Inside the building of the churches celebrations become truly alive as they make an exception and take a different approach where colours, ornaments, flowers and an unusually a high dose of emotions take place. People's choice is for the Addolorata where they identify with her wounds their own miseries, pain, guilt and suffering. It's surely a crowd puller.
People throng to visit 'seven churches' on Maundy Thursday. Christians kneel, reflect and pray beside the tomb of Christ. Good Friday gives a sombre outlook where churches are deprived from the traditional ornamental style for a single day. Red resembling the Blood of Christ is splashed all over the place. The situation changes completely the next day in the evening. Celebrations start in pitch darkness. They are then illuminated by flickering candle lights. Finally there is an 'explosion' of light where churches are suddenly illuminated with candles, chandeliers, bulbs, floodlights etc. Bells toll happily as they break the night's normal silence in order to announce Christ's central event - resurrection, exactly when the singing of the 'Glorja' commences.
Faith can be witnessed outside the church's building especially at this time of the year. People who prefer acting in the streets rather than in closed theatres are in for a special treat where live processions and pageants are the order to the day. On Good Friday Malta is turned into Roman and Jewish pageantry. In the inner core of villages one comes near Pontius Pilate and Barabbas! Sometimes the procession has nearly the whole biblical story and hence may include Adam and Eve too. People do some odd penitence such as carrying heavy weights or walking barefoot! Some cover up their faces as they pay the price for a special grace they received.
If one likes food then there are very special and unique Maltese delicacies. The kwarezimal and the figollitop the list yet other food items are also present such as the Lent's ftajjar; Karamelli; hot cross buns and Pastarjali food are also present. Although in Lent the traditional Maltese fast, yet the street vendors are as busy as bees in keeping up with the heavy demand!
Recipes for such delicacies together with insight on how the Maltese people mark the holy week and celebrate Easter are gathered in this Special Feature. Use the links on the menu at the left of the page to navigate through the articles.
Holy Week in Malta
Preparations for these solemn festivities usually commence forty (40) days before Easter Sunday (Ħadd il-Għid), traditionally starting on Palm Sunday (Ħadd il-Palm), which in itself is the first day of penitential period following the end of the Carnival celebrations. This is a time for penance, and the older generation will recall that not so many years ago fasting (sawm) on a daily basis was obligatory. Rules in this respect have now been relaxed considerably, and obligatory fasting is now limited to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. There are also people that do not eat meat and sweets, every Wednesday and Friday through these 40 days.
Until recently, throughout the Lenten period, the interior of Maltese churches would be draped in purple, with statues and paintings covered in mourning crêpe.
Lenten sermons (eżerċizzji), meant to bring about reconciliation between man and his Creator, are held in all parishes in Malta and Gozo over a number of days, generally in the evenings. The traditional Way of the Cross is another very popular devotion during this period, with the faithful meditating at the fourteen Stations of the Cross (Via Sagra) relating various episodes of the Passion and Crucifixion of Our Lord.
A number of penitential pilgrimages are also held, and statues depicting scenes from the Passion are venerated in several churches. And some churches also dress in black damask.
Our Lady of Sorrows Day
The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (Id-Duluri) has a very special place in the hearts of thousands of Devotees. This feast is traditionally celebrated on the Friday before Good Friday, with the faithful walking in the procession behind penitential pilgrimages in practically every town and village. Traditionally, some of the penitents walk barefoot or drag heavy chains tied to their feet, in fulfilment of some vow for favours received through divine intercession. The most popular Our Lady of Sorrows procession, is that one that held in the church of Our Lady of Jesus, in Valletta.
From Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday
Holy Week (Il-Ġimgħa Mqaddsa) celebrations start on Palm Sunday (Ħadd il-Palm), commemorating Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. However, celebrations really take off on Maundy Thursday (Ħamis ix-Xirka), with the commemoration of the Last Supper (L-Aħħar Ċena). Traditionally, the faithful pay visits to seven Altars of Respose (Sappulkru), preferably in different churches. Several artistic examples of these Altars, beautifully decorated for the occasion, are to be found in a number of parishes in Malta and Gozo. But the most popular are the Altars of Repose that set in the churches of The Three Cities, Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea. On Maundy Thursday, in some localities also stop the working of the bell, and took the work of the bell the Ċuqqlajta, this is very popular in Żejtun.
Representations of the Last Supper table are put up in many towns and villages, and typically, the food used in these displays is distributed among the poor and needy of the parish.
Good Friday (Il-Ġimgħa l-Kbira) is a day of penance, and this is strictly observed through the veneration of the Cross (is-Salib) and through traditional Good Friday processions in different parishes. Statues representing various scenes from the Passion and Death of Christ, several of them veritable works of art by local artisans, are carried processionally. Figures dressed in Biblical Roman and Jewish attire also take part, as do the local bands playing funeral marches.
The Good Friday in Malta includes visits to seven tabernacles, or "Altars of Repose", in seven different churches. Sombre, and solemn religious processions and pageants are held in many towns and villages, with statues and costumed, local amateur actors representing scenes from the Passion of Christ. In some parts of Malta, these processions will include a number of penitents dressed in white robes and hoods, as an act of penance or in fulfilment of a vow. This is a unique, medieval tradition which still survives today.
The scene changes on Easter morning, and the triumphal Resurrection is traditionally celebrated with the statue of the Risen Christ (L-Irxoxt) generally being carried "on the trot" through the main streets to the applause of the crowds. Children too enjoy, thanks to gifts of Easter Eggs (Bajd ta' l-Għid) and traditional 'figolla, usually a pastry figure of a lamb or fish which carry with them and hold out to be blessed by the Risen Christ