The summit of the liturgical year is the Easter Triduum. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day, unfolding for us the unity of Christ's Paschal Mystery.” (usccb.org) These three days are:
> Sundown Holy Thursday to sundown Good Friday;
> Sundown Good Friday to sundown Holy Saturday;
> Sundown Holy Saturday to sundown Easter Sunday.
They are one beautiful, unified celebration of the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a very short span of time we pray this mystery of who Jesus Christ is for us; we initiate new members into this life; and we, the already baptized, contemplate, renew and recommit to our part in the ongoing life of Christ on earth. These are not religious ceremonies that church leadership performs on our behalf. This time set apart is for the entire faith community to be immersed in the purpose and meaning of their baptismal call, that they might be stirred to new strength and conviction.
Let’s take a brief look at the main symbolic actions of these three days of prayer together.
Our Holy Thursday Entrance Antiphon says, “We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.” (Galatians 6:14)
Holy Thursday, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, is the only Mass in the parish that day. It sets the stage with the “mandatum” or mandate of Christ “to do as I have done.” The Gospel proclaimed on this evening of the Lord’s Supper is the story of Christ washing the feet of the disciples. That is our instruction. We are called to serve others. We participate in the ritual action of the washing of the feet, more fully embodying our commitment.
Please note that the Roman Missal No. 10 regarding the Washing of the Feet has been altered by Pope Francis (2015) since its 2010 publication. It should now read: Those who are chosen from among the people of God are led by ministers to seats prepared in a suitable place” (rather than, “The men who have been chosen”).
There is no formal ending to this time of prayer. After sharing in communion, we process the reserved sacrament to the Altar of Repose. Participants are invited to remain in prayer there for however long they choose. The spirit of the prayer never ends. It continues the next day with:
> The proclamation of the Passion Gospel of St. John;
> The Adoration of the Cross;
> Simple communion service, sharing in the reserved sacrament.
We are still glorying in the cross of Christ, praying our way to resurrection. Other personal devotional prayer choices are often offered in parishes throughout this day. The spirit of the day is quiet, reverent contemplation. There is no formal ending to our prayer.
The Paschal fast begins on Good Friday. This fast does not have the same character as the Lenten fast. It is more joyful, as when we are immersed in a project we love. Our focus overpowers our need to eat. Our hunger is satiated by our joy.
“It is to be celebrated everywhere on the Friday of the Lord’s Passion and, where appropriate, prolonged through Holy Saturday as a way of coming, with spirit uplifted, to the joys of the Lord’s Resurrection.” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy No. 110)
Our triduum prayer through Holy Saturday. At the Easter Vigil that night, we build a fire outside the church building from which we light the new Paschal Candle. This candle is for us the light of Christ, which we follow in the dark into the church. Our own candles are lit, and the deacon or cantor bursts into song: the Exultet. We listen to the stories of God’s work with humanity through the ages. The Epistle reminds us we are “living for God in Christ Jesus.”
Our Gospel proclaims: “Christ is risen.” All those who seek to join us in “living for God in Christ Jesus” are initiated into our community through baptism. Together with them, we share in the one body of Christ. The Paschal Fast ends with the sharing of communion.
The Triduum continues through into Easter Sunday Masses, with Evening Prayer as the official closing prayer of the three days. Some parishes gather for Easter Sunday Evening Prayer, but it is difficult when so many community members are celebrating as a family at that point. Another way, though, to help celebrate the conclusion of the Triduum is by offering take-home resources to pray Evening Prayer at home alone or with others.