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Holy Week begins: Local churches, residents celebrate Palm Sunday

Angie Buckhouse, Dickinson, hands out palms to churchgoers at St. Wenceslaus on Saturday evening in Dickinson. Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the bridge between Lent and Easter.

Lent is coming to an end. Today, Palm Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week, the transition from the Lenten season to the Easter season.

"It's the bridge between Lent and Easter -- it's the doorway between the two seasons," said the Rev. Kregg Hochhalter, chaplain at Trinity High School and Parochial Vicar at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church.

Palms, in Greco-Roman culture, represented triumph, said Rev. Jerry Sevier, pastor at Freedom Baptist Church in Dickinson, a Southern Baptist-affiliated church.

"Traditionally a king, he would ride a horse when he was going out to war for battle," he said. "Jesus rode a donkey to symbolize that he was coming in peace -- that he was coming to peacefully lay down his life."

Different congregations will use different types of palms, some are reeds while others are branches.

In the Catholic Church, they use the reed branches because they are native to Israel.

"Where all Christian communities -- but particularly Catholics -- would receive their traditions from," Hochhalter said.

Rev. Lisa Lewton, pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Dickinson, has seen both types used at Palm Sunday services in her church.

"Palm Sunday remembers the celebration of Jesus processing into Jerusalem -- the crowd of people were excited and welcomed him into that village," she said. "Palm Sunday always leads to the Passion story, which is the story of Jesus not being welcomed anymore into Jerusalem. We waive palms on Palm Sunday to be the crowd that welcomed Jesus."

Some Palm Sunday services will be absent of the foliage that they're named after, Sevier said.

"This year, I'm not sure if we're actually going to use a specific -- what's more important to us is the symbolism with it," he said. "In the Gospels, it actually -- in two of them -- it records that people laid down palm branches and in the other two, it records that they laid down clothes."

The palms are ordered from religious supply companies or florists.

"I wish I could tell you that we ship them in from Tel Aviv, Israel, but we didn't do that," Hochhalter said.

The leftover palms are burned and used for Ash Wednesday the following year, Lewton said.

Holy Week in the Catholic Church concludes with Easter Vigil Mass that begins at sundown on Saturday, Hochhalter said. The Paschal Triduum begins with Holy Thursday mass.

"Ritual plays a big part in the Catholic tradition," he said. "We like to ritualize almost everything we do. Our most important ritual, the center of our life, is the Holy Mass. It is certainly the highest prayer we have, it is the most important ritual we have and it gives us the Eucharist, which is the holiest of sacraments we have."

At St. John, they celebrate Holy Thursday with a hand-washing ceremony, Lewton said.

"Some churches will have foot washing to remember Jesus washing the feet of the disciples," she said. "We wash hands to remember that God's given you your hands to serve in the world."

At Freedom Baptist, they do not have Holy Thursday or Good Friday services, but many of their congregants worship at the nondenominational community service.

"Holy Thursday, for Catholics, all around the world, universally speaking, would be a day where we remember, celebrate, commemorate the institution of the Eucharist -- the handing on of the Eucharist by Jesus Christ, and handing on of the priesthood by Jesus Christ. Both actions were done in the Last Supper ... it's called the Mass of the Lord's Supper," Hochhalter said. "The ritual doesn't formally end really until the evening of Holy Saturday. ... We leave the door open and then we have adoration ... into Good Friday. Good Friday, of all days out of the whole year, universally speaking, for a Catholic, would be the most quiet, the most silent."

The silence lasts until sunset the next day, when Easter Vigil Mass begins, he said.

"Beautifully, all around the world, Catholics will hear the story of salvation history," Hochhalter said. "It's a beautiful night, and it is usually memorable. Catholics usually remember it by how long it is, it can be a two-and-a-half-hour, three-hour Mass."

Both Freedom Baptist and St. John will have Easter Sunday services.

The Easter season, in the Catholic Church, is the 50 days beginning with Easter Sunday up until Pentecost, Hochhalter said.

"If there's any time for a Catholic to hear, to taste and to see his faith, this is it," he said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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