Holy Week in a Benedictine Monastery


Sister Andrea Giltner, OSB braids palms.

By Sister Mary Core, OSB

Holy Week is upon us, and, as many people do, we make plans to be with family. palm sunday chapel cropped

For us, that means our Benedictine Sisters.

We begin with Palm Sunday, with the blessing of the palms and a procession around the chapel.

The palms, waved at Jesus upon his arrival into Jerusalem, also signal victory … a hard-won victory.

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday begins our Triduum (which literally means 3 days). We go about the day braided-palmsas usual – in prayer and in ministry – but the evening holds much different events.

First, we enjoy a Seder meal, which is really a remembrance of the Passover meal celebrated by Jewish people to commemorate their flight out of Egypt.

This is a festive, relaxed meal together; a Last Supper. When we finish, we head upstairs to the chapel for Mass.

At the beginning of Mass, the Gloria is sung and the tower bells and hand bells are rung with joy. At the end of the song, though, the bells are silenced and the mood turns somber.

After the Gospel, Prioress Sandra Brunenn and the presider wash the feet of 12 people, commemorating Jesus’ act of washing his apostles’ feet.

After Communion, the Transfer of the Holy Eucharist occurs.

The hosts that have been consecrated for Friday (when there will be no Mass) are placed in a large ciborium.

Sisters form two columns down the aisle, between which the cross, candles, incense and ciborium will be carried to the Eucharistic Chapel.

As we sing “Praise We Christ’s Immortal Body,” the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the open Tabernacle.

While some of us stay for Eucharistic Adoration, keeping awake with Jesus as he waits in the garden of Gethsemane, the rest of us will leave in silence.

The altar and chapel are stripped of all decorations: banners, palms, altar cloths. At 11 p.m. the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the Tabernacle of Repose in the Sacristy, where it will remain until Holy Saturday.

Good Friday

Good Friday is a day of profound silence, contemplation and reflection. 

There are no bells, no singing.

We gather for Lauds in the morning and afternoon services at 3 pm. We read the Passion, participate in adoration and veneration of the cross, and receive communion. We remain in silence.

Holy Saturday

On Holy Saturday, we gather for Lauds as on Good Friday, and for a short Vespers service in late afternoon. 

Then, the Easter Vigil begins at sundown.

We gather outside the front door for the Lighting of the New Fire. The sun might be setting, but dawn and the resurrection are coming!

The New Fire consumes our 2017 palms. The Paschal Candle is lighted from the New Fire, as is the incense. The presider sings, “The Light of Christ,” and the Sisters reply, “Thanks be to God.”


We then process into the chapel, where we light our individual candles from the Paschal Candle. Imagine the once-dark chapel filled first with the light of many candles and next with joyous voices singing the Exultet (Easter Proclamation).

We then pray a series of readings that finish with the Gloria, during which every once-silenced bell is rung again. Alleluia!

At the end of this glorious Vigil and Mass, we gather for a social hour with refreshments and conversation – the first since Thursday. 

Easter morning will bring another lovely Mass, followed by a special brunch and festive evening meal.

To be called to a lifestyle where we immerse ourselves in Jesus’ life and passion, in community, is great joy for us.

Don’t wait to learn more about who we are and how we live! Contact Sister Stefanie at (309) 283-2300 or smacdonald@smmsisters.org!

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