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Asking clergy about seasonal observances

Easter, that most important time for Christians, brings with it a host of observances, some of which may be unfamiliar or unclear. This week's clergy bring clarity to the season.

Pastor James Krauser, Grace Evangelical

Lutheran Church, North Bellmore:

Churches that don't observe a liturgical year don't pay much attention to Annunciation. It is a Christmas holiday that happens during Lent. Annunciation is connected to the Christmas cycle of the church year. Celebrated March 25, it is nine months before Christmas. It commemorates the announcement to Mary by the Angel Gabriel that she is to bear the Christ child.

We do observe it. When it occurs on a Sunday during Lent, we would not observe it like we would if it fell on another day, but we will acknowledge it.

If Easter is particularly early that year, we would possibly observe it afterward, but that is rare. Usually, we just have a normal service but will have a special reading to tell the story. We also sing a hymn or two that sound sort of Christmassy. One is a Basque carol, "The Angel Gabriel."

Pastor Stephen Shick, Middle Island Congregational United Church of Christ:

Palm Sunday is when we celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem riding on a donkey at the beginning of Passover week. The symbolism of the donkey may refer to the tradition that a donkey is an animal of peace, while the horse is considered an animal of war. The people waved palm branches and shouted "Hosanna," welcoming Jesus as king.

"Hosanna" in this context means "save now." The people expected Jesus to free them from Roman oppression. The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory in the culture of the day.

We use the palm branch as a remembrance of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the people's expectation to "save now." They had hoped Jesus would be the one to end Roman rule and establish God's earthly kingdom where justice and righteousness would reign.

But God's plan was not what the people anticipated. Jesus was in the business of setting up a kingdom far different from what the people expected.

Msgr. James M. McDonald, pastor, Church of Saint Aidan, Williston Park:

Maundy Thursday is hardly used today. The current term would be Holy Thursday. Maundy refers to the washing of the feet.

The celebration of Holy Thursday commemorates the Lord's Supper, the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood. As part of the celebration of the Liturgy, after the homily, the priest will wash the feet of 12 people as a sign of the humility of Christ and the willingness of Christians to serve one another for the love of Christ.

Another important Mass that is celebrated the morning of Holy Thursday is the Chrism Mass. At that time, in the cathedral church, the bishop of the diocese celebrates Mass with his priests and blesses the sacred oils that will be used in the celebration of the sacraments throughout the year. These oils are the sacred chrism, used in the celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the ordination of priests and bishops; the oil of the catechumens, for those who are going to be baptized; and the oil of the sick, used for the anointing of the sick and infirm.

At the conclusion of the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, the blessed sacrament is carried in solemn procession to the altar of repose. People come individually to pray at that altar from the end of the Mass to midnight.

Father Alexander Karloutsos, protopresbyter, first of the priests, Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons, Southampton; and assistant to Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, Manhattan:

Orthodox Christians don't call it Good Friday. We call it Great Friday, the day of the great sacrifice. God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son. Jesus dies and descends into Hades on Great Friday to free Adam and Eve and all those generations after them. He comes back and resurrects on Easter Sunday.

We have a cross in our church with an icon of Jesus Christ on it. Thursday evening, we take the cross around the church. Friday afternoon, we take the icon off the cross and bring it to the altar. The service is called the Apokathelosis. In the evening, we place the Jesus icon in a flowered tomb. At the end of the service, we give the flowers to the faithful who have come to the tomb as the myrrh-bearing women did.

For the Orthodox, Holy Saturday is the specific commemoration of Jesus' descent into Hades. He then returns for the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, which we begin celebrating at midnight (plus one second) on Sunday.

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