The Season of Lent prepares us for the celebration of the Triduum. Lent ends on Holy Thursday. The Triduum begins on Holy Thursday and ends with Vespers of Easter Sunday. This time is called “the triduum of the crucified, buried and risen When Lent ends on Holy Thursday we enter into the “great fast.”
The word “Triduum” refers to the 3 days. The Church teaches that “The Celebration of the Triduum is the Culmination of the entire liturgical year.” These days are so holy that they are not named as holy days of obligation [except Easter Sunday] because why would we even consider NOT being at these celebrations.
If you look at the Old and New Testaments the number 3 has great significance. Noah had 3 sons. The 3 visitors appeared to Abraham. Darkness fell over Egypt for 3 days. Jonah spent 3 days in the belly of the fish. After 3 days Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple. At the Transfiguration 3 apostles accompany Jesus and Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. Jesus died on the cross and was raised up after 3 days. And of course we believe in 3 persons and 1 God. Thus, in salvation history marvelous events surround the number 3.
The 3 main liturgies during the Triduum are: The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
[Holy Thursday], The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord [Good Friday], and the
Easter Vigil. These 3 principal liturgies are celebrated as ONE GRAND LITURGY.
This is why the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper begins with the usual Introductory
Rites of the Mass, but has no concluding rites. The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion
flows from the liturgy of Holy Thursday. Thus it has no Introductory Rites and no
Concluding Rites. We simply begin in silence and with a prayer. The Good Friday
liturgy leads us directly into the celebration of the Easter Vigil which does not have
any Introductory Rites but begins with the Blessing of the Fire and Preparation of
the Candle. 3 days – 1 grand liturgy.
Each day of the Triduum celebrates the fullness of the Paschal Mystery [death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are NOT doing historical re-enactment during these
liturgies. Thus the Church teaches that the scriptural readings are not to be done as
dramatic plays, but as proclamations of the living Word of God.
Every religion has their “high holy days.” The Triduum fulfills this for Catholic
Christians. Let us all try to “keep holy” these three days of one grand liturgical
Holy Thursday: The Eucharist Reveals God’s Love for Us
On Holy Thursday we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The mysteries celebrated at this liturgy are:” the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ’s command of brotherly love.” For this reason we participate in ritual actions and prayers that we do not normally experience throughout the year.
The tabernacle is empty before Mass begins. Everyone receives communion from hosts consecrated at this Mass. Enough hosts will also be consecrated for the Good Friday liturgy since Mass is NOT celebrated on Good Friday. For this reason the Chapel is prepared for the reservation of the Eucharist at the conclusion of this liturgy.
The opening prayer of this liturgy beautifully describes the meaning of this Mass. It is through the Eucharist that the Lord reveals his love for us. At the same time this liturgy shows us what it means to be a “Eucharistic” people. Through the washing of the feet we see that we are to be a people of charity and service. During the collection, when we give to the needs of the Church and the poor, we are reminded that where true charity is found, God is indeed present. In the reception of the Holy Oils we recall what it means to be an anointed people of God. And finally in the procession for communion we realize that just as we are nourished on the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ so, too, are we commissioned to go out and nourish others.
At the end of this liturgy we process into the chapel for adoration. Here we have the opportunity to ponder the question that The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper gives us: “Where do you find the fullness of love and life in your life?
Good Friday “Reshape us in the likeness of Christ”
In accord with ancient tradition the Eucharist is not celebrated on this day. The Church recommends that we begin this day with Morning Prayer followed by the major liturgical celebration of Good Friday: The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion.
Keep in mind that each day of the Triduum celebrates the Paschal Mystery [death and resurrection of Jesus Christ]. On Good Friday we focus on the Cross, the symbol of Christ’s victory over death.
The liturgy begins in silence with no Introductory Rites because it flows from the liturgy of the evening before. The opening prayer reveals the focus of this liturgy: “Reshape us in the likeness of Christ that we may bear the stamp of his heavenly glory.”
The liturgy has 3 focal points: the proclamation of the Lord’s Passion, the Solemn Intercessions, and The Adoration of the Holy Cross. The Solemn Intercessions conclude the Liturgy of the Word. In this celebration there are 10 intercessions. We pray for everyone. Why? Because the symbol of the Cross reveals that Jesus Christ came to save all people. Jesus Christ hung on the cross for the salvation of the whole world.
The symbol of the Cross is highlighted in The Adoration of the Holy Cross when each person is invited forward to venerate the cross by a touch, a kiss, a bow or some other reverent gesture. The emphasis is on the Cross [not a crucifix] because the Cross symbolizes both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: the fullness of the Paschal Mystery. As we venerate the Cross we must at the same time ask ourselves “How can I be reshaped into the likeness of Christ?” “How do I live for others and not just for self?”
The liturgy concludes with the reception of communion consecrated at Mass the evening before. Nourished again with the Body of Christ we are fortified with the strength we need to live for others just as Jesus Christ gave up his life for us.
The Easter Vigil: “O Blessed Night When Heaven is Wedded to Earth”
As Holy Saturday begins the Church prepares for the celebration of the The Easter Vigil that evening. It is recommended that all the faithful begin this day with Morning Prayer. The Church abstains strictly from the celebration of the Mass during the day and Holy Communion may only be given in the form of Viaticum. The celebration of marriages is forbidden, as also the celebration of other sacraments, except those of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick.
The Easter Vigil is considered by the Church to be the “mother of all holy vigils.” It is a vigil in the true sense of the word. It may NOT begin before nightfall and it should end before daybreak. This is way the Catholic Church does not have a ritual Mass at Dawn.
On this most sacred night we actually “make” Church in the true sense of the word. For at this liturgy the unbaptized who have been preparing for the Easter sacraments receive baptism, confirmation, and first communion.
The liturgy has 4 parts which have great significance. It begins with the Blessing of the Fire and the Preparation of the Candle. The Church directs that these symbols “be performed in all their fullness and nobility.” The fire should be so large that its flames genuinely dispel the darkness and light up the night. The paschal candle should be of a size that it evokes the true that Christ is the light of the world. We enter the Church in darkness guided by the paschal candle alone just like the children of Israel were guided at night by the pillar of fire.
In the singing of the Easter Proclamation [Exsultet] we discover the meaning of this magnificent liturgy. This is the night that when Israel’s children passed through the Red Sea. This is the night when the pillar of fire banished sin. This is the night when Christ broke the chains of death. This is the night when wickedness is dispelled and innocence is restored. This is the night when heaven is wedded to earth. How can we not participate in these realities?
The second part begins with the Liturgy of the Word. The readings during the Liturgy of the word give us an account of the history of salvation made present once again in our midst. The Gloria is sung once again after a long absence during Lent and the bells are rung.
The third part of the Easter Vigil is the baptismal liturgy. During this part of the liturgy the Elect are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and receive confirmation. The faithful renew their baptismal promises and are sprinkled with holy water to remind them of their baptism.
The celebration of the Eucharist forms the fourth part of the Easter Vigil and is the high point of the Mass. The newly baptized and confirmed join the Eucharistic assembly in receiving communion for the first time.