Dominican Traditions During Holy Week

Holy Week is a special time in the life of the Church, beginning with Palm Sunday and ending with Holy Saturday. During this period, we reflect on the passion and death of Christ as we prepare for the celebration of the Lord's resurrection at Easter. In addition to the Church's numerous devotions, Dominicans have developed their own traditions over the last 800 years to make the most of these sacred days.

Below you'll discover seven ways to make these traditions your own.

Palm Sunday
As a continuation of Passiontide, during which the crosses and holy images in the church are veiled, some brothers wrap the crucifixes on their rosaries and in their rooms in palm branches. This act makes the unveiling of the cross on Good Friday even more powerful, for it is then that we behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.

1) Take a few moments to cover the sacred images and crosses in your home.

Penitential Psalms
While some communities offer services focused on the seven last words/phrases of Christ, Dominicans also focus on the seven penitential psalms throughout the week. Praying these psalms helps us to acknowledge our sinfulness and ask for God's forgiveness.
Psalm 6 -- "Lord, do not reprove me in your anger..."
Psalm 32 -- "Happy the man whose offense is forgiven..."
Psalm 38 -- "O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger..."
Psalm 51 -- "Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness..."
Psalm 102 -- "O Lord, listen to my prayer and let my cry for help reach you..."
Psalm 130 -- "Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord..."
Psalm 143 -- "Lord, listen to my prayer, turn your ear to my appeal..."

2) Use one of these psalms each day for lectio divina starting on Palm Sunday.

Monday - Wednesday
A number of brothers make a special effort to visit the sick, the homeless, the homebound and those in distress. As we reflect on their hardship and struggles, we enter more deeply into the paschal mystery and learn how to best offer our own sufferings to the Lord.

3) Visit a homeless shelter or a convalescent home and get to know those who are most in need.

Tenebrae Services
Tenebrae refers to the Liturgy of the Hours when it is done in almost complete darkness, the only light coming from a large candelabrum. After each psalm is chanted, a set of candles is extinguished and a lesson is sung from the Book of Lamentations, a collection of poems which grieve over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 587 BC.

4) Reflect on Lamentations 1:1-9, 2:1-9, 4:1-12 and 5:1-22.

Holy Thursday
Dominicans know a number of variations of the hymn "Pange lingua gloriosi," written by Saint Thomas Aquinas, O.P., and sung during the procession to the altar of repose after the Mass of the Lord's Supper. This beautiful chant describes one of the greatest mysteries of our faith in terms too profound for explanation.

5) Spend time with the Lord while meditating on the words of this ancient hymn.

Good Friday
After the cross has been unveiled for veneration during the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion, the friars remove their shoes and come up two-by-two in procession. At the entrance and middle of the church, they kneel in reverence and touch their foreheads to the ground. When they reach the cross at the steps of the altar, they prostrate themselves and kiss the cross. These gestures mirror those of Saint Dominic, who is shown in various postures in "The Nine Ways of Prayer" as he meditates before the crucifix while reflecting on the Lord's passion and death.

6) Uncover the crucifix in your home and gaze upon of our Lord's sacrificial gift of himself.

Holy Saturday
Dominicans often spend this day preparing for the evening's festivities. The church is cleaned while the candlesticks are polished. Wood is collected and candles are prepared for the Lucenarium and blessing of the fire. The choir rehearses while hundreds of Easter lilies are brought in to decorate the church. This is a somber day, but one of expectation and prayer, because at sundown we celebrate the Easter Vigil.

7) Find your baptismal candle and set it up in a special place with some flowers, so that you may celebrate all season long.