The Sacred Triduum
Introduction. The Church offers us an abundance
of liturgical richness as we celebrate the climax of the history
of salvation. If the liturgies are not cluttered and not
rushed, the rich symbols of these days will speak. It is
important that these days be kept in proper focus. So a
brief historical background of the Triduum will be helpful.
was originally an evening vigil of watchfulness, a celebration
of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord. Over a period
of time this vigil was extended to include the preparatory days
of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Eventually the fast of
Easter became more and more filled with a sense of Christian
initiation which included a greater awareness of the need for
the Church to renew itself. This was emphasized through
the admission of new members. In this development we can
find the unifying principle which will provide us with
the necessary Focus.
origins of the Triduum as a single celebration of the
Lord's Death and R3esurrection clearly suggests a unity in these
three days. The days are not meant to be looked at in
isolation from each other. Unfortunately most Christians
still see these days in which specific moments in the life of
Jesus are historically re-presented. This most definitely
is not the sense of these celebrations. They focus on
one celebration of the Resurrected Christ, alive and present
to us today. We must not think of journeying with Jesus
through each of the days of his suffering, dying and rising.
We celebrate the one event over a number of days only because of
the richness of the event, thus helping us to feast on the
various facets of the one mystery.
small communities find it helpful to prepare for the Triduum by
celebrating the Jewish Passover (Seder) to better understand our
Jewish roots. It is again important to note that the
Jewish Passover does not only look to events of long ago but
sees meaning and God's presence no active in the lives of the
Jewish community. You will note, as well, that the
observance of this celebration centers around a call and an
election, reminding the Jews and reminding us today that we have
very specific obligations because of our covenantal relationship
recital of the Haggadah which begins with the "Ha Lakhma Anya"
(The Bread of Affliction) is a symbol of the poverty and a call
to minister to the poor and hungry of the world today. The
Seder Meal not only thinks of the past but stresses God's action
and presence within the actuality of oppression today. The
theme of exile and return is strikingly present in the singing
of "Let My People Go" - not just from Egypt, not just from
Babylonia, but from anything and everything which prevents the
living our of our convenantal relationship with God, the
Messianic hope expressed in the Cup of Elijah.
as the early Church learned from the Passover experience of
their Jewish roots to see that what had happened to Jesus had
meaning for them, so we too must understand the same active and
present God with us in Jesus during these our holy days.
HOLY THURSDAY: Opening of the Paschal Feast
Keeping in mind our liturgical principle, i.e. not as an attempt
to celebrate an historical event, the liturgy of Holy Thursday
is not a re-presentation of the Last Supper, nor does it focus
on the institution of the Eucharist. Rather the Gospel and
the liturgical action focus on the washing of the feet.
Despite the emphasis in the past, this feast is not a
celebration of the unity of the ordained priesthood. That
is the purpose of the Chrism Mass celebrated in all the
cathedrals of the world, with the bishop gathered with his
priests in consecrating the holy oils and celebrating community
to experience our passing over from death to life as a Church.
Here we are met by the glorified Christ who feeds us in Word and
Eucharist, thus strengthening us and enabling us to live out the
further implications of our communion, our covenant with Him.
Like Jesus, we are called to put aside our "outer selves", to
accept his humility by stooping down to wash the feet of those
in our midst. In other words, our Eucharist is validated
only in our loving service to others. To guard us from a
purely ritualistic interpretation of the meaning of the Lord's
command to celebrate Eucharist, John narrates the washing of the
feet as an event with the same meaning as the breaking of the
bread. After each of these actions Jesus exhorts his
followers "Do this in memory of me... I have you an example so
that you may do what I have done."
GOOD FRIDAY: The Paschal Fast
history of this day gives us a clue how to approach Good Friday.
The origin of this day is traced back to Jerusalem and the
veneration of the relic of the true cross. This act of
veneration stressed the cross as a symbol of victory.
Note it is not the veneration of a crucifix, which would narrow
it down to the historical moment of Jesus' suffering and death.
Rather the cross is a sign that we celebrate Easter even on Good
Friday. The suffering of Jesus on Good Friday already
speaks of his glorification on Easter.
not accidental that the Passion according to John is always read
on this day. This account shows Jesus always in charge, in
total command of his situation. John's Passion is an
extended commentary on an earlier statement of Jesus found in
John 10:17-18: "I lay down my life that I may take it up
again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my
own accord." The focus of the liturgy of Good Friday,
therefore, is not primarily a meditation on Jesus' pain, nor on
our sinfulness, nor on our imitation of Jesus' humility.
Rather the focus is to remind us that we are beneficiaries of
this event, and so we call the Friday "Good" by praising God for
what God has done for us in Jesus. The final words of
Jesus from the cross say it all for us, "Is is accomplished!"
Jesus in not overcome. On the contrary! He has
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council
declares: "Let the Paschal Fast be kept sacred. It
should be observed everywhere on Good Friday and, where
possible, on Holy Saturday, so that the joys of the Sunday of
the Resurrection may be visited on uplifted and responsive
spirits" (n 110). We have become so accustomed to concern
with the juridical aspects of the fast that we have lost the
essential meaning of the Paschal Fast. It must no be
understood as penitential discipline but rather as a joyful
exercise for the preparation of "uplifted and responsive
spirits". In other words, through fasting things not
ordinarily available can be attained. This becomes
evident, for example, in the fasts of Moses, Daniel, Elijah,
John the Baptist and Jesus himself.
observing the Paschal Fast we look forward to the eschatological
fast. We are not doing penance or engaging in public
mourning. We are clearing space in our lives for what
matters most. Through the experience of physical hunger we
are plunged into a greater awareness of ourselves and our world,
and we are again confronted with our own feebleness and utter
dependence on God. By the Paschal Fast we are preparing
ourselves for the self-revelation of God in his Son, the Risen
One. Without the Paschal Fast it simply will not be the
same Paschal Feast.
Unfortunately, for most Christians the Paschal Fast is not
extended through to the end of the Vigil. To break the
fast before the Vigil is to lessen the experience of preparation
for the day of the Lord. These is a time in everyone's
life when we turn from food because we are so filled with
something else. The Paschal Fast is feeling so filled with
God that nothing else counts. In this sense, fasting is
not an act of sorrow but leads to joy. It is not an act of
penance but a waiting for God, a seeking of his presence, a
readiness for his revelation, a revelation of the deepest love
we can ever know.
EASTER VIGIL: Signs of Life from Death
Recalling again the unifying principle of the Tr8iduum, the
Easter Liturgy is not the re-enactment of an historical event,
nor a memorial service recalling something that happened to
Jesus after his death and burial. On the surface, the
Vigil appears to be a complex ceremony, filled with all sorts of
detail. Yet the basics become evident when we take time
and quiet for reflection. What we have come to do this
night is to share in the Passover of Jesus. If we can keep
this basic unity we will not need to think it necessary to
explain all the readings and the ceremonies.
basic symbols of life from death are Light, Word. Bath
The Ester celebration must not begin before nightfall and it
must end before daybreak. Why? Because each of us
must experience for ourselves the gentle power of light and its
transforming effect upon our darkness. Only after we've
dwelt in our own darkness can we truly welcome the light.
Otherwise the light of the Risen Christ is only a matter of
historical interest. And so in the darkness of night we
begin: "May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel
the darkness of our minds and hearts."
The reading of the BIgil, in a subtle but marvelous unity,
reveal a pattern of divine activity and human response which
leads to the Easter experience. Throughout these stories,
prophecies and meditations, the same pattern emerges: God
simply desires to give us all good things - life, light, peace,
harmony, deliverance, liberation, lengh of days. This
blessed state is our if only we remain obedient to God.
Sooner or later this obedience will lead us into death - death
to our own selfishness, to our own pursuits of happiness, a
death to will leave us utterly forsaken. But this is not
the end. Paul and Luke show us the Living One who is no
longer among the dead. And this is our destiny too:
deliverance into life through obedience in death.
Through our own baptism and our experience as Christians we
share intimately the Exodus Story of deliverance from slavery to
freedom. With Jesus we have passed through suffering and
death, leaving sin and death behind. When we do no
celebrate the ritual act of baptism during the Vigil Liturgy, we
are nonetheless reminded of our own baptism in which we have
died and been brought to liberation and victory over sin and
death. We do this by recognizing our own nothingness and
sinfulness before Him who is the only source of being and of
purity. We renounce our self-sufficiency and sin, thus
consenting to be saved and loved by Love, so powerfully
manifested in the dying of Jesus.
The central theme of the Paschal Feast is the Lord giving
himself for our salvation. The meal is a sacrifice, a
prophetic gesture with which the Lord, in obedience to his
Father and for the love of us all, commits himself unto death.
Like the other three signs of life from death, the meal is a
sacramental act whereby we are united in the death of the Lord
until he comes. The sacrificial aspect of the meal is a
clear reflection of the Exodus story of the eating of the
paschal lamb whose blood saves the people of Israel from the
angel of death. Here we celebrate the Blood of the New and
Everlasting Covenant in perfect communion with Jesus and with
the Faster, fulfilling entirely the promise: "I will be
their God and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33; Rev. 21:3).
Paschal Triduum is a single three-day Christian Passover Feast,
beginning after sunset on Thursday and concluding with the
Easter Eucharist at the end of the Great Vigil. The great
feast of the Christian Pasch is no simple commemoration of the
Lord's death and resurrection but a great celebration of our own
salvation through our engagement in the event of that death and
resurrection. It celebrates the very foundation of our
existence before God and in God. That is why the liturgy
of the Triduum claims our full lives for these three days.
All else should be set aside so that we might come to terms
again with the basics of life, with first and last things, with
what alone really counts in the end: our relationship with
God and with one another in Christ.