Holy Week in the CR - Part 3

Discussion in 'Culture' started by easthigh69, Mar 12, 2000.

  1. easthigh69

    easthigh69 Member

    Velký pátek: Good Friday

    In English, the name “Good Friday” is generally believed to be a corruption of “God’s Friday.” From very early times, the Holy Day has been observed by Christians everywhere as the most solemn feast of the year, a day of sadness, mourning, fasting and prayer, when the Passion and Death of our Lord is remembered in countless churches by services of sorrow and gratitude.

    Good Friday was always regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as the day of greatest grief in the Church. It’s the only day in the year when Mass is not held anywhere in the world. Also, organs are silent, all ornaments are cleared from the altar, and no lights are burned. The cross is shrouded in a black veil.

    Great Friday (Velký pátek) is the popular name for the day in the Czech Republic. Velký pátek is a day of fasting for Roman Catholics who will not eat meat until Saturday evening after the church bells start ringing on their legendary return from Rome.

    On Velký pátek, Czech and Moravian cooks prepare their holiday bread (coffee cake) which must not be cut or eaten until the priest says, “Christ is risen!” (Kristus vstal z mrtvých!) on Easter Sunday. It is a universal custom to mark a new loaf of bread with the sign of the cross before cutting it, in order to bless it and thank God for it. On special occasions, the cross is imprinted on the loaf before baking it. Bread baked on Velký pátek – if hardened in the oven – can be kept all year, and its presence protects the house from fire.

    Good Friday has always inspired folk poetry and has been the subject of many romantic superstitions. Women carry out their quilts to air out, in order to chase illnesses out of the house. Some believe that water dipped before sunrise without a spoken word has healing power and will stay pure all year. People get up very early on this day and hurry down to the brook or river, where they wash themselves with cold water and then cross the brook or stream with bare legs because they believed that this ensured good health for the whole next year. They also take their daughters down to wash at the well, so they’ll be pretty and well spoken for. It is also believed that water sprites come out onto dry land on this day.

    One very common manifestation on Velký pátek is a reluctance to do customary work then, either from genuine respect for the religious festival, or from superstitious fears that to do it will somehow bring misfortune. According to an old Czech saying, for example, farming should not be done on Good Friday. Na velký pátek zemi nehýbej. (“On Good Friday, do not move the soil.”)

    The weather for the whole year is foretold from the weather on Velký pátek. For instance, if it rains on Velký pátek, then the rest of the year will be dry. Velký pátek deštivý dělává rok žiznivý. (“A rainy Good Friday makes for a thirsty year.”)

    On Velký pátek, according to legend, anyone can look upon the sun without being blinded by its glare.

    In folk tradition this day is closely connected with the belief in the magic powers of the Earth. Many believe that on this day the Earth gives up its secret treasures before sunrise. It was believed that Mt. Blaník opens up for a couple of hours on this day. Mt. Blaník is famous among the Czechs as it’s said that an army of Czech knights lies asleep within the mountain, waiting to come forth and help the nation in its hour of greatest danger.

    An ancient ballad tells of a woman who went before sunrise on Velký pátek to a mountainside. The rocks opened and she beheld quantities of shining gold. Hastily laying down her child, she filled her apron with gold and then ran home for a large vessel to hold more treasure. By the time she returned, however, the sun was up and her child was shut up in the mountain. A year later she returned to the same spot before sunrise; the mountain opened and she found her child alive and well.

    Another old legend states that high up in the mountains amidst the cliffs there is the stone figure of a maiden. She is seated and holds in her lap an unfinished shirt, also of stone. Each year, on Velký pátek, at the hour of the Passion, she sews a stitch: one year, one stitch. When the shirt is finished, the world will end. Everything under the sun will die, and Judgement Day will be at hand.

    Bílá sobota: White Saturday

    In the Early Church: Like Great Friday, Great Saturday became a separate feast day in the latter half of the fourth century in Jerusalem. It was then a day for new members to receive the sacrament of baptism and, following that, their first communion.

    The new members would assemble in the church during the afternoon, the men on one side, the women on the other. After an instruction by the bishop, the priests performed on them those rites which are still practiced in the baptism of infants and adults: the exorcism of the powers of evil, the touching of ears and nostrils as a symbol of opening their minds to the word and grace of God, and the solemn pledge of conversion.

    This pledge was accompanied by a dramatic gesture. Turning toward the west and pointing with the forefinger in the direction of sunset, each convert uttered these words, “I renounce thee, Satan, with all thy pomps and all thy works,” then turning to the east and pointing likewise, they would say, “To Thee I dedicate myself, Jesus Christ, eternal and uncreated Light.” After this, each one recited the Creed publicly before the whole congregation; then they were dismissed to spend the last few hours before their baptism in quiet recollection and prayer.

    Easter Eve was spent as a night of prayer. The churches were always crowded on that night, and those who could not get inside stood with the crowds outside the church. For those who were fortunate enough to get inside, the services were an unforgettable experience. There was the lighting of the large Paschal candle, and then at midnight the consecration of the waters of the baptismal font. Then followed the baptism of the men, women and children, in that order.

    At the conclusion of the baptisms and readings, the newly baptized members were brought into the main church nave in procession. The procession today is a reminder of this: as is the procession round the font while singing St. Paul’s line: “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, alleluia!” In those days, those who were baptized were anointed with holy oil. Then they donned their white robes. In Czech, Easter Saturday is referred to as White Saturday (Bílá sobota), a term derived from the white (bílé) robes worn by the new members.

    The services lasted until dawn, for at that time the Paschal Vigil lasted all night. The faithful kept lights burning all night so their rays would link with the morning sun. The services were not elaborate.

    It was also called the Day of Light. All activities on that, and the previous day, should have been aimed at cleansing the soul, body and dwellings, so that everything was to be spick and span.

    In Czech, the word Velikonoce refers to the Veliké noci, or great nights, during which Jesus was resurrected from the dead. The night from Bílá sobota (White Saturday) to Easter Sunday was from ancient times regarded as the greatest night on the Church calendar. On this day the bells come back from Rome and are rung to signal the end of the fast.

    People in their Sunday best were ready for the festive Mass of the Resurrection. The housekeeper extinguished all the fires in the household and took a piece of firewood to the church. There she lit it from blessed fire, brought it home, and lighted the fires again.

    Daytime church services are not held at all, and services are held instead either after the sun goes down or after midnight. A procession parades around the whole square, and then the entire church. Once inside, the priests bless the water, candles and lights. Only blessed candles and lights are used in the church during these night-time services. Pieces of wood are scorched and taken by people to put in the rafters of their houses for protection against lightning and fire.

    Bílá sobota is regarded, along with Zelený ětvrtek, as a lucky day for sowing. The farmers place ashes on their fields to ensure a good crop, and shake the trees, so that they’ll yield a lot of fruit. They say that if it rains on Bílá sobota, it will rain often during the coming year.

    If you’re in the Czech Republic on Bílá sobota, take time to stand a while in front of the church in Domažlice, Kyjov, Blatnice, Břeclav or Vlčnov and enjoy the ceremonial costumes of the women and girls.

    Because of the Virgin Mary’s faith in His promise to rise again from the dead, the day is consecrated to her.

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