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Parishes set to celebrate Easter

April 6, 2006

The Easter bunny is not the only one busily preparing for April 16.

For Christians throughout the world Easter Sunday is the grand finale of Lent, a 40-day period beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday.

With 18 churches in the city of River Falls, UW-River Falls students wishing to participate or learn about Christianity have a variety of options.

Participation can raise questions for both non-Christians and Christians when trying to understand what Holy Week means, as well as the variations between denominations.

Three River Falls churches, Ezekial Lutheran Church, Saint Bridget Catholic Church and United Methodist Church provide a look into their spiritual practices of Holy Week, which consists of five key days.

Holy Week

Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, is when Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem on a donkey and was received by the people as a king, as they did not realize his true purpose was higher than this earth, said Dawn Spies, discipleship pastor for Ezekial Lutheran Church

The importance of Palm Sunday for Christians is “celebrating Jesus coming to do what he came to,” Spies said.

What Jesus Christ came to do was give his own life by death on the cross and save the human race, said Doris Murphy, religious educator for St. Bridget’s Catholic Church.

Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday) is the next part of Holy Week.

In the Catholic Church, Holy Thursday has two parts. The washing of the feet is a ceremony reliving when Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples, Murphy said.

In addition, Holy Thursday is also the “celebration of the Eucharist,” a Latin word meaning thanksgiving, she said.

During the Mass, the story of the Last Supper where Jesus Christ gave his disciples holy communion is read. At the end of the Holy Thursday Mass, the holy Eucharist or communion host is placed in a tabernacle overnight, Murphy said.

Afterward, “people come to pray quietly as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane,” she said.

In most Lutheran churches, Maundy Thursday ceremonies depend on the church but mainly focus on communion because it was instituted at the Lord’s Supper, Spies said. A Latin word, Maundy means a washing of the feet, she said.

At Ezekial Lutheran Church, Maundy Thursday is the first communion for fifth-graders.

United Methodist Church also celebrates Maundy Thursday with Holy Communion. The word “Maundy” takes on a different meaning than Ezekial Lutheran as it means commandment, said Jenny Arneson, Reverend at United Methodist Church.

The Last Supper is also about remembering to love one another, she said.

Communion Differences

Holy Communion is a large part of Holy Thursday and Maundy Thursday. All three denominations give communion, although each has a different belief system with the practice.

In the Catholic Church the bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus Christ, a belief known as transubstantiation, Spies said.

The Lutheran Church practices the belief that the body and blood are present with the bread and wine, she said.

For United Methodist Church, Holy Communion is a representation of the body and blood, Arneson said.

“It is more remembrance of the Last Supper,” she said. Grape juice is also served instead of wine.

Lenten Traditions

Holy Communion is also given on Good Friday, the day Jesus Christ was crucified.

In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is the only day of the year with no Mass, Murphy said. Enough of the host is set aside on Holy Thursday to give communion on Good Friday. The Mass includes a reading of the Passion as well as the veneration of the cross.

It is also tradition to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Murphy said. The tradition accompanies other Catholic traditions of Lent, which are giving alms to the poor, prayer and not eating meat on Fridays.

These traditions help Catholics prepare themselves for Easter, Murphy said.

Many Catholics omit a particular food from their diet during Lent as denying oneself is a remembrance of the sacrifices of Jesus Christ, she said.

For both Spies and Arneson, Good Friday focuses on the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Good Friday is a difficult day for Christians, Spies said. It is a recognition of “sin and what it cost.”

In Lutheran theology the law, the part of doctrine that defines right from wrong, drives sinners to the cross, she said. “When we recognize our sin, we recognize our need for God.”

This process is known as “vicarious atonement” or simply stated that because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross by giving his life we are healed, Spies said.

Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday

Good Friday is followed by Holy Saturday.

Although all three denominations have Holy Saturday on their church calendars, Spies and Arneson said it is not as pronounced in their churches as in the Catholic Church.

At Saint Bridget, Holy Saturday is a big celebration, as all people who have decided to convert to Catholicism are baptized, Murphy said.

Known as the Easter Vigil, a ceremony with the lighting of candles signifies that “Christ is the light of the world.”

The Easter Vigil focuses on going from “dark to light” as the congregation sings the exultant, a song rejoicing that Christ has come again, she said.

After the sun sets on Holy Saturday, it rises on Easter Sunday.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a high point in the Christian church, and is celebrated in all three denominations with multiple services.

As Spies said, Easter Sunday is the reason why Christians believe.

“This is what sets Jesus apart from other prophets, none of them got back up.”

Murphy shares in this sentiment of Easter Sunday.

“It is Christ leading us to renewal of faith,” she said.