|Interview With Father Juan Flores Arcas
ROME, 9 APRIL 2006 (ZENIT)
The roots of the liturgical observance of
Holy Week go back to the second century.
In this interview, Benedictine Father Juan Javier Flores Arcas,
president of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Rome, explains the
history of Holy Week.
Q: Has Holy Week been observed as such since the beginning of
Father Flores: The most ancient original core of Holy Week is the Easter
Vigil, of which there were traces already in the second century of the
Christian era. It was always a night of vigil, in remembrance and
expectation of Jesus Christ's resurrection.
To it was soon added the reception of the sacraments of Christian
initiation: baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist, so that it became
in turn the great sacramental night of the Church.
Subsequently, the Easter Vigil was extended in time and transformed into
the triduum of the Lord's passion, death and resurrection, which St.
Augustine already mentioned as a very generalized celebration.
This triduum added to the existing vigil other important moments of the
celebration, specifically, the memorial of the Lord's death on Good
Friday, and Holy Thursday. The latter involved no fewer than three very
different Eucharistic celebrations.
According to the various sources of different liturgies, a Mass was
celebrated to reconcile sinners, a Chrism Mass and a Mass in the evening
to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.
In the present-day liturgy, the Easter triduum begins on Holy Thursday
evening with the Mass of the Lord's Supper and is united to the first
day of the triduum which is, in itself, Good Friday of the Passion of
The second day is Holy Saturday of the Lord's burial, a day of silence,
fasting and expectation. There is no Eucharist that day, as a sign of
The Church pauses before the crucified Lord's sepulcher and awaits his
resurrection. With the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, the third
day of the Easter triduum begins: Sunday of the Lord's resurrection.
Q: Why is it said that the Easter Vigil is the most important day of the
Father Flores: Sunday of the Resurrection is the most important day of
the liturgical year. Its center is precisely the Easter Vigil, on Holy
Saturday night to Sunday of the Resurrection, but it belongs integrally
It is the most important celebration of the year, the center of the
whole liturgical cycle. It is the great sacramental night of the Church.
It was so for centuries and, thanks to the liturgical reform promoted by
the Second Vatican Council, it is so once again. Christians renew their
baptismal promises while they see new Christians being incorporated in
their ranks. It is the origin of every liturgical celebration and all
culminate in it.
Because of this, the importance given to Holy Thursday over the last
centuries has now been transferred, with the recent renewal of the
liturgical books, to the Easter Vigil, also translated in the way of
Q: Must the Chrism Mass take place on Holy Thursday, or can it vary?
Father Flores: The Chrism Mass is very ancient in the whole Church.
In it, the bishop consecrates the three oils needed for the
administration of the sacraments: the holy chrism, the oil of the
catechumens and the oil of the sick. Liturgical sources tell us of their
importance and antiquity.
It acquired special importance in Rome and was full of symbols. Today,
every bishop blesses and consecrates the three types of oils in his
cathedral church on Holy Thursday morning
the traditional place and moment in the Roman liturgy as early as the
or another close date, according to pastoral convenience.
In the liturgy that ensued after Vatican II, a significant rite was
added in this Chrism Mass: the renewal of priestly promises. However, it
is very important that the center of the celebration be precisely the
consecration of the three oils
which are used for the administration of the sacraments
and not the renewal of priestly promises.
Q: How did the adoration of the cross on Good Friday arise?
Father Flores: Adoration of the cross was a peculiar rite of the Church
of Jerusalem, as it had among its most precious relics the cross on
which Christ was crucified.
On Good Friday a very popular and deeply felt ceremony took place:
adoration of the cross. Fourth-century accounts of it are very moving.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem recounts them with a profusion of details.
At a given moment, this rite passed to Rome that, for its part,
celebrated the Lord's passion with a reading of the passion according to
Saint John and the well-known solemn prayers of Good Friday.
To this was then added the adoration of the cross, which has been kept
until today, but it is not the most important rite of Good Friday.
Liturgical action continues to be centered on the Liturgy of the Word,
whose culminating moment is the reading of the passion of the Lord, the
account, memorial and actualization of the redemption with which the
celebration acquires all its force. ZE06040920