Holy Week is the week immediately preceding Easter, the principal week of the liturgical year. Besides the name Holy Week, it is also called Major or Greater Week. In earlier centuries it was known as Passion Week because it commemorated the events of the Passion, as well as Paschal Week since in Christian antiquity the notion of Passion always included the resurrection. The am brosian rite calls it "authentic week," which is also an allusion to the events celebrated during these days. Because public sinners were absolved of their sins on Holy Thursday, Holy Week was in some places "the week of remission." Less happy was the designation "painful week," which it was given in other parts of the Church because of the increased burden of penance and fasting during these days. More to the point is what the Eastern Christians still call it, "the Week of Salvation".
Although the first recorded reference to Holy Week is in St. Athanasius's Festal Letters announcing the date of Easter, the original nucleus of Holy Week was the annual celebration of the Paschal Feast, which was then (3rd century) a three–day (triduum ) commemoration beginning on Friday and ending on the morning of Easter Sunday. Holy Thursday was added by at least the 4th century. The entire week was rounded out at some time in the 5th or 6th century. Many of the Holy Week observances as we know them came originally from Jerusalem and spread through the West.
In 1955, Pius XII restored Holy Week to the prominence it had had in the early church, a prominence it had largely lost through the accretions of extraneous rites and ceremonies over time. In effect, Holy Week was restored as the heart of the Church's year; through the rites of this week we relive the central elements of the paschal mystery. This pastoral consideration prompted Pius XII to insist on the active participation of the people in the Holy Week rites so that the whole Church is drawn into the celebration.
See Also: palm sunday; holy thursday; good friday; easter vigil.
Bibliography: m. tierney, Holy Week: A Commentary (Dublin 1958). c. howell, Preparing for Easter (rev. and enl. Collegeville, Minn. 1957). h. schmidt, Hebdomada Sancta, 2 v. (Rome 1956–57). w. j. o'shea, The Meaning of Holy Week (Collegeville, Minn. 1958). t. j. talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year (Collegeville, 1991). a. j. martimort, ed., The Church at Prayer IV: The Liturgy and Time (Collegeville 1986). a. nocent, The Liturgical Year (Collegeville 1977). j. m. pierce, "Holy Week and Easter in the Middle Ages," in Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times, eds. p. f. bradshaw and l. a. hoffman (South Bend, Ind. 1999) 161–185. a. adam, The Liturgical Year: Its History & Its Meaning after the Reform of the Liturgy (New York 1981).
[w. j. o'shea/eds.]