Our Easter Celebration

As a Catholic child, a student of Holy Name Grade School, and an altar boy, the three days prior to Easter marked the most  pious and important days of the liturgical year. Although Holy Week officially began on Palm Sunday, the solemnness of the week really was felt and exhibited on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

I remember the seriousness and significance of the meaning of each day. The good sisters at Holy Name drilled the importance into our impressionable minds throughout our eight years of attendance. My mother and father reinforced those beliefs and certainly, as an altar server, I was fortunate to be part of the observances during Holy Week.

Good Friday stands out as the day that I truly felt the most stirred, and to a degree, frightened by the history of events that occurred that day in the life of Jesus Christ. I remember watching how everything would stop in our home, and an eerie silence would occur in our neighborhood and in the City of Duquesne from noon until 3 p.m. that day. Parents, priests, neighbors, friends all focused on the fact that the crucifixion had taken place at this point in time.

I remember how I would watch the skies at this time. I recall how very often, it seemed toEaster at St. Joseph be either a rainy or cloudy day. The coincidence of the weather with day’s history always made an impression on me. In fact, the photograph below was taken on Good Friday in 1970 during the 12 to 3 p.m. timeframe. I had walked up to the statue of the Passion in St. Joseph’s Cemetery and snapped this photo of an approaching store. I found the original copy of this photo recently and noticed that it was dated 3/27/70 on the back. When I check out the date, besides being my brother’s birthday, it was also Good Friday that year.

If you are like me, so much has changed in our lives since the days of our youth. It is so helpful to me to recall all of those things that made this time of year so important in our lives. It restores and  my faith to even greater degree. To me, it is comforting that those doctrines of our faith were embraced and observed throughout our hometown.

After our steadfast observances of the Rites of Easter during Holy Week, like any child, my brother and I looked forward to waking Easter morning to all of the expected and traditional delights of the day. Carefully wrapped cellophane covered Easter baskets were always perched on the dining room table each year. Steve and I would peer through the colorful cellophane wrapping to try to see what was waiting for us inside the basket. We were never allowed to unwrap the basket before we went to Mass, however, before we were old enough to receive Holy Communion, Mom would always have some “spare” chocolate Easter eggs to tide us over.

Walking into Holy Name on Easter Sunday was sensory delight. The fragrances of Spring flowers filled the air. Hyacinths, Easter lilies and tulips graced every altar in the church. Combined with the sometimes “over-the-top” hats that the ladies would wear, the church was alive with color. The pews were packed and the celebration of Easter Mass was truly inspiring. I can still picture it all to this day. Once we returned home from Mass, the events of Volk Family traditions took effect and our day continued to hold one adventure after another that was shared with our entire extended family of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. These are memories I will never forget!

The following are random images that might conjure up some Easter time memories for you, followed by a synopsis of the history and the rites of Holy Week.

To all of my Duquesne and Hunky friends, Have a Wonderful Easter Holiday!!


Holy Name Altar


HT Church 60s


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 The Rites of Holy Week – Wikipedia

Holy Week in Latin Rite Catholicism 

Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday)

Holy Week begins with what in the Roman Rite is now called Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. Before 1955 it was known simply as Palm Sunday, and the preceding Sunday as Passion Sunday. From 1955 to 1971 it was called Second Sunday in Passiontide or Palm Sunday.

 To commemorate the entrance of the Messiah into Jerusalem, to accomplish his paschal mystery, it is customary to have before Mass a blessing of palm leaves (or other branches, for example olive branches). The blessing ceremony, preferably held outside the church includes the reading of a Gospel account of how Jesus rode into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, reminiscent of a Davidic victory procession, and how people placed palms on the ground in front of him. Immediately following this great time of celebration in the entering of Jesus into Jerusalemé, he begins his journey to the cross. This is followed by a procession or solemn entrance into the church, with the participants holding the blessed branches in their hands.

 The Mass itself includes a reading of the Passion, the narrative of Jesus’ capture, sufferings and death, as recounted in one of the Synoptic Gospels.

 Before the reform of the rite by Pope Pius XI, the blessing of the palms occurred inside the church within a service that followed the general outline of a Mass, with Collect, Epistle and Gospel, as far as the Sanctus. The palms were then blessed with five prayers, and a procession went out of the church and on its return included a ceremony for the reopening of the doors, which had meantime been shut. After this the normal Mass was celebrated. 

Monday to Wednesday

The days between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday are known as Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday. The Gospels of these days recount events not all of which occurred on the corresponding days between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his Last Supper. For instance, the Monday Gospel tells of the Anointing at Bethany (John 12:1-9), which occurred before the Palm Sunday event described in John 12:12-19.

 The Chrism Mass, whose texts the Roman Missal now gives under Holy Thursday, may be brought forward to one of these days, to facilitate participation by as many as possible of the clergy of the diocese together with the bishop. This Mass was not included in editions of the Roman Missal before the time of Pope Pius XII. In this Mass the bishop blesses separate oils for the sick (used in Anointing of the Sick), for catechumens (used in Baptism) and chrism (used in Baptism, but especially in Confirmation and Holy Orders, as well as in rites such as the blessing of an altar and a church).


When the principal services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil were celebrated in the morning, the office of Matins and Lauds of each day was celebrated on the evening of the preceding day in the service known as Tenebrae (Latin, “Darkness”).

Maundy (Holy) Thursday 

Mass of the Lord’s Supper 

On this day the private celebration of Mass is forbidden. Thus, apart from the Chrism Mass for the blessing of the Holy Oils that the diocesan bishop may celebrate on the morning of Holy Thursday, but also on some other day close to Easter, the only Mass on this day is the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which inaugurates the period of three days, known as the Easter Triduum, that includes Good Friday (seen as beginning with the service of the preceding evening), Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday up to evening prayer on that day. 

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his Twelve Apostles, “the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and the commandment of brotherly love that Jesus gave after washing the feet of his disciples.”

 All the bells of the church, including altar bells, may be rung during the Gloria in Excelsis Deo of the Mass (the Gloria is not traditionally sung during the entire Lenten season). The bells and the organ then fall silent until the Gloria at the Easter Vigil. In some countries, children are sometimes told: “The bells have flown to Rome.”

The Roman Missal recommends that, if considered pastorally appropriate, the priest should, immediately after the homily, celebrate the rite of washing the feet of an unspecified number of men, customarily twelve, recalling the number of the Apostles.

A sufficient number of hosts are consecrated for use also in the Good Friday service, and at the conclusion the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession to a place of reposition away from the main body of the church, which, if it involves an altar, is often called an “altar of repose”.

The altars of the church (except the one used for altar of repose) are later stripped quite bare and, to the extent possible, crosses are removed from the church or veiled. (In the pre-Vatican II rite, crucifixes and statues are covered with violet covers during Passion time, but the crucifix covers can be white instead of violet on Holy Thursday.)

Good Friday 

Roman Catholic Christians treat Good Friday as a fast day, which is defined as only having one full meal with, if needed, two small snacks that together do not make a full meal. 

The Catholic Good Friday in the Roman Rite afternoon service involves a series of readings and meditations, as well as the (sung) reading of the Passion account from the Gospel of John which is often read dramatically, with the priest, one or more readers, and the congregation all taking part. In the traditional Latin liturgy, the Passion is read by the priest facing the altar, with three deacons chanting in the sanctuary facing the people. Unlike Roman Catholic services on other days, the Good Friday service is not a Mass, and in fact, celebration of Catholic Mass on Good Friday is forbidden. Eucharist consecrated the night before (Holy Thursday) may be distributed. The cross is presented, with the people given an opportunity to venerate it. The services also include a long series of formal intercessions. The solemnity and somberness of the occasion has led to a phenomenon whereby in the course of history the liturgical provisions have a tendency to persist without substantial modification, even over the centuries. Some churches hold a three-hour mediation from midday, the Three Hours’ Agony. In some countries, such as Malta, Philippines, Italy and Spain, processions with statues representing the Passion of Christ are held.

The only sacraments celebrated are Penance and Anointing of the Sick. While there is no celebration of the Eucharist, Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful only in the Service of the Passion of the Lord, but can be taken at any hour to the sick who are unable to attend this service.

The altar remains completely bare, without texts, candlesticks, or altar cloths.

It is customary to empty the holy water fonts in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil.

The Stations of the Cross are often prayed either in the church or outside.

The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord takes place in the afternoon, ideally at three o’clock, but for pastoral reasons a later hour may be chosen.

Since 1970, the color of the vestments is red. Previously it was black. If a bishop celebrates, he wears a plain miter.

‘The liturgy consists of three parts in the Roman Rite: the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion.

The readings from Isaiah 53 (about the Suffering Servant) and the Epistle to the Hebrews are read. The Passion narrative of the Gospel of John is sung or read, often divided between more than one singer or reader. General Intercessions: The congregation prays for the Church, the Pope, the Jews, non-Christians, unbelievers and others. Veneration of the Cross: A crucifix is solemnly unveiled before the congregation. The people venerate it on their knees. During this part, the “Reproaches” are often sung. Communion service: Hosts consecrated at the Mass of the previous day are distributed to the people. (Before the reform of Pope Pius XII, only the priest received Communion in the framework of what was called the “Mass of the Presanctified”, which included the usual Offertory prayers, with the placing of wine in the chalice, but which omitted the Canon of the Mass.)Even if music is used in the Liturgy, it is not used to open and close the Liturgy, nor is there a formal recessional (closing procession).

It was once customary in some countries, especially England, to place a veiled monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament or a cross in a Holy Sepulchre”.

If crucifixes were covered starting with the next to last Sunday in Lent, they are unveiled without ceremony after the Good Friday service.

Holy Saturday 

Mass is not celebrated on what is liturgically Holy Saturday. The celebration of Easter begins after sundown on what, though still Saturday in the civil calendar, is liturgically Easter Sunday. 

On Holy Saturday the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting, meditating on his Passion and Death and on his Descent into Hell, and awaiting his Resurrection.

The Church abstains from the Sacrifice of the Mass, with the sacred table left bare, until after the solemn Vigil, that is, the anticipation by night of the Resurrection, when the time comes for paschal joys, the abundance of which overflows to occupy fifty days.

 In some Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, there is provision for a simple liturgy of the word with readings commemorating the burial of Christ.

The tabernacle is left empty and open. The lamp or candle usually situated next to the tabernacle denoting the Presence of Christ is put out, and the remaining Eucharistic Hosts consecrated on Holy Thursday are kept elsewhere, usually the sacristy, with a lamp or candle burning before it, so that, in cases of the danger of death, they may be given as viaticum.

Easter Vigil 

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Easter Vigil, the longest and most solemn of the Catholic Church’s liturgical services, lasting up to three or four hours, consists of four parts:

1. The Service of Light

2. The Liturgy of the Word

3. The Liturgy of Baptism: The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for new members of the Church and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises by the entire congregation.

4. Holy Eucharist


The Liturgy begins after sundown on Holy Saturday as the crowd gathers inside the unlit church. In the darkness (often in a side chapel of the church building or, preferably, outside the church), a new fire is kindled and blessed by the priest. This new fire symbolizes the light of salvation and hope that God brought into the world through Christ’s Resurrection, dispelling the darkness of sin and death. From this fire is lit the Paschal candle, symbolizing the Light of Christ. This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, remaining in the sanctuary of the Church or near the lectern, and throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals, reminding all that that Christ is “light and life.”






All baptized Catholics present (i.e. those who have received the “Light of Christ”) receive candles which are lit from the Paschal candle. As this symbolic “Light of Christ” spreads throughout those gathered, the darkness is decreased. A deacon, or the priest if there is no deacon, carries the Paschal Candle at the head of the entrance procession and, at three points, stops and chants the proclamation “Light of Christ” or “Christ our Light”, to which the people respond “Thanks be to God.” Once the procession concludes, the deacon or a cantor chants the Exultet (also called the “Easter Proclamation”), and, the church remaining lit only by the people’s candles and the Paschal candle, the people take their seats for the Liturgy of the Word.


The Liturgy of the Word consists of between two and seven readings from the Old Testament. The account of the Exodus is given particular attention in the readings since it is considered to be the Old Testament antetype of Christian salvation. Each reading is followed by a psalm and a prayer relating what has been read in the Old Testament to the Mystery of Christ. After these readings conclude, a fanfare may sound on the organ and additional musical instruments and the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is sung. During this outburst of musical jubilation the congregation’s candles are extinguished, the church lights are turned on, and bells rung while the church’s decorative funnings — altar frontals, the reredos, lectern hangings, processional banners, statues and paintings — which had been stripped or covered during Holy Week, are ceremonially replaced and unveiled and flowers are placed on altars and elsewhere. (In the pre-Vatican II rite, the statues, which have been covered during Passion Time, are unveiled at this time. In some places, the church removes the covering of statues and puts Easter flowers and decorations on the day of Holy Saturday before the Easter Vigil celebration. Also, in the current ritual the lights are turned on after the last proclamation of ‘Christ our Light’.) Members of the congregation may have been encouraged to bring flowers which are also brought forward and placed about the sanctuary and side altars. A reading from the Epistle to the Romans is proclaimed. The Alleluia is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent (or, in the pre-Vatican II rite, since Septuagesima). The Gospel of the Resurrection then follows, along with a homily.


After the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word, the water of the baptismal font is consecrated and any catechumens or candidates for full communion are initiated into the church, by baptism and/or confirmation, respectively. After the celebration of these sacraments of initiation, the congregation renews their baptismal vows and receives the sprinkling of baptismal water. The general intercessions follow.


After the Liturgy of Baptism, the Liturgy of the Eucharist continues as usual. This is the first Mass of Easter Day. During the Eucharist, the newly baptized receive Holy Communion for the first time. According to the rubrics of the Missal, the Eucharist should finish before dawn.


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21 Responses to Our Easter Celebration

  1. Jack Schalk says:

    The celebrations of Easter are past for this year, even the raucous Dyngus Day.
    I don’t know if its just me, but there seems to be a resurgence going on, back to the world of supporting your religion and the deities you beleive in.
    The local Chrysler plymouth dealer had a full page, 4 color layout in the Sunday paper that said nothing about car sales but rather the true meaning of Easter explained, with text from the bible
    I was amazed and called to tell them so.
    The churchs were packed at mass, even to the cathedral at Notre Dame U where I go to services..
    It wasn’t quite the St. Josephs of 1943 -50 but the attendance certainly made it feel the same.

  2. Lolly says:

    Jim, Thanks for the beautiful Holy Week memories. Working for the Church here in Florida ( which happens to be Holy Name of Jesus), we strive to maintain the sanctity of the Triduum. It meant so much to read that others feel the need to reflect back on those days when we really kept these sacred days with a bit of awe and mystery. May we all soon rejoice in the Easter message!

    Now where did I put that pierogi recipe?

  3. Larry McConnell says:

    You are so right, Frank, that sure is him-I could tell him coming or going a mile away-he scared me more than the nuns-I remember I saw him smile once-it was at his Jubilee celebration in the school hall/cafeteria

    • Frank Mullen says:

      Larry, Yes! I remember that celebration for Fr. Shaunessey, too! Do you remember the door way (frame and door,) mounted on the stage, which was made to be open and shut, revealing various milestones in his life?
      Equally as memorable (for me, at least,) regarding that school hall, besides my 8th graduation reception being held there, were those wonderful maple-walnut rolls we got on First Fridays. I can still smell their fragrance – no kidding – and have searched for that flavor for many years – make that decades – and have never came close to it again.

      • Larry McConnell says:

        Hi Frank-I believe you could never find those rolls again-maybe in a neighborhood bakery in NYC or Chicago?-Yes Frank, I do remember a setup like that- I wonder who made it?

      • Frank Mullen says:

        Several of the eighth graders, mostly the girls, plus Sister Cecelia, built that doorway, if I recall correctly. I believe it was “door-papered” with green construction paper, for that special Irish touch.
        By the way, if I may ask, did you live in Duquesne Place, on Harden Avenue, near me, and have a super Lionel train layout, as a young boy?
        Frank (from Miller Ave)

      • Fran Pellegrino 76 years old says:

        Plus the chocolate milk with the rolls.

  4. Bob Cusick says:

    Those Nuns use to scare the crap out of everyone. Mortal sin, venial sins, purgatory, hell, no meat on Fridays, fasting, stations of the cross. Yuck. If those were the good old days, so happy they are gone. The baskets were good however.

    • Frank Mullen says:

      Hi Bob, My experience with those nuns, of the Sisters of St. Joseph order, at Holy Name School, was markedly different from yours, apparently. Rather than being scared of them, I adored them, and they fascinated me. In fact, my father was a leading member of a group (Holy Name Society ?) that often took the whole convent on picnics, which included their playing softball (!) Several of my favorites among them were: Sister (Marie?) Ester; Sister Innocent; Sister Immaculata; Sister Cecelia; Sister Marie Ursula; Sister Agnes Eugene; Sister (Mary?) Richard. I miss them all. By the way, they taught me, among many things (like the “times-tables,” ) all the grammar I ever needed to know. The grammar and punctuation I taught for 35 years as a high school English teacher was only redundantly learned in college; it had already been inculcated by the nuns of Holy Name by the time I was thirteen.

      • Bob Chermonitz says:

        Frank, I couldn’t agree more. Everything I learned from the sisters at Holy Name was enough to carry me through high school at DHS and prepared me for college. It sort of reminds me of the book “Everything I Needed To Know In Life, I Learned In Kindergarten”, except it took me 8 years. 🙂

  5. Maxwell1 says:

    Beautiful memories Jim. Nothing better than having wonderful family memories and traditions especially important during the holidays. Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful Easter.

    • Norman and Marlene Lazor says:

      Thank you so much for bringing back beautiful memories of what being a Roman Catholic is all about. You could not be anything else but “holy” if you participated in the Holy Week commemoration. All businesses closed during the hours of 12 noon til 3;00 pm, then reopened after 3. We were also given permission to leave work (without being docked) to attend church. Oh! Did I mention that I worked for a govenment agency that respected Easter. That was before God was removed from this society. Even Protestant churches in Duquesne refrained from dances and most festivities during Lent. Many of my Protestant friends went to their respective churches during Holy Week, too. Most beer gardens served dellicious fish sandwiches every Friday. I haven’t had a decent fish sandwich since I left PA and moved to VA in 1958. That’s the truth! Have a blessed Easter. This was a remarkable trip down memory lane.– Marlene

  6. Cliff Warner says:

    A wonderful Easter to you and your family Jim,and once again thanks for the memories. Tell your brother Happy Birthday as he and I share the date.
    . Your recollections of Easter weekend once more stirred up similar memories with me. I had all but forgotten how eerily silent it always was between 12 and 3 that day. My mother would make me stay in the house for those hours as did the rest of the neighborhood and the rest of Duquesne for that matter.
    My walks down Goldstrohm Lane on many an Easter morning past the green areas with birds singing and the scent of spring in the air will be forever etched in my memory.

    I believe with so many Americans in that era loving Christ the way we all should, our country and it’s people were blessed. I’m afraid the love of our savior is no longer in the forefront in most of our lives, . myself sadly included. Maybe we all should strive to revive that love in our hearts and put aside some of the worldly things and reflect on the meaning of the wonder of our Lord’s miraculous Resurrection.

  7. Happy Easter to you and Your family. I talked to my daughter today and she told me that she had told her 5 children (ages ranging from 5-9) that tomorrow (Good Friday) they are not allowed to play, watch tv, listen to the radio, or even sing. I remember kneeling at my moms bed when I was little and praying from 12-3 if i wasnt in church…

  8. Frank Mullen says:

    Would you believe me if I told you I recognize the back of that priest’s head on the right in the top photo of the altar at Holy Name? I think it belongs to Father Wm. Shaunessey. Now, you might well ask, how could I be that familiar (I am hypothesizing that it belongs to him) with the back of that head? Well, you see, we Altar Boys knelt at the foot of those steps leading up to where the priest celebrated Mass, and in those days, he had his back toward the congregation and the servers, for most of the Mass. Oh, yes, that’s his head all right, and I recognize that neck, too; it had a particular profile to it.

  9. John (Jack) Berta says:

    Thanks Jim for the timely post. I was hoping you would share your Easter recollections with us. It’s just what an oldie like myself needs to get the gears turning. Seems as though we all had pretty much the same traditions.

    stastne Velka noc

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