Holy Week & Easter
On Sunday, April 5, 2020, we enter the most significant eight days of the liturgical year: Holy Week & Easter Day. Below you will find a complete listing of services from April 14 through April 21. Services in bold typeface are sung by the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys or the Gentlemen of the Choir.
Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to the Easter Vigil, is the heart of the Christian year. It is the public presentation, through Holy Scripture, music and preaching, of those mighty acts whereby God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself. These events—the last supper; Jesus’ arrest, trial and passion; his death and burial; and his resurrection on the third day—make up what is called the paschal mystery. The word paschal means Passover, and here refers not only to the exodus of God’s people Israel from bondage in Egypt, but also to the Lord’s Passover from death to life and, moreover, to the deliverance of believers from the deadly bondage of sin into freedom and eternal life. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.
Saint Thomas Church freely offers Holy Week and Easter liturgies to all who desire to take part. In addition to said liturgies, there is at least one choral service per day during Holy Week. You may read more about these services below on this page and see additional details on the website calendar. You are most welcome to enter our doors and join us in worship of the Risen Christ.
All baptized Christians are invited to make their Holy Communion at Saint Thomas. Holy Communion is available at every service during Holy Week except Tenebrae on Holy Wednesday, the Three Hours Devotion on Good Friday, and Evensong on Palm Sunday and Easter Day. If you are not baptized and would like to be, we can help you with that! Please make yourself known to us by introducing yourself to one of the priests or by sending us an email.
If you cannot join us for worship in person, you may listen to webcasts of Holy Week and Easter choral services live and on-demand, and you may find all the sermons (within a few days after each date), in the sermon archive.
Holy Week begins with Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, an event we mark at the beginning of the three morning services (8am, 9am, and 11am) on Palm Sunday, including Solemn Evensong at 4pm.
Almost every week at Saint Thomas, on Mondays through Fridays, we offer Morning Prayer at 8am and either Evening Prayer or Evensong at 5:30pm. During Holy Week, however, because of the many special choral liturgies throughout the week, we offer a said service of Morning Prayer only on Holy Monday through Holy Wednesday. There is no Evening Prayer during Holy Week. Morning Prayer is followed each morning by a short, said Mass, and is ideal for those who want to hear the word of God, pray, and make their Holy Communion. Although there is no music during these services, they are quite powerful in their simplicity and intimacy, and are among the many ways at Saint Thomas to meditate deeply on the paschal mystery. Together with the Mass, Morning Prayer lasts about 30 to 35 minutes. These services are in the Chantry Chapel.
On Monday and Tuesday during Holy Week we offer 5:30pm Solemn Eucharists sung by the Gentlemen of the Choir at the High Altar. These services last about 45 minutes.
These two services are structured in same fashion as the two 5:30pm services on Monday and Tuesday in Holy Week.
Musical Meditations at 7pm, Holy Monday (April 6) - Holy Tuesday (April 7)
In celebration of the new Miller-Scott Organ, this year’s musical meditations include two contrasting Passion symphonies by the French composer, Marcel Dupré, and the Belgian composer, Paul de Maleingreau. Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to the Easter Vigil, has inspired powerful compositions reflecting on the life of Christ leading to the mystery, anguish and joy of Passiontide. No tickets required, donation requested.
Holy Wednesday begins as did Monday and Tuesday, with Morning Prayer and Mass at 8am in the Chantry Chapel, and a Solemn Eucharist at the High Altar sung by the Gentlemen of the Choir at 12:10pm. At these two Masses, the Gospel of John moves on to chapter 13, in which Jesus identifies Judas as the one who would betray him, and tells Judas "what you are going to do, do quickly."
At 5:30pm we observe the Office of Tenebrae. Tenebrae means "shadows" and refers to the gradual extinguishing of six candles as the office proceeds – through the speaking and singing of psalms, lamentations and canticles – until only one candle remains. As each candle is extinguished, the lights of the church are turned lower and lower, until only the seventh candle, the Light of Christ, shines in the darkness.
As the choir sings Christus factus est, the seventh candle is removed from sight, hidden away behind a door near the altar.
While the Light of Christ remains hidden away, the choir sings Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere mei, Deus (Psalm 51), echoing Ash Wednesday, when it was sung to begin the season of Lent. And then after a loud sound, the seventh candle returns to its rightful place, lifted high. By its light all leave in silence.
The Triduum takes us through a series of three choral services on three consecutive evenings, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, at 5:30pm. Together, these three liturgies comprise the center of our Holy Week observance, and are much more powerful (and comprehensible) if you attend all three as parts of a whole, rather than as separate or separated events. Think of them as the paschal mystery broken down into three parts: passion (Thursday evening), death (Friday evening), and resurrection (Saturday evening/Sunday morning). Details of each service can be found below.
Our observance of Maundy Thursday begins with the Gentlemen of the Choir singing at a Solemn Eucharist at 12:10pm. This is an ideal opportunity for those who work nearby to make their Holy Communion over the lunch hour, particularly for those who are unable to attend a Mass in the evening.
It is good that this day in particular includes a Mass, for Maundy Thursday is the occasion on which we commemorate the Last Supper, in which Jesus took bread and wine and consecrated them as his body and blood, and commanded his disciples to continue to “do this in remembrance of me.”
And remember we have. The first Eucharistic Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer begins: All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that, his precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again.
This "perpetual memory" occurs nearly one thousand times per year at Saint Thomas, and, in all times and places, a countless number of times. So it is that on Maundy Thursday, in particular, we “do this in remembrance" of him at the 12:10 Mass, and then, in greater depth at the Solemn Liturgy of Maundy Thursday at 5:30pm.
The 5:30pm liturgy is the first liturgy of the Triduum. In it, we remember that, on the night in which the Lord was betrayed, but before the Last Supper, he washed the feet of his disciples. In like manner, before Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday, the rector of Saint Thomas washes the feet of twelve parishioners, in a ceremony known as the Mandatum. Mandatum means mandate, and it refers to the new commandment that Jesus gave his disciples after he washed their feet, as recorded in the Gospel of John, Chapter 14: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” And then, a bit later in Chapter 14: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It is this ceremony that may have given rise to the use of the word Maundy in Maundy Thursday.
How appropriate then, that during the Mandatum, the choir sings Ubi Caritas by Maurice Duruflé: Where charity and love are, there is God. The love of Christ hath joined us in one.
After the Mandatum, we commemorate the institution by Christ of the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, just as we did at the 12:10 Mass earlier in the day. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.
As Holy Communion comes to a close, the choir and congregation sing words written by Thomas Aquinas and set to the tune, Adora Devote:
O memorial wondrous of the Lord’s own death;
Living Bread that givest all thy creatures breath,
Grant my spirit ever by thy life may live,
To my taste thy sweetness never-failing give.
After Holy Communion, the Sacrament is moved, in procession, to the altar of repose, where it will remain until the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday. The procession to the altar of repose pauses in three places along its route, as the congregation sings Now my tongue, the mystery telling, another hymn written by Thomas Aquinas.
These same three places will be visited again in the following two liturgies: it is where the cross stops on its procession to the altar on Good Friday, and it is where the Light of Christ pauses on its entry into the church during the Great Vigil. This is just one way in which the physical movements of the three liturgies of the Triduum echo one another, and in which together they tell the story of our salvation through the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
With the Sacrament at the altar of repose, just before the service ends, priests and acolytes emerge to strip the High Altar bare. Nothing is left, not even the dust, which is scrubbed away from the surface of the altar by the rector. The altar has been prepared for the coming sacrifice. By now it is clear that Christ has not only been stricken, smitten, and afflicted of God (Isaiah 53), but betrayed, denied, and abandoned by his friends. Darkness falls, the liturgy ends, and choristers scatter like Jesus' friends. All leave in silence, except for those who wish to keep watch at the altar of repose, where the Sacrament is reserved.
Please note that if you wish to make your confession on Good Friday, you may do so 10:30-11:30am, or 3:30-5pm.
On Good Friday, from noon until 3pm, in a dimly lit church with an altar stripped bare, we gather together to contemplate the mystery of God incarnate, sacrificed for those he created and loves. The Three Hours Devotion is unique among the services held at Saint Thomas. In contrast to most worship services at the High Altar, there are no processions, no motets or anthems, no readings from the Old Testament or the Epistles, and no Holy Communion. The treble voices of the choir and the pealing of the bells are silenced.
The service involves a series of seven meditations on the seven last words of Christ spoken from the cross. Between each meditation, there are prayers, psalms, hymns and long periods of silence. You may stay for the entire three hours (as many do), or you may come for any part of it.
The service ends at 3pm, the traditional time we commemorate the death of Christ, at which point the bell tolls 33 times.
When evening comes, we offer the second liturgy of the Triduum: the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday at 5:30pm. Beginning where the Solemn Liturgy of Maundy Thursday ended, with the Lord betrayed and abandoned, the church remains unadorned.
It is on this night that we hear Chapter 53 of Isaiah, words that reveraberate throughout history, immortalized in music by Handel’s Messiah:
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
If you pay attention to the details, you’ll notice the many ways in which the Triduum liturgies are interwoven. For example, the psalm sung by the choir on Good Friday (Psalm 22) is the same psalm sung at the stripping of the altar the night before. You’ll also notice a connection to Palm Sunday: the singing of the Passion by three cantors. On Palm Sunday at 11am they sang the Passion according to Saint Matthew; on Good Friday they sing the Passion according to Saint John.
The Solemn Collects are prayed by the Celebrant. These solemn intercessions are chanted for the Church, the world, the suffering, the unconverted, and the departed.
During the singing of Cross of Jesus, the three sacred ministers walk down the center aisle to the Narthex, where they take hold of the large wooden cross. After the hymn, they carry it down the center aisle, stopping at the exact same places the Sacrament paused in procession on Maundy Thursday. At each stop, a cantor sings “Behold the Wood of the Cross, whereon was hung the world’s salvation.” And the people respond, “O come, let us worship.”
The Cross is carried through the chancel to its place on the High Altar, at which point all kneel, and the three sacred ministers prostrate themselves in the chancel.
The Reproaches, adapted from Tomás Luis de Victoria, are sung by the choir:
O my people, what have I done unto thee?
or wherein have I wearied thee?
Testify against me.
Then, as the congregation remains kneeling, the choir sings an anthem, two priests go to the altar of repose, where the Sacrament was taken the night before, and bring the Sacrament back to the High Altar in a procession led by acolytes carrying candles. This is done because there is no consecration of bread and wine on Good Friday itself. So we use reserved Sacrament from the night before.
In the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the congregation confesses its sins and says the Lord’s Prayer. All baptized Christians are invited to come forward to receive the Body and Blood. The Post-Communion Prayer is said by all kneeling and a motet by Antonio Lotti is sung:
He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
We have remembered, in liturgical form, the moment when Christ died, killed by those he loved. With that fact made painfully obvious, darkness falls. The clergy, choir, and acolytes depart in silence, followed by the congregation.
The third service of the Triduum is actually two liturgies in one: the Great Vigil, by candlelight, and the First Eucharist of Easter, in great light. The Vigil picks up where Good Friday left off: the nave of the church is in silence and darkness; Christ has died and descended ad infernam, into hell.
With the choir already in place in the chancel, the liturgy begins with a knock on the door by the rector, who has just led a procession of acolytes and priests to the entrance on Fifth Avenue. After the procession enters the church, the people rise in their pews, holding candles they received when they arrived. The rector gives the Blessing of the New Fire at the back of the church and the people rise and face the narthex:
Dear Friends in Christ:
On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over
from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed
throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer.
For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death.
The rector then prepares a new paschal candle, which will be used throughout the year until next Easter. The paschal candle is lit at worship services through the Easter Season, and is also lit at funerals throughout the year. He prepares the paschal candle with a knife, incising a cross and outlining the letters of the Greek alphabet—alpha and omega—as he says the words of preparation:
The Beginning and the End.
Αlpha and Ωmega.
His are the times and ages.
To Him be glory and dominion
through all the ages of eternity.
Through His holy and glorious wounds
may Christ the Lord guard and preserve us.
He then lights the paschal candle saying, May the light of Christ gloriously rising scatter the darkness of heart and mind.
Then, from the paschal candle, smaller candles are lit, and from these candles, the candles of all in attendance are lit, so that the light grows through the nave of the church as the procession moves forward toward the High Altar. The subdeacon carries the paschal candle and pauses three times, each time chanting "The Light of Christ" to which the congregation responds "Thanks be to God." These are the same three places where the procession of the Sacrament paused on Maundy Thursday and where the procession of the Cross paused on Good Friday.
When the paschal candle reaches its resting place in the chancel, the whole of the church is lit by candlelight. Everyone remains standing for the singing by a cantor of the Exsultet. It begins:
Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout Salvation for the victory of our mighty King. Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth, bright with a glorious splendour, for darkness hath been vanquished by our eternal King. Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church, and let thy holy courts in radiant light resound with the praises of thy people.
After the Exsultet, we hear the Liturgy of the Word, a series five solemn prophecies from the Old Testament:
- The Story of Creation (Genesis 1:1—2:2)
- The Flood (Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13)
- Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18)
- Israel’s Deliverance from the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10—15:1)
- The Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
These passages are read that we may all remember the record of God’s saving deeds in history, how he saved his people in ages past; and that we may recommit ourselves to God through Christ, who brings each of us to the fullness of redemption.
The Great Vigil then continues with Holy Baptism and the renewal of baptismal vows by the congregation. Christian baptism is baptism into Christ's death and resurrection, just as the congregation has been entering into Christ's death during the season of Lent, and will celebrate his resurrection at Easter.
At the Vigil the paschal candle is carried to the baptismal font, followed by priests and acolytes, who meet the baptismal candidate at the font next to the Chantry Chapel. After the individual is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, he or she is “marked as Christ’s own forever” by a cross made on the forehead using holy oil, and is welcomed by the congregation into the household of God.
The full procession, led by the paschal candle but otherwise still in darkness, then moves from the chapel to the back of the church, and finally down the center aisle, as the cantor sings the Litany of the Saints and the people chant their responses. The rector asperges the worshipers along the way with water taken from the baptismal font. The paschal candle is returned to its place in the chancel and the three sacred ministers make their way up to the High Altar. It is from the High Altar that the rector turns to face the congregation and gives the dramatic Easter Acclamation: Alleluia. Christ is risen. The people shout in response, The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Suddenly, the church is flooded in light, the organ blasts and bells ring out, and choir and congregation together join in singing the joyful Easter hymn: Jesus Christ is risen today. Alleluia!
What follows is the First Eucharist of Easter. The service has the customary form of most Eucharistic services at Saint Thomas. The Collect of the Day and Epistle are read, the Gospel Procession moves down among the people, a sermon is preached, and then, atypically, we sing the Christus Vincit: Christ has conquered death. We then proceed with Holy Communion, the first consecration of bread and wine at Saint Thomas since Maundy Thursday.
After the singing of The Day of Resurrection, all spill out onto Fifth Avenue, many to return on Easter morning.
Easter Day Solemn Eucharist, 8am & 11am
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
So begins the Solemn Eucharist of the Resurrection on Easter Day. As you would expect, 8am and 11am services (which are identical) begin with a grand procession, with the choir and congregation, accompanied by the organ and the Saint Thomas Brass, singing two favorite Easter hymns: Jesus Christ is risen today and The Day of Resurrection.
If you are familiar with Sunday morning worship at Saint Thomas, you will recognize that the liturgical design of the Solemn Eucharist of the Resurrection is the same as nearly any 11am service. There is a reason for this: every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. Easter Day is special in that it gives us the reason for Sunday worship in the first place; correspondingly, it sets the liturgical mold for our typical Sunday.
Given that the Easter Sunday liturgy is typical of Sunday worship, the liturgy continues with the reading of Scripture. Typically, on Sunday mornings we have a reading from the Old Testament, a psalm sung by the choir, the reading of a lesson from one of the Epistles, and then a reading from the Gospels. But the seven Sundays of Easter are slightly different in that the first reading is not from the Old Testament but rather from the Acts of the Apostles. This makes sense, given that the resurrection of Jesus, known to his disciples by his resurrection appearances, is the jaw-dropping event that changed the disciples forever. No longer are we reliant on Old Testament prophesies. We have testimony from eye witnesses!
The Gospel account of the resurrection on this day is taken from Saint John: As Mary Magdalene stands weeping outside the tomb, which is now empty for reasons she does not understand, she sees there two angels in white. They ask her why she is weeping. “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him,” she answers. And then, turning around, a man stands in front of her whom she does not recognize—but he recognizes her. “Jesus saith unto her, ‘Mary,’” calling her by name, telling her of his future: “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” He commissions her to tell others of his resurrection, and thus Mary Magdalene becomes the “apostle to the apostles,” the first witness to testify to the risen Jesus.
After this, the disciples meet the Risen Christ themselves; they do so several times, in fact, until his promised ascension forty days later. Having seen him with their own eyes, the disciples, especially after the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, are turned inside out: before this, they may have been meek and afraid, but afterwards they are confident and courageous evangelists and apostles, spreading the Good News to all nations. They now know that even death itself can be overcome because of the victory that God has accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus. That dramatic Easter event constitutes a promise of eternal life that is made to all who become one with God through Christ: that is good news, indeed!
We gather at Saint Thomas on Fifth Avenue in 21st century New York City only because of the witness through the centuries that began with the first evangelists meeting the resurrected Jesus on those important fifty days that immediately followed the resurrection.
As befits this celebration of the resurrection, the music selected for Easter Day is glorious. The mass setting s Missa Bell’ Amfitrit’ altera by Orlande de Lassus. Anthems and motets include works by Taverner, Bassano, Samuel Scheidt, and others. And, of course, we sing some of the most beloved Easter hymns, the last of which is by Cecil Frances Alexander, arranged by John Scott. It expresses in song the Easter joy:
He is risen, he is risen!
Tell it out with joyful voice:
He has burst his three days’ prison;
Let the whole wide earth rejoice:
Death is conquered, man is free,
Christ has won the victory.
Easter Day Solemn Evensong, 3pm
If you cannot attend on Easter morning, consider coming to Solemn Evensong at 3pm (note the time: Sunday Evensong at Saint Thomas is usually at 4pm, not 3pm).
The Scripture readings at this service also focus on the time immediately following the resurrection. Pay close attention especially to the second lesson (Luke 24:13-35). This passage tells the story of the famous “Walk to Emmaus,” during which the disciples come to realize that the stranger speaking with them, and then breaking bread with them, is their Risen Lord. Notice how it ties together the entirety of Holy Week and Easter in a single passage: from the Old Testament prophesies, to the disciples being slow to understand, to an account of the events leading to Christ’s death on the cross, to the recognition of the Sacrament of Holy Communion instituted at the Last Supper, to the disciples’ witness of the resurrection.
The Easter celebrations don’t end there. We invite you in the name of the Risen Christ to join us not only on Easter Day, but for the seven weeks of Eastertide, as we make our way through the weeks following the Resurrection: Christ’s appearances to his disciples and his ascent into heaven.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!