Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Wednesday 22 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Maurice and the Theban Legion
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

How did the early Christians celebrate the final days of Holy Week?

Pascal Deloche | GoDong

Philip Kosloski - published on 04/17/19

The Sacred Triduum has changed very little over the centuries.

The Sacred Triduum, the final three days of Holy Week, constitute the holiest days of the entire liturgical calendar. These days contain the most elaborate liturgies of the Catholic Church and commemorate the most sacred events in the life of Jesus Christ.

It should not be surprising that these days were kept with great solemnity since the very beginning of Christianity. The early Christians sought to recall the final days of Jesus’ earthly life, focusing on his Passion, death and resurrection.

Holy Thursday

The first day of the Triddum is Holy Thursday, the day the Church commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles. Initially this day was used as a preparation day for Good Friday and the Easter celebrations. It was marked as a day to reconcile public penitents and make a final examination of those who would be baptized at the Easter Vigil.

Over time this led to the creation of three separate Masses for Holy Thursday. One was to welcome back into the fold public penitents who spent Lent making reparations for their sins, another was a Mass for the blessing of holy oils, and the third Mass was used to remember the Last Supper.

Those in Jerusalem were able to celebrate this day in a special way, literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “On the Thursday the Liturgy was celebrated in the late afternoon, and all Communicated, after which the people went to the Mount of Olives to commemorate with appropriate readings and hymns the agony of Christ in the garden and His arrest, only returning to the city as day began to dawn on the Friday.”

Good Friday

The liturgy on Good Friday has always been focused on reliving the passion of Jesus. Christians in Jerusalem would begin the day reciting the Gospel passages surrounding the condemnation of Jesus and would take a break, only to return in the early afternoon to recite the passages concerning Jesus’ death.

A veneration of the true cross of Jesus Christ was held, which survives today in the liturgy of Good Friday.

After the liturgies of Good Friday, many would remain in the church and fast until the festive celebrations on Saturday night.

Holy Saturday

Initially Holy Saturday was a day of silence and prayer. No particular liturgies were celebrated and the Church focused on Jesus’ descent into the realm of the dead. Since the very beginning the Church would celebrate an Easter vigil service, which began in the late evening and continued with the celebration of Mass on Easter Sunday morning at dawn.

A liturgy of light was held, remembering Jesus the “light of the world,” who came to dispel the darkness of sin and death.

Baptisms were also a common feature of this early liturgy, along with the blessing of the baptismal font.

Interestingly enough, the current liturgy celebrated on Holy Saturday by the Roman Catholic Church is very similar, if not nearly identical to, what the early Christians experienced.


Read more:
Benedict XVI’s brief guide to the Paschal Triduum


Read more:
Here’s a step-by-step guide to the Easter Vigil

Holy WeekLiturgy
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Domitille Farret d'Astiès
Attacked with acid as a baby, Anmol Rodriguez overcomes and inspi...
Our Lady of La Salette
Philip Kosloski
How Our Lady of La Salette can give us hope in darkness
Philip Kosloski
An alternative Hail Mary to Our Lady of Sorrows
Philip Kosloski
Pray this Psalm when you successfully recover from an illness
Cecilia Pigg
7 Ways the saints can help you sleep better at night
Philip Kosloski
Your body is not a “shell” for your spirit
Philip Kosloski
Why do some Eastern Catholics use spoons for Holy Communion?
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.