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CHAPTER THE FIRST.
THE HISTORY OF PASSIONTIDE AND HOLY WEEK.
AFTER having proposed the forty-days' Fast of Jesus in the Desert to the meditation of the Faithful, during the first four weeks of Lent, the Holy Church gives the two weeks, which still remain before Easter, to the commemoration of the Passion. She would not have her children come to the great Day of the immolation of the Lamb, without their having prepared for it by compassionating with him in the Sufferings he endured in their stead.
The most ancient Sacramentaries and Antiphonaries of the several Churches attest, by the Prayers, the Lessons, and the whole Liturgy of these two weeks, that the Passion of our Lord is now the one sole thought of the Christian world. During Passion Week, a Saint's Feast, if it occur, will be kept; but Passion Sunday admits no Feast, however solemn it may be; and even on those which are kept during the days intervening between Passion and Palm Sundays, there is always made a commemoration of the Passion, and the holy Images are not allowed to be uncovered,
We cannot give any historical details upon the
first of these two Weeks; its ceremonies and rites have always been the same as those of the four preceding ones.1 We, therefore, refer the reader to the following Chapter, in which we treat of the mysteries peculiar to Passiontide. The second week, on the contrary, furnishes us with abundant historical details; for there is no portion of the Liturgical Year, which has interested the Christian world so much as this, or which has given rise to such fervent manifestations of piety.
This week was held in great veneration even as early as the 3rd century, as we learn from St. Denis, Bishop of Alexandria, who lived at that time.2 In the following century, we find St. John Chrysostom calling it the Great Week: "not," says the holy Doctor," that it has more days in it than other weeks, or that its days are made up of more hours than "other days; but we call it Great, because of the great Mysteries which are then celebrated." We find it called also by other names: the Painful Week (Hebdomada Ponosa), on account of the Sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the fatigue required from us in celebrating them; the Week of Indulgence, because sinners are then received to penance; and, lastly, Holy Week, in allusion to the holiness of the Mysteries which are commemorated during these seven days. This last name is the one, under which it most generally goes with us; and the very days themselves are, in many countries, called by the same name, Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday.
The severity of the Lenten Fast is increased during these its last days; the whole energy of the spirit of penance is now brought out. Even with us, the
1 It would be out of place to enter here on a discussion with regard to the name Mediana, under which title we find Passion Sunday mentioned both in ancient Liturgies and in Canon Law.
2 Epist. ad Basilidem. Canon I. 3 Hom. xxx. in Genes.