How Easter Works

Holy Week
Cardinals arrive in procession at St. Peter's Square during the Palm Sunday mass on April 14, 2019 in Vatican City. Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem one week before his passion, death, and resurrection. Vatican Pool/Getty Images 2019

P­alm Sunday

­Palm Sunday is the sixth and final Sunday of Lent. In many churches, it is the beginning ­of Holy Week, a week of observances leading up to Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday ­occurs one week before Easter and marks Jesus' entry into Jerusalem when his supporters waved palm fronds to celebrate his arrival. Today, many people use the ashes from palm fronds used on the previous year's Palm Sunday to mark a cross on the forehead of penitents on Ash Wednesday. Next, we'll look at the other days observed during Holy Week and the Easter holiday itself.

­­Maundy Thursday

The word "maundy" may have come from the maund (or mand) basket used by the fishermen in the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. Centuries ago, there was a fair held on this day in Norwich (Norfolk), at which vendors sold horses, cattle and general merchandise. Some of the fisher-folk brought their maund baskets filled with items to sell, including fish. Clothing and hats were sold, as it was customary to buy a new item of clothing for Easter Sunday. This may well have been the origin of the Easter bonnet and the notion of wearing new spring attire for Easter.

Maundy Thursday may also have come from the Latin word mandatum, meaning "commandment," as in the Biblical words of Jesus:

"A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34, NIV)

Many Maundy Thursday services begin with these words.

Anthony Rivilla from Los Angeles, CA, participates in the Passion Play in Jerusalem's Old City Friday April 21, 2000.
Brian Hendler/Newsmakers/­Getty Images

Good Friday

The Friday before Easter is called Good Friday, and is a somber observance of Christ's crucifixion on the cross. Christians believe that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross made it possible for them to know peace with God. They wanted to celebrate their peace rather than observe Friday as a day of mourning or sadness.

The name may also be derived from God's Day, since in the first two centuries, the word "good" would only ever have been used as a description for God. The Saxons and Danes called this day Long Friday, and Good Friday in Danish is Langfreday.