Holy Week has to be both my favourite time of year, and the most exhausting part of the Church Year for anyone with the time to really engage with the Church's Liturgy. St Paul's is not a particularly big parish - we have about forty families - but we have a pretty full Holy Week. Unfortunately, the BCP provision for Holy Week is a bit limited, but thanks to the various official and semi-official supplements produced over the years one can have a pretty full Holy Week without resorting to the Missals. This is the way in which we work things at St Paul's. For us, the basic texts are the 1928 BCP and the "Ash Wednesday and Holy Week" Booklet that was issued by the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1967. Experience has shown that this combination work very well together.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, which celebrates the entry of Christ into Jerusalem, but, in the traditional rite, also sees the first reading from the Passion Gospels. Our first two services are not much different to normal. Morning Prayer is said with the Benedictus es, Domine and the Benedictus as the Canticles. The short form of the blessing of Palms and their distribution preceed the 9am said Communion. The "big one" on Palm Sunday is the 10.30am Sung Eucharist.
This begins at the high altar with the Palm Liturgy. I have slightly expanded the 1967 Scottish form to include the old Prophetic lesson from Exodus and the old Gradual. After that there is a longish blessing of the palms, and then Ps. 24 is read during the distribution. When this is completed we move off in procession singing "Ride on, ride on in Majesty." We do a lap of the parish hall, then return to the church doors to find them closed. The subdeacon knocks three times with the base of the processional cross, and then we enter singing "All Glory, Laud and Honour." There is a final collect before the altar, and then the Solemn Eucharist begins.
This year the clergy did the whole function in violet vestments. I would have preferred Passiontide red, but we St Paul's does not have enough dark red vestments to make this possible. I will never be able to work out why the Roman Church messed up Palm Sunday quite as badly as it did. The 1956 Rite is a mess, especially as it introduces a vestment change at the same time as eviserating the traditional Palm liturgy. I think our abridgement of the traditional order works far better.
By comparison to Palm Sunday the next three days are quiet. Morning Prayer and said Holy Communion being the only liturgical functions. I have to confess to taking a liberty with the BCP in that we read the Passions in a slightly different order to that appointed. Mark is read on Monday and Tuesday; then the whole of Luke on Wednesday leaving Thursday clear for the Maundy Gospel. It would actually make better sense to read Mark on Wednesday and Luke on Monday and Tuesday, but there is a very definite limit to how much I will muck about with the BCP.
I only see a handful of folks at the services on the first three days of Holy Week, but it is a gradually expanding handful. The real meat of Holy Week begins with the Maundy Thursday Mass. Here I follow the old English tradition and bless the Oils and Chrism at the same Eucharist as we commemorate the institution of the Lord's Supper and undertake the stripping of the altars. However, I will save the account of that long and elaborate liturgy for my next post.