The Three Days
What is the Triduum?
The Church is always clear that the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ is to be celebrated in its entirety. In other words, the Church does not stop at the passion of the Lord, dwelling only on the sufferings Christ endured while forgetting about the reason for the cross: resurrection, redemption and new life. On the other hand, there cannot be a focus only on the resurrection, forgetting the heavy price that was paid for humanity’s redemption. During the Triduum, the Church takes three days of intense prayer to celebrate the entire Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
The Triduum begins on Holy Thursday at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, continues on Good Friday with the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion and reaches its high point on Holy Saturday night with The Easter Vigil. The purpose of these celebrations is to make the Church present to the great mysteries of salvation found in the saving work of Jesus Christ.
The Triduum tells the story of what it means to be Christian. This cannot be done with haste. It takes time to tell how God created us, chose us and redeemed us through Christ. Telling the story of salvation takes more than just words, and at these special liturgies the Church makes use of additional rites to do so.
Holy Thursday: Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
The celebration of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday is so named because it takes place at night in commemoration of the first time this meal was celebrated by Jesus and the disciples.
In the early Church, this fast was continued through Holy Saturday until the celebration of the Easter Vigil.
The source and summit of the Catholic faith comes from the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus. The primary source of the Lord’s Supper is the Last Supper, the meal which Jesus celebrated with his disciples on the night before he died. The Last Supper was a distinctly Jewish meal which might have been a Passover celebration. In fact, the word "paschal" as used in the term "Paschal Mystery" means "Passover."
On the night of Holy Thursday, the Church remembers that it was ransomed from death like the Jews who were spared death in the time of Moses by putting the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. However, the blood that was shed for the world’s salvation was not from an animal but from Jesus himself. Eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ is a sign that God’s people are committed to the new and everlasting covenant which was sealed forever in the sacrifice of Christ.
Each year at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the same three readings are proclaimed.
The gospel for this Mass comes from the Bible’s latest account of the Last Supper which occurs in John 13:1-15. John’s gospel is unique because it includes the washing of the disciple’s feet by Jesus.
Before the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the altar, the new oils which were blessed by the bishop at the Chrism Mass may be placed in the ambry of the church. These are the
Holy Thursday ends with a solemn procession of the Eucharist at the end of which the body of Christ is reposed in a tabernacle. Often the church is left open for people to watch and wait with Christ for the story to continue as did his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Good Friday: The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord
The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion consists of three parts:
Each year on Good Friday the passion of Jesus is proclaimed from the gospel of John which is not like the other gospels because it is very triumphant. It is not the story of the abused suffering servant which is witnessed in Mark, but rather it is the story of a Jesus who is very much in control of the events going on around him. This is the Son of God who tells Pilate that he has no power over him and who cries out "It is finished" when he dies, indicating that all was done according to his plan. The Jesus of Good Friday is one who uses death to defeat death.
After the homily special intercessions are prayed for the world, for the Church and for those who do not know Christ. These prayers are believed to come from the very earliest days of the Church, and they are the source of the Prayer of the Faithful used at all of our Masses today.
Because of the solemn nature of Good Friday, the Church does not celebrate any sacraments this day, including the Eucharist. After the veneration of the cross, communion which is left from the Holy Thursday celebration is distributed to the assembly. There is no final blessing at the end of Good Friday because the liturgy is not really over; the story does not end on Calvary.
Holy Saturday: The Easter Vigil
The Easter Vigil occurs on the evening of Holy Saturday. It is the most powerful liturgical celebration of the entire church year. According to Church law, it must occur at night, starting about one hour after sunset.
Jesus’ death and resurrection brought about a new creation, and this is reflected at the Easter Vigil celebration which starts outside around a fire.
The readings used at the Easter Vigil are especially poignant. They trace the story of salvation history including the story of creation, Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac and Moses’ parting of the Red Sea. The story of God’s saving events is followed by Paul’s reflection on baptism (Romans 6:3-11) and culminates with one of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.
The baptismal font, which was emptied on Holy Thursday, is filled with water to be blessed this night. The water is another sign of the new creation which comes about when members of the Church are born through baptism. On this particular night, the assembly renews its baptismal promises and is sprinkled with the blessed water to be reminded that through baptism all are reborn in Christ.
Liturgy is concerned with entering deeply into the mysteries of God in order to know the Lord better.
When any non-baptized person of the age of reason (7-8 years old) or older wishes to join the Church, they are enrolled in the Order of Catechumens as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The period of the catechumenate may last for one or more years. It is a time of learning about the Church, but it is also a time of deepening conversion. It is a time to know the Lord better.
Once the catechumens are ready to be baptized, they enter an intense period of prayer and preparation during Lent.