How is Holy Week celebrated?

Holy Week or Easter is one of the most important and sacred times of the Christian calendar as well as a meaningful time for pilgrimage for Catholics as we remember the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Holy Week approaches, we would like to share with you some information about how Holy Week is celebrated in some of our most beloved and special pilgrimage destinations:

Holy Week in Rome

Pilgrims from all over the world travel to Rome and the Vatican to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, starting from Palm Sunday when many events are held at Saint Peter’s Basilica, including the blessing of the holy oils and a Mass by the Pope.

On Good Friday, more significant events take place, like the Station of the Cross lead by the Pope at the Colosseum, a tradition that dates back to the 18th century.

On the last day, Easter Sunday, mass is celebrated in Saint Peter’s Square.

The Holy Land

As well as Christmas, Easter is probably the most special time of the year to visit the Holy Land. Many pilgrims travel to the Holy Land to celebrate this sacred festivity in the places where Jesus lived and follow in his footsteps. Many processions and special events take place in Jerusalem and the Holy Land for Holy Week:

On Palm Sunday, Christian pilgrims walk from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem carrying palms and singing hymns, reenacting his entrance in Jerusalem.

On Holy Thursday, a pilgrimage takes place from St. Savior’s Church to the Cenacle, St. James and St. Mark in the afternoon followed by a service with the Washing of the Feet, a tradition remembering when Jesus washed his Disciples’ feet.

Good Friday remains one of the most special days for Christians and thousands of pilgrims gather in Jerusalem to walk the Via Dolorosa and also commemorate the crucifixion at the Calvary. The funeral procession takes place at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in the evening.

Easter is also celebrated by other faiths and Jewish families gather to have meal together while celebrating Pessach or Seder, a Jewish National Holiday.


Holy Week in Lourdes

Holy Week in the Sanctuary of Lourdes begins with the blessing of the Palms on the Esplanade of the Rosary Basilica followed by Mass in the Basilica of St Pius X gathering pilgrims from different nationalities.

On Holy Thursday the Mass of the Last Supper is held in the Basilica of Pius X, led by the Sanctuary Chaplains with participation of members of the clergy who are be in Lourdes with their pilgrimage groups for the Easter weekend. Liturgy  is celebrated in several languages. Traditionally a time of Eucharistic Adoration is proposed before the Blessed Sacrament after the Mass and the Sanctuary bells are silenced until Saturday evening.

On Good Friday as all over the Christian World there is an opportunity to follow the Way of the Cross. The Sanctuary Chaplains propose the High Stations (on the hill) in English and many other languages, during the course of the morning and then there is an ‘ International ‘Way of the Cross in Rosary Square at 3pm. In the evening, the Celebration of the Passion of Our Lord with Veneration of the Cross is held at the Basilica.

On Holy Saturday, Churches are quiet during the day with no ceremonies until the Easter Vigil Mass. It is usually a day when pilgrims avail of quiet time at the Grotto or go to the Baths for the Water Gesture or confessions. In the evening the Pascal Fire is lit on the Esplanade and the Easter Vigil Mass of the Resurrection begins with the Sanctuary bells ringing to announce the Resurrection of Our Lord.

“Easter Sunday is usually a day of great joy in Lourdes as very many pilgrims from far and near make a point of coming to the Sanctuary for Easter,” explains our expert representative in Lourdes, Caroline Trainor. “The International Mass in the morning gathers many of these pilgrims and the Sanctuary ‘seasonal’ timetable begins with masses celebrated in various languages.”

The Eucharistic Procession and Blessing of the Sick takes place at 5pm and the Torchlight Marian Procession takes place at 9pm in Rosary Square. These processions then continue every afternoon and every evening until the end of October without interruption.

Holy Week in Fatima

Holy Week celebrations in Fatima also attract many pilgrims. They start on Palm Sunday with the blessing of Palms and Procession, followed by Mass in the main outdoor altar.

On Maundy Thursday the highlight of the day is the Mass of Lord’s Last Supper in the Most Holy Trinity Church at 5.30pm.

Good Friday celebration begin at midnight with the Way of the Cross starting in the Capelinha (Chapel of Apparitions) and following the old path followed by the Three Little shepherds (Hungarian Stations of the Cross) and Valinhos, the place where Our Lady of Fatima first appeared in 1917.

“Thousands of people including a lot of youth attend these Stations of the Cross,” explains our expert representative in Fatima, Elsa Silva. A special celebration of Lord’s Passion also takes place in the Most Holy Trinity Basilica that evening.

“The Easter Vigil on Saturday night followed by a Most Blessed sacrament Procession in the Sanctuary is the preparation for the celebrations of the Easter day, starting with Rosary in the Capelinha followed by International Mass of Easter in the Square and concluding with the beautiful and very emotional Farewell Procession of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima,” she adds.

Holy Week in Medjugorje

Holy Week is also an important time of reflection in Medjugorje with events being held throughout the full week. These include the celebration of the Eucharistic and Priesthood on Holy Thursday, the solemn Holy Mass on the same day in the evening, as well as the The Way of the Cross on the Cross Mountain; and the Rosary and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.

Holy Week in Santiago de Compostela

In Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Spain, many activities are celebrated during Holy Week, but perhaps the most popular event that take place in this ancient city are the “processions” arranged by the many different “Cofradias” or brotherhoods of Santiago. From Palm Sunday, different processions take place reenacting different episodes of the passion and resurrection of Christ.

Some of these solemn parades take place in silence and some are accompanied by drums.



Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday, also named Passion Sunday, commemorates Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem before his crucifixion. According to the Gospel, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey, honored by his faithful followers who would have praised Jesus with palm leaves naming him as the “savior.”

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday, also called Maundy Thursday, is the Thursday before Easter which celebrates the Eucharist institution, the priesthood institution and the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples before his crucifixion.

During  Maundy Thursday, a special mass is held and many significant events take place, including the washing of the feet of 12 priests, representing Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles, considered the first priests; as well as the celebration the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Holy Friday

On Holy Friday or Good Friday, we remember the day Jesus Christ was arrested, his trial and crucifixion. On Good Friday, Jesus was accused of blasphemy and brought to trial. He would carry his cross to the place of his punishment before being crucified until his death. These events are symbolized at the Stations of the Cross.

Holy Saturday

On Holy Saturday Catholics remember the day Jesus was resting in the tomb and the Easter Vigil.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday is one of the main festivities of the Christian faith. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ when as per the Gospel in the New Testament, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by Mary Magdalene.

For more information on all our upcoming pilgrimages, including Easter pilgrimages, go here: PILGRIMAGE TOURS or register to our newsletter here: PILGRIMAGE NEWSLETTER

See you on your next pilgrimage!

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