Q. Please answer the following questions about Lent and Holy Week. First, why is Holy Thursday called “Maundy Thursday”?
A. “Maundy” derives from the old French word translating the Latin mandatum. Mandatum means “commandment.” When Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles on the first Holy Thursday, prior to his crucifixion, he said to them, “A new commandment I give you.” (Jn 13, 34) Since ancient times Jesus’ gesture of washing his Apostles’ feet has been practised by the Church; the famed Synod of Toledo (694) required this ceremony of all bishops, abbots, prelates and religious superiors. Today it has been returned to the Liturgy, to be done during the Evening Mass of the Last Supper.
Q. Is Good Friday called by any other name?
A. Yes; there are several variants for “Good Friday.” Among some Slavic nations and Hungarians it is also known as “Great Friday.” In parts of Germany it is also Karfreitag (“Friday of Mourning”); in Norway, Langfredag (“Long Friday”). Father Francis X. Weiser, my source here, adds that the “Pasch” (meaning “Passover,” reflecting Hebrew) once designated Good Friday as well as Easter Sunday. Thus Good Friday was called “Pasch of the Crucifixion,” a name still used in portions of the autonomous Ritual Churches, cradled in the Eastern Empire. The Roman Missal refers to “Friday of the Passion of the Lord.”
Q. I am correct, am I not, that no Mass is allowed on Good Friday? What about Holy Saturday?
A. Correct. Good Friday is observed liturgically by a Communion Service; no Mass is provided in the Roman Missal, the Sacramentary. Nor is there a Mass for Holy Saturday itself. The first Easter Mass is of course celebrated as the summit of the Easter Vigil, which begins before Holy Saturday is spent. The Roman Missal refers to “The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night.”
Thus there are two days annually when no Mass is offered: Good Friday and Holy Saturday. (The Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday evening is viewed as just that; namely, the first Easter Sunday Mass.)
Q. Is the Sunday before Easter Sunday called “Palm Sunday” or “Passion Sunday”?
A. The Roman Missal calls the Sunday prior to Easter “Passion of the Lord.” Most Catholics call it “Palm Sunday.”
Q. On Palm Sunday, is it necessary to use palms?
A. The Blessing of the Palms in the Palm Sunday ritual (found in the Sacramentary) refer to “branches.” Since palms are not attainable everywhere, substitutes include olive branches, box, yew, spruce, willows and pussy willows. (In England and Poland, Palm Sunday is sometimes called “Willow Sunday”; in Lithuania, “Willow Twig Sunday.” (F.X. Weiser, ibid.)
Interestingly, centuries ago the blessing of branches sometimes included flowers; in Spain, the day was named Pascua Florida. Chroniclers note that the State of Florida received its name from the explorer Ponce de Leon because it was first sighted in the Easter Season of 1513.
Blessed palms are often made into crosses to be worn or displayed, according to custom, throughout the year.