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‘Friday of Sorrows’ observed on Friday before Palm Sunday

The following story appeared in the March 24 Idaho Catholic Register.

By Father Jesús Camacho

Some of our parishioners ask for Mexican traditions that are not well known. Here is one of them.

Friday of Sorrows is the Friday before Palm Sunday and is considered in some regions the beginning of a longer than seven-day Holy Week.

Our Lady of Sorrows is the most universal title used for the Blessed Virgin Mary. The tradition of liturgically celebrating the Friday of Sorrows began in Germany. In 1727, Pope Benedict XIII propagated to the whole church that Sept. 15 would be the official date of this celebration. But, in Mexico, as well as other countries, it is still celebrated on the Friday before Good Friday.

As this feast day began to evolve in Mexico, the religious significance and the “grieving spirit” of this date began to take on its own identity with the focal point of the celebration taking place on altars at the etrance of homes. The altar is prepared with images that call to mind the events of Calvary. The altars are filled with candles or “fires.” The “fires” represent a popular artistic tradition that recall the immense pain the Blessed Virgin Mary experienced during the passion and death of her Son, Jesus.

Also included on the altars are flowers in colored paper that help to make this more of a joyful experience than a sorrowful one.

The altars are also adorned with sour oranges painted or covered with a gold color. The sour oranges signify the deep grief our Blessed Mother endured while witnessing the nailing of her Son on the Cross. The gold color exemplifies the joy the Virgin felt knowing her Son would rise on the third day.

There are also little colored flags placed in the oranges. These symbolize the peace and colorfulness that should exist between all of the nations of the world. Fresh lettuce is also placed on the home altar, symbolizing the fresh and tender heart of Mary. Flowers of many colors and cut-out purple paper signify the Blessed Virgin’s pain. More purple signifies greater pain.

In addition, fresh drinking water is placed on the altar for visitors. This is flavored water in many different colors. The water represents tears, the expression of shared pain. Also, added is “flowering wheat” planted 15 days before and kept in a dark place watered with warm water so that the yellow springs that result contrast the other colors. The wheat represents Jesus and Mary because they do not want us to suffer from hunger.

Generally, this altar is placed at the entrance of a home so that it is visible to visitors who see it and enjoy the beautiful fragrance of the herbs and flowers. When visitors come to the home, it is tradition to ask: Is this where our Blessed Mother cried? The question is answered by the host sharing a glass of flavored water with chia seeds to represent the tears of Mary.


Father Camacho is parochial vicar at St. Mary’s Parish in Boise.

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