THE PASCHAL TRIDUUM – ONE FEAST OVER THREE DAYS

Some will think of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday as three separate and distinct feasts.  Perhaps you have thought of them that way.  The truth is that what has come to be thought of as three feasts, in reality comprise one feast that continues over three days.  The Paschal Triduum (the word means three days) does not have three distinct liturgies.  Rather we enter one Liturgical journey during those three days that comprise the most important celebration of our faith in the Church’s Year.  It saddens me to think that so many have never allowed themselves to enter into the experience.

I remember a letter I received some years ago from a senior woman parishioner.  She had been a life-long Catholic and had always practiced her faith.  Only illness had ever kept her from Sunday Mass.  She told me that that year, because of something I had said, she had made the complete Triduum for the first time.  In prior years she had been content to celebrate Easter Sunday.  True, occasionally she had attended Holy Thursday, but rarely Good Friday, and never the Holy Saturday Vigil.  She wrote lamenting that fact because this year the Triduum had proved a moment of faith that she would never forget.  She wrote on Wednesday of Easter Week and said that already she found herself looking forward to next year’s Triduum.  She said that she even liked to use the word, Triduum now that she knew what it meant.  Witnessing the adult emersion Baptisms filled her with awe.  She had never seen the like.  So rich was the moment she found herself wishing she could be baptized again the way these neophytes had been.

We are a very busy people.  So who can be expected to devote three days to a religious observance?  It’s true that each part usually lasts over an hour.  Rumors about the length of the Vigil abound even with many pastors reducing the number of readings to three.  As pastor, I always incorporated all seven readings, with seven different lectors, in the dark, the only light coming from the Easter Candle and candles that had been lit from the Easter Candle, held by the Assembly.  So, some would say, the combined length is too much to ask of anybody.  Or, is it?

Think back remembering the Lent we just completed.  What were we doing through those six weeks?  The Church encouraged us to fast, to pray, and to give alms.  Why?  We are better for each practice, and giving ourselves over to all three can renew and transform us and have an impact not only on our faith lives, but also on our relationship with the entire Church, and therefore with Jesus Christ.  Certainly Pope Francis’s messages through this Lent would support that concept, as he prays for a poorer Church serving the needs of the poor; and for a more obviously servant Church.

Experiencing hunger, we recognize an emptiness that only Christ can fill.  Sitting in and being enveloped by silence, we can find ourselves open to the God who longs for us to let him be our God just as God longs for us to be God’s people.  Giving ourselves in service and sharing our wealth, we can come to identify with those in need and see Christ in them.  Perhaps, in the process we can come to understand why Lent is a penitential season.  If we do penance, we turn away from whatever separates us from the love of God in order to give ourselves more completely to God.  Having completed the forty-day journey with Jesus in the desert, do we now experience a holy longing to give ourselves to the Triduum, a need to be there with the Church of which we are parts, and celebrate the core mysteries of our faith?  The Church doesn’t make the Triduum obligatory, as in holy days of obligation.  The urgency to join in the celebration should come from within, just as the urge to celebrate Sunday Eucharist does.

So we come together in the worship space on Holy Thursday evening.  Two things we should notice as we enter.  Lent is over and gone is the purple of that season.  White vestments and hangings are the order and flowers may adorn the space.  Second, as you pass the reservation chapel, you will notice that the tabernacle is open and empty.  There should be no reserved consecrated Bread.

The Assembly of sisters and brothers gathers in the evening just as Jesus did with his disciples on the night before he died.  We gather and we listen to the Word proclaimed reminding us that we are involved in Passover as we remember that Jesus is our Passover Lamb of Sacrifice.  Paul instructs us that when we gather we renew what Jesus did when during that night he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them, inviting them to eat his body.  And he invited them to drink from the cup of his blood.  We are to continue to do that each Lord’s Day until Christ comes again in glory.

You might expect that the Gospel proclaimed would be about the institution of the Eucharist, too.  In stead, we hear John’s Last Supper narrative about Jesus the foot washer.  (People still remember those whose feet Pope Francis washed last Holy Thursday.  Some were scandalized by what he did.)  The fact is, the reading is a complement to the Institution Narrative.  We are challenged to live what we hear.  Jesus speaks to us here and now.  When he finished washing their feet, Jesus said to them: What I have done for your, so you should do for one another.  If we share in the meal we must realize that the result will be our being sent to do what Jesus did, not only to wash feet, but also to minister to our sisters and brothers within and outside the community.  Tonight you might be invited to be a foot washer.  Or, you might be invited to have your feet washed.  In either role, chances are you will feel uncomfortable.  Either role is humbling.  But don’t miss the important symbol that is being proclaimed.  This ritual of feet washing is what the Church ought to be about – always.  We are a servant Church.  We are not about splendor and aggrandizement.  It shouldn’t be only the pope who is called to be the servant of the servants of God.  So also should we be.  Is that why the new pope signs his name simply: Francisco?  No pp. in front.  Just his name, pure and simple.  I say, Wow!

After the feet washing is completed, we move on to the celebration of the Eucharist, giving thanks to God for the life we live in Christ.  We receive Christ’s Body and Blood.  We are one with Christ and one with each other in Christ as Church.

The Liturgy of Holy Thursday has no conclusion or dismissal.  Instead, the Communion Bread will be processed to the reservation chapel.  We will be invited to stay, to watch and to pray as we await the next segment of our Triduum celebration – Good Friday.

It is clear that the Liturgy of Good Friday is a continuation of and not separate from the Liturgy of Holy Thursday.  There is no entrance rite.  Instead, once we have reassembled in the worship space we pause for a moment of silent reflection to ponder the solemnity of this night of the Lord’s Passion and to pray that we will be open to entering into the Liturgy of the Word.  We hear the Prophet Isaiah’s Suffering Servant who seemed in the view of the foolish, to be punished by God.  In reality, the Servant is God’s beloved.  Then the Writer of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus learned obedience through his suffering.  The implication is obvious; so will we through ours.  We can approach our Great High Priest with confidence because Christ is our perfect representative and intercessor before God.  Because Christ, in spite of his struggles and temptations to the contrary, embraced his suffering and death, he has become the source of eternal salvation for all.  The result is that we can live in hope regardless of how dire the circumstances surrounding us might be.  The prize, if you will, has been won for us.

If you are able, stand for the proclamation of John’s account of Christ’s Passion.  If the proclaimer is accomplished, resist the temptation to follow along with a printed text.  Let the words wash over you and catch you up in the wonder of what is unfolding.  Notice that in John’s account, Jesus remains Lord, with full knowledge He carries the cross to Calvary.  Notice that he mounts the cross as a king would his throne.  Christ reigns from the Cross and pours himself out to the shedding of the last drops of blood and water from his side.  It is finished.  With those words, Jesus proclaims that he has accomplished all that the Father gave him to do.  And he breathes forth his spirit in peace.

The Gospel passage concludes with the body of Jesus being wrapped in burial cloths, similar to the swaddling clothes he had worn as an infant when he lay in the manger.  The body is laid in the tomb in which no other person had ever been buried.  It is finished.  Yes, but the beginning is not long away.

Following the proclamation of the Passion we will gather around the altar, this time not to celebrate Eucharist, but to pray for the renewal of the whole world and all its inhabitants that the original order planned by God at the beginning of time might be restored and all might come to know God’s love and peace.  I hope the prayers won’t be rushed or that you will become impatient.  There is much to ponder as sectors of society are put before us and as intercessory prayer is offered for them.  Lord knows, and so should we, there is much to pray about in these times, many signs of the ongoing Passion of Christ being lived in those who suffer.  Remember, too, the intercessor is Christ in, with, and through whom we pray.

A short Communion Service concludes this part of the Liturgy.  In former times, Good Friday was the one day Eucharist was not celebrated and Communion not offered.  We fasted on Good Friday even from the Lord’s Body and Blood.  In some ways, I wish it were that way still.  We should experience emptiness at this point in the Liturgy and a holy longing for Christ to come and fill it.  Certainly it would place all our other needs in perspective and our wealth, too.

The Easter Vigil is THE celebration of Easter.  Sunday will be the First Sunday of Easter, continuing what began in the celebration of the Vigil.  It is meant to be celebrated in the night and can be timed to end at dawn’s first light.  Monasteries can do it that way.  Only a few parishes will be able to.  But the symbolism is rich and powerful as it begins in darkness.  Fire symbolically consumes all that was as the old order passes away.  And out of the fire comes the spark that lights the Easter Candle, the principal symbol of the Risen Christ.  It is that Light that will scatter the darkness.  I pray your fire will be of sufficient size to merit the name fire.  A can of flickering Sterno leaves much to be desired.

As the burning Candle is carried into the dark church, Christ, our Light is proclaimed.  The Assembly responds: Thanks be to God.  Three times the dialog is exchanged and flickering candles lit from the one Candle announce the spread of the faith in the Risen One.  The Exultet is sung, calling on all of creation and all women and men to rejoice in what is happening this night.

By the Light of the Candle, lectors will proclaim the various readings that in reality make up a recap of Salvation’s history.  We begin with the Creation narrative and conclude with the Resurrection narrative and the empty tomb.  Many places will eliminate several readings.  It that is the case where you celebrate, I hope you will take the time to read the missing selections for yourself.  You deserve the whole story.

I have already taxed your patience here, so I will be brief with the remaining commentary.  Following the return of the Glory to God and the ringing of the bells and the singing of the Alleluia, in full light, the Gospel is proclaimed.  Then it is time for the Elect to be baptized.  They will be presented to the Assembly who in turn, in union with all the saints in the Litany will pray for the Elect as they journey to the Font.  The Assembly has prayed for the Elect all through the Lenten Season.  Now they pray as the Elect are initiated through the Waters of Baptism and are anointed with Chrism.  Then they are brought to the Table for their first participation in the Eucharist.  There may well be tears, but they will be tears of joy for the wonder that Christ is accomplishing in them through his dying and rising.

And the Easter Season begins.  May you be blessed and renewed in the faith we celebrate here.  And may you be a sign always of the presence of the Risen One as you imitate Christ in Service.

Happy Easter!

Sincerely,

Didymus

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