, most of you know. It is commemorates the day of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on the back of an ass’s foal. The priests and deacons wear red vestments for Mass. The palms are blessed.

It is also known as  “Carling Sunday” after carling peas, or “Fig Sunday” for the tradition that Christ ate figs before entering the City of David.

Catholic Culture says:

in the Middle Ages, a quaint custom arose of drawing a wooden statue of Christ sitting on a donkey (the whole image on wheels) in the center of the procession. These statues (Palm Donkey; Palmesel) are still seen in museums of many European cities.

As the procession approached the city gate, a boys’ choir stationed high above the doorway of the church would greet the Lord with the Latin song Gloria, laus et honor. This hymn, which is still used today in the liturgy of Palm Sunday, was written by the Benedictine Theodulph, Bishop of Orléans (821)

   Glory, praise and honor,O Christ, our Savior-King,To thee in glad Hosannas Inspired children sing.

After this song, there followed a dramatic salutation before the Blessed Sacrament or the image of Christ. Both clergy and laity knelt and bowed in prayer, arising to spread cloths and carpets on the ground, throwing flowers and branches in the path of the procession. The bells of the churches pealed, and the crowds sang the “Hosanna” as the colorful procession entered the cathedral for the solemn Mass.

In medieval times this dramatic celebration was restricted more and more to a procession around the church. The crucifix in the churchyard was festively decorated with flowers. There the procession came to a halt. While the clergy sang the hymns and antiphons, the congregation dispersed among the tombs, each family kneeling at the grave of relatives. The celebrant sprinkled holy water over the graveyard, the procession formed again and entered the church.

In France and England the custom of decorating graves and visiting the cemeteries on Palm Sunday is still retained.

From the use of willow branches Palm Sunday was called Willow Sunday in parts of England and Poland, and in Lithuania Verbu Sekmndienis (Willow Twig Sunday). The Greek Church uses the names Sunday of the Palm-carrying and Hosanna Sunday.

Centuries ago it was customary to bless not only branches but also various flowers of the season (the flowers are still mentioned in the first antiphon of the procession). Hence the name Flower Sunday

…The term Pascua Florida, which in Spain originally meant just Palm Sunday, was later also applied to the whole festive season of Easter Week. Thus the State of Florida received its name when, on March 27, 1513 (Easter Sunday), Ponce de Leon first sighted the land and named it in honor of the great feast.

In the spirit of this blessing, the faithful reverently keep the palms in their homes throughout the year, usually attached to a crucifix or holy picture, or fastened on the wall. In South America they put the large palm bouquets behind the door. In Italy people offer blessed palms as a token of reconciliation and peace to those with whom they have quarreled or lived on unfriendly terms.


Wednesday is known as Spy Wednesday because on this day Judas made a bargain with the high priest to betray Jesus for 30 silver pieces. It is also called this because it is the day Jesus was anointed with costly perfumed oil by Mary Madelene, and his death was first spied, that is, seen.

Concerning Spy Wednesday Patheos says:

In Poland, the young people throw an effigy of Judas from the top of a church steeple. Then it is dragged through the village amidst hurling sticks and stones. What remains of the effigy is drowned in a nearby stream or pond.

This is also the day that Jesus was anointed with an expensive jar of alabaster by the woman at Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper.

Wikipedia adds:

Although it is frequently celebrated on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, the Tenebrae is a liturgy that is often celebrated on this day. The word tenebrae comes from the Latin meaning darkness. In this service, all of the candles on the altar table are gradually extinguished until the sanctuary is in complete darkness. At the moment of darkness, a loud clash occurs symbolizing the death of Jesus. The strepitus, as it is known more probably symbolizes the earthquake that followed Jesus’ death: “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent”

Some customs:

  • Czech Republic: the day is traditionally called Ugly WednesdaySoot-Sweeping Wednesday or Black Wednesday, because chimneys used to be swept on this day, to be clean for Easter.
  • Malta: this day is known as L-Erbgħa tat-Tniebri” (Wednesday of Shadows) referring to the liturgical darkness (tenebrae). In the past children went to the parish church and drummed on the chairs to make the sound of thunderstorms, as their version of the “strepitus” sound at Tenebrae Wednesday.
  • Scandinavia: this day is known as Dymmelonsdagen. A dymbil is a piece of wood. Historically, the metal clapper of the church bells were replaced by these dymbils on Holy Wednesday, to make a duller sound.


Concerning Maundy ThursdayCatholic Culture says this:

The last three days of Holy Week are referred to as the Easter or Sacred Triduum (Triduum Sacrum), the three-part drama of Christ’s redemption: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Holy Thursday is also known as “Maundy Thursday.” The word maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum (commandment) which is the first word of the Gospel acclamation:

Mandátum novum do vobis dicit Dóminus, ut diligátis ínvicem, sicut diléxi vos. “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

Others believe the name comes from the Middle English word for begging, since this was the day that traditionally the Kings of England (until James II)  washed the feet of a beggar in imitation of Christ washing the feet of His disciples.

Wikipedia says this

Royal Maundy involve the Monarch offering “alms” to deserving senior citizens, one man and one woman for each year of the sovereign’s age. These coins, known as Maundy money or Royal Maundy, are distributed in red and white purses, and is a custom dating back to King Edward I. The red purse contains regular currency and is given in place of food and clothing; the white purse has money in the amount of one penny for each year of the Sovereign’s age. Since 1822, rather than ordinary money, the Sovereign gives out Maundy coins, which are specially minted 1, 2, 3 and 4 penny pieces, and are legal tender.

Until the death of King James II, the Monarch would also wash the feet of the selected poor people.

Also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries.


Of Good Friday, Catholic Culture says this:

Today the whole Church mourns the death of our Savior. This is traditionally a day of sadness, spent in fasting and prayer. The title for this day varies in different parts of the world: Holy Friday for Latin nations, Slavs and Hungarians call it Great Friday, in Germany it is Friday of Mourning, and in Norway, it is Long Friday. Some view the term Good Friday (used in English and Dutch) as a corruption of the term God’s Friday.

This is another obligatory day of fasting and abstinence. In Ireland, they practice the black fast, which is to consume nothing but black tea and water.

According to the Church’s ancient tradition, the sacraments are not celebrated on Good Friday nor Holy Saturday.

The altar is completely bare, with no cloths, candles nor cross. The service is divided into three parts: Liturgy of the Word, Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion. The priest and deacons wear red or black vestments.

In part one, the Liturgy of the Word, we hear the most famous of the Suffering Servant passages from Isaiah (52:13-53:12), a pre-figurement of Christ on Good Friday. Psalm 30 is the Responsorial Psalm “Father, I put my life in your hands.”

Part two is the Veneration of the Cross. A cross, either veiled or unveiled, is processed through the Church, and then venerated by the congregation. We joyfully venerate and kiss the wooden cross “on which hung the Savior of the world.” During this time the “Reproaches” are usually sung or recited.

The Cross is held up and the celebrants file past – – men first, then women — to kneel and kiss the Cross while the choir sings the Improperia (the Reproaches) of Christ, in which Our Lord reminds of us all He has done for us and our ingratitude towards Him:

  O My people, wha have I done to thee? Or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer Me. Because I led thee out of the land of Egypt, thou hast prepared a Cross for thy Savior.

    Because I led thee out through the desert forty years: and fed thee with manna, and brought thee into a land exceeding good, thou has prepared a Cross for thy Savior.

  What more ought I to have done for thee, that I have not done? I planted thee, indeed, My most beautiful vineyard: and thou has become exceeding bitter to Me: for in My thirst thou gavest Me vinegar to drink, and with a lance thou hast pierced the side of thy Savior.

A second choir responds to each of those Reproaches with a trisagion in Greek and Latin:

The remaining nine Reproaches are answered with the response ” O my people, what have I done to thee? or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer me.” (“Popule meus, quid feci tibi? aut in quo constristavi te? responde mihi.“).

For thy sake I scourged Egypt with its first-born: and thou didst deliver Me up to be scourged.

   I led thee out of Egypt having drowned Pharao in the Red Sea: and thou to the chief priests didst deliver Me.

   I opened the sea before thee: and thou with a spear didst open My side.

   I went before thee in a pillar of cloud: and thou didst lead Me to the judgment hall of Pilate.

   I fed thee with manna in the desert; and thou didst beat Me with blows and scourges.

   I gave thee the water of salvation from the rock to drink: and thou didst give Me gall and vinegar.

   For thy sake I struck the kings of the Chanaanites: and thou didst strike My head with a reed.

   I gave thee a royal scepter: and thou didst give My head a crown of thorns.

   I exalted thee with great strength: and thou didst hang Me on the gibbet of the Cross.

After the Reproaches, we receive Communion, receiving Hosts consecrated at yesterday’s Mass.

Part three, Holy Communion, concludes the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. The altar is covered with a cloth and the ciboriums containing the Blessed Sacrament are brought to the altar from the place of reposition. The Our Father and the Ecce Agnus Dei (“This is the Lamb of God”) are recited. The congregation receives Holy Communion, there is a “Prayer After Communion,” and then a “Prayer Over the People,” and everyone departs in silence.

The Fisheaters website reports:

Because Christ spent 40 hours in His tomb (from 3 PM Good Friday until 7 AM Pascha morning — a span covering 3 separate Jewish days as even a part of one day is counted as “a day”), from the very earliest Christian times, it’s been customary for some to fast and keep vigil during this entire period, which is known as “40 Hours’ Devotion” (Quarant’ore).

Hot Cross Buns are traditionally eaten for breakfast on this day, and are about the only luxury afforded in this time of mourning. Legend says that a priest at St. Alban’s Abbey in Hertfordshire gave these to the poor on Good Friday beginning in A.D. 1361, and the tradition was born.

It is customary, because of the Cross on the buns, to kiss them before eating, and to share one of these Hot Cross Buns with someone, reciting these words:

Half for you and half for me,
Between us two shall goodwill be.

A cute little legend concerning the dogwood tree has grown up:

It is said at the time of the Crucifixion, the dogwood was comparable in size to the oak tree and other monarchs of the forest. Because of its firmness and strength it was selected as the timber for the Cross, but to be put to such Dogwood blossomsa cruel use greatly distressed the tree. Sensing this, the crucified Jesus in His gentle pity for the sorrow and suffering of all said to it: “Because of your sorrow and pity for My sufferings, never again will the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a gibbet. Henceforth it will be slender, bent and twisted and its blossoms will be in the form of a cross — two long and two short petals. In the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints — brown with rust and stained with red — and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see this will remember.”

My comment:

Since the powers, principalities and princes of darkness never cease to stir up enmity against the Church, I feel I should gently remind my Atheist friends that this is not proposed as a scientific theory to explain the evolution of Cornus sanguinea, prompted by the alleged hatred of the Church toward science; and even more gently remind my Protestant friends that this is not a pagan custom smuggled into the Church by sinister Popes to bedevil the faithful.

It is a children’s story, meant to make boys and girls be reminded of Christ when they see the white flowers of the meek and humble dogwood tree. It is a metaphor, an image, a poetical figure, or, if you will, something like a wedding ring, that is, a visible sign of an invisible reality.

All these customs and traditions and rituals are no more sinister or superstitious than offering a bouquet to one’s lady love as a seen sign of the unseen passion in one’s heart: a practice which drifts ever more into disuse as the modern world drifts ever father from its Christians roots and ever nearer to the Ginnungagap which is the goal of modernity, the roaring abyss of chaos and clamor where can be found no meaning, love, life, truth or sense.

In the Christian world, you are the image and likeness of your divine Creator, and heir to the power that shaped the universe from nothing. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, a creature shaped of dust but holding an immortal soul, a fair and holy beyond all words, and you are above all beasts, and honored above the angels, and for you the universe itself took on mortal form and died. In the Christian world, you are everything, the this is the season of lamentation and penance leading to the season of joy.

In the Ginnungagap you are a sand-dune thrown together by the sixteen winds, without point and without purpose, a meat robot controlled by selfish genes, by blind nature and fallible nurture, erring in reason, living but a season, dying and all you love dying as well, and even the traces and memories of everything you love will be engulfed into the bottomless abyss of the eons when this speck of the earth dies, and our bright sun turns red, and old, and cold, buried in millennia. The universe will not notice the passing of you, your beloved family and friends, your beloved ideologies, the works of art, science, law in which you take such pride.

None of the intelligences inhabiting the Corona Borealis supercluster of galactic clusters, one billion lightyears hence, will even notice the death of the Milky Way as it collides and is absorbed into Andromeda four billion years from now, much less see and note the passing of a minor yellow star called Sol in the outskirts of the thin disk, drifting in one of the minor arms. In the Ginnungagap our whole world is less than a mote of dust, and there is no Spirit to blow life into the dust.

In the Ginnungagap you are nothing because everything is nothing, and there are no seasons, no rites, no rituals, not that have any  innate meaning, but instead there are distractions and diversions; there is no penance, because right and wrong are just words; and there is nothing but momentarily pleasures that grow stale, and so , finally, there is no joy.