Holy Week is a special time of year; the historic Prayer Books provide different readings for a Communion service on each day of the week, a coverage not enjoyed anywhere else in the calendar. (If you look in the 1979 and 2019 books, you’ll see Easter week is also fully covered, but historically only Monday and Tuesday of that week were provided for.)
The Gospel lessons throughout the week were very simple. On The Sunday Next Before Easter (commonly called Palm Sunday) was read Matthew 26:1-27:56; on Monday was read Mark 14, on Tuesday was read Mark 15, on Wednesday was read Luke 22, on Maundy Thursday was read Luke 23, and on Good Friday was read John 19. In short, the Passion narrative of all four Gospel books were read in sequence throughout the week, leaving the burial in Matthew 27:57. The Epistle or OT lesson to match these Gospels were also great material for the death of Christ: Philippians 2:5-11, Isaiah 63, Isaiah 50:5, Hebrews 9:16, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 on Maundy Thursday, from Hebrews 10 on Friday, and 1 Peter 3:17ff on Saturday.
How anyone thought they could improve on this is beyond me. But change it they have; the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books offer a completely different Holy Week experience. Rather than reflecting upon the death of Christ for the majority of the week, we are now taken on a roller coaster ride through various events near Jesus’ last days.
- Palm Sunday
In a marvelous reclamation of pre-Reformation tradition, we have the Liturgy of the Palms back, complete with a procession and Gospel: either from Matthew 21, Mark 11, or Luke 19 depending upon the year. The Passion Gospel in the regular service, too, changes with the year: Matthew 27, Mark 15, or Luke 23, with options to lengthen them to include the previous chapters.
On this day we get a flashback to the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, from John 12:1-11 or Mark 14:3-9. This probably took place shortly before the triumphal entry observed in the liturgy of the Palms the day before.
Here we have a choice between the cleansing of the Temple in Mark 11:15-19 or a Gospel from John 12:37-38,42-50 in which Jesus both acknowledges that some will reject him and promises salvation to those who hear.
The plot to kill Jesus, with the betrayal of Judas, as reported in Matthew 26:1-5,14-25 is the Gospel of this day. Like the Mark 14 option on Monday, this actually replicates a small piece of what a traditional Prayer Book would cover during Holy Week.
Luke 22:14-30 is the standard Gospel option, focusing on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, though the option of John 13:1-15 (the washing of the disciples’ feet) is also available. This option was introduced at least as early as the American 1928 prayer book.
The old tradition finally comes back in line on Good Friday, going with John 19:1-37, though allowing for chapter 18 to be added. At last, the crucifixion of Christ returns to the fore.
Again, the traditional burial of Christ is still the Gospel for this day, though the specific reading (Matthew 27:57-66) is now offered alongside a parallel alternative: John 19:38-42.
So, let’s say you want to observe Holy Week to the full; praying both Office each day plus the daily Communion service. What would that look like according to the 2019 Prayer Book, and executed in a traditional fashion?
- Palm Sunday, 14 April
Morning Prayer: Numbers 8, Mark 9:30
Liturgy of the Palms: Luke 19:29-40 & Psalm 118:19-29
Communion: Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22:1-11, Philippians 2:-11, Luke (22:39-71) 23:1-49 (50-56)
Midday Prayer: Leviticus 15
Evening Prayer: Job 12, Hebrews 4:1-13
- Monday, 15 April
Morning Prayer: Numbers 11, Mark 10:1-31
Communion: Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 36:5-10, Hebrews 11:39-12:3, John 12:1-12
Midday Prayer: Hosea 13:1-14
Evening Prayer: Job 13, Hebrews 4:14-5:10
- Tuesday, 16 April
Morning Prayer: Numbers 12, Mark 10:32
Communion: Isaiah 49:1-6, Psalm 71:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Mark 11:15-19
Midday Prayer: Hosea 14
Evening Prayer: Job 14, Hebrews 5:11-6:end
- Wednesday, 17 April
Morning Prayer: Numbers 13, Mark 11:1-26
Communion: Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 59:7-15,22-23, Hebrews 9:11-28, Matthew 26:1-5,14-25
Midday Prayer: Lamentations 1
Evening Prayer: Job 15, Hebrews 7
- Maundy Thursday, 18 April
Morning Prayer: Daniel 9, John 13:1-20
Midday Prayer: Lamentations 2
Communion: Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 78:14-25, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26(27-34), Luke 22:14-30 (note that John 13 is covered in the daily office), Washing of the Feet, Stripping of the Altar, Reserving of the Sacrament
Evening Prayer: 1 Corinthians 10:1-22, John 13:21-38
- Good Friday, 19 April
Morning Prayer: Lamentations 3:1-36, John 18
Communion: Genesis 22:1-18 or Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 69:1-23, Hebrews 10:1-25, John 19:1-37, Solemn Collects and Laments, Veneration of the Cross, Communion from the prior day’s Reserved Sacrament
Midday Prayer: Genesis 22:1-18 or Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (whichever was not chosen for the previous service)
Evening Prayer: 1 Peter 2:11-25, Luke 23:18-49
- Holy Saturday, 20 April
Morning Prayer: Lamentations 3:37-58, Hebrews 4
Liturgy of the Word (or Antecommunion): Job 14:1-17, Psalm 130, 1 Peter 4:1-8, Matthew 27:57-66
Midday Prayer: Zechariah 9
Evening Prayer: 1 Peter 4:1-8, Luke 23:50-56
Easter Vigil, which merits a post of its own!
This doesn’t happen often in the ACNA lectionaries, but you can find interplay between the daily office readings and the communion service readings during Holy Week – I pointed out a couple points of contact already. As I lamented at the beginning, it is my opinion that Holy Week is better served with the traditional approach: the daily communion readings from the trials and passion and death of Christ from Sunday through Friday. We’ve got all year to explore the context of his death; can’t we just “settle in” to this dark moment at the foot of the Cross? The modern set of Collects added in for Monday through Wednesday add a nice touch in that direction, but they aren’t reinforced by the Scripture readings. Still, at least the daily office lessons maintain a decent focus on the death of Christ, so the new daily collects will fit in better there than in the Communion services.
Whateverso, Holy Week is just around the corner, and hopefully this overview will help you get ready.