Your essential guide to the Triduum

Tue, Mar 27th 2018 06:00 am
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The Easter Vigil at St. Joseph Cathedral in 2017. (WNYC File Photo)
The Easter Vigil at St. Joseph Cathedral in 2017. (WNYC File Photo)

The Triduum is the time of the Church year when we celebrate the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This three-day celebration begins with the Holy Thursday Mass and continues on Good Friday with the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion. At the end of this liturgy, we leave the church in silence, waiting to celebrate the glory of our Lord's resurrection. Then, on Saturday at sundown, the Church re-gathers to celebrate the final, and most grand moment of the Triduum: the Resurrection of our Lord.

The Triduum is somewhat like a three-day prayer marathon, and if you are a novice there may be some rituals that are unfamiliar to you. This guide will help you walk and pray through the liturgies of the Triduum.

Holy Thursday

The Mass on Holy Thursday is commonly known as the Feast of the Lord's Supper. This Mass is a time for Catholics to remember the Last Supper where Jesus and his apostles gathered to celebrate Passover. In the Holy Thursday celebration, two ritual actions stand out among the rest, the washing of the feet and the Eucharistic Procession.

At the Last Supper, Jesus took a basin and a towel, got down on his hands and knees and washed the feet of all of his apostles. After this action, he commanded the apostles, "I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do" (John 13:15). This is Jesus' commandment: Just as Jesus has been a servant to his apostles, so the apostles must go out into the world and be servants to everyone around them.

We are called to do the same in our daily lives. Well, we are not called literally to wash each other's feet (though sometimes that may be the case). The action of washing one another's feet reminds us of the call to humble servitude. Foot washing is not a re-enactment or re-creation of a past event, but rather, it is a commemorative action that reminds us that God calls us first and foremost to be servants to others in our daily lives.

At the very first Last Supper, Jesus also instituted the Eucharist for the Church. At this Holy Thursday celebration, we are reminded of who we are in Jesus Christ and that, through the sacrament of the Eucharist, we are and we become even more the Body of Christ together.

At the conclusion of the Holy Thursday celebration, there is no concluding prayer. Once the celebration of the Eucharist is completed, there is a Eucharistic Procession (where the Eucharist that is left from Communion is processed to a Chapel of Reservation). This procession to the Chapel of Reservation reminds us of Jesus' time in the garden of Gethsemane when he prayed so fervently through the night. The entire community is invited to join in this procession and then join in the silent prayer and adoration until night prayer is prayed and the Eucharist is put in the Tabernacle. The gathered community leaves in silence only to return in prayer the next day for the Good Friday celebration.

Good Friday: Liturgy of the Lord's Passion

In this solemn celebration, we remember the Passion and death of our Lord. The service is marked by several important rituals including the proclaiming of the Passion according to John, the veneration of the cross, an extended form of general intercessions, and finally, the distribution of Communion (reserved from the Holy Thursday celebration of the Eucharist).

It seems strange that in the Good Friday liturgy Catholics choose to venerate, or show reverence to, the very instrument that was used to crucify Jesus. The veneration of the cross reminds us that through this cross, the glory of the resurrection emerges. So, on Good Friday, we come forward to show our great reverence and respect for the Cross. People have various traditions when they approach the Cross. Sometimes they kiss the Cross, kneel before the Cross, or even just touch it in some fashion. As you participate in this ritual, venerate the Cross in whatever way feels most normal.

The General Intercessions

In this expanded form of General Intercessions, the presider and the deacon work together to pray 10 intercessions. These intercessions are the same intercessions the entire Church prays on Good Friday, and they include praying for the Holy Church, praying for the unity of all Christians, praying for the Jewish people, praying for people who do not believe in Christ or in God, praying for people in public office, and praying for people who are suffering or facing difficult times. These prayers recognize how universal our Church is and that we should be aware of all of the faiths and traditions in the world that are different from our own.

The Easter Vigil

The celebration of the Easter Vigil tells the whole story of our salvation — from creation to resurrection and beyond. Because of all the ritual moments, this service tends to be on the lengthy side. The Easter Vigil includes the lighting of the Easter fire and paschal candle, the singing of the Exsultet, the expanded Liturgy of the Word that traces time through salvation history, the Liturgy of Initiation (where new people come into the Church), and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. All these rituals come together for one purpose: to remember and recall the saving deeds of our God on our behalf. Here's an explanation of two moments from the celebration.

The Liturgy of the Word for the Easter Vigil is comprised of nine readings and seven responsorial psalms. The first reading begins with the story of Creation and then, each subsequent reading recounts the story of our faith lives through history. You'll hear the story of Issac and Abraham, the story of Moses and the Exodus, and more. All of these readings lead up to the singing of the Gloria when all the lights come on in the church, and then the final reading, the Resurrection of Christ, is proclaimed. Why so many readings? Again, like the singing of the Exsultet, the readings recount the many ways in which God has interceded on our behalf throughout history.

Easter Sunday

Throughout these three days, we experience the highs and lows in our faith, ending with the ultimate high — the new life of the resurrection. The Easter Season begins with the Easter Vigil, and we enter a time (50 days) when endless "Alleluias" will ring out throughout all of our liturgical celebrations. May you experience the joy of new life in your own way this Easter Season.  

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