The Easter Triduum: celebrating our salvation story
As we enter these last three days of Holy Week — called the Easter Three Days, the Triduum — I wish you every grace and blessing! Let us enter into the Paschal Mystery through the lens of these sacred celebrations as observed in the Catholic Church.
Our celebrations of Holy Thursday begin in the evening twilight. As the sun sets, we go to a table set with oil, pitcher, bowl and towel, bread and wine. We are comforted by the acceptance of the holy oils for sacramental celebrations throughout the rest of the liturgical year and into the next. Oil to begin the journey toward Baptism by anointing with the Oil of Catechumens. Oil along life’s journey to sanctify in Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders by the anointing of Chrism. Oil to comfort in illness and the end of life by anointing with the Oil of the Sick. Behold the comforting hand of God in Christ to us in every stage of life!
Then we kneel to wash each other’s feet. Not as dirty as they once may have been in Jesus’ time, traveling the dusty roads of Palestine. But nonetheless the foundation of every person’s coming and going in life. We say to each other with this ritual, “you can count on me to be there to serve you, to care for you, to be there for you as we continue to move toward the eternal Easter.” We are reminded of Matthew 25: “When I was hungry, you gave me to eat…”
Finally, we come to the table set with Bread and Wine. Ready to become, we believe, His risen Body and Blood. The “Do this in remembrance of Me,” that we celebrate weekly. Jesus never wanted us to forget what He has done for us and in us. As St. Augustine once said, “We continue to receive His Body and Blood, until we are convinced that we are His Body and Blood in the world today.”
And just so we don’t forget, we process with His Presence to a place of repose so that we can, “Stay with Me, remain here with Me. Watch and pray!” We have looked through the first lens at the Paschal Mystery!
On Friday, we enter a stark church. No candles, no decorations, no distractions. We are in awe of the mystery of Jesus death. We begin in silence. All we can do in the face of the cross is prostrate or kneel in silence. Can this really be the way to salvation, we ask. After a simple prayer we begin to hear the Word. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the offering of self in love in Hebrews. The Jesus who in His person radiates so much dignity as a human being and as God that when He asks the question in the garden of Gethsemane, “Whom do you seek?” the questioners fall to the ground in His Presence. God has chosen to die and share in all human suffering and show us how to bring life out of that which is death dealing! Like Him, we intercede for the world’s needs.
Then we venerate the instrument of our salvation. A cross, the first century instrument of capital punishment! One parish I attended placed the cross on a beautiful red carpet. The cross rested on a pillow, with herbs of victory scattered about and incense. As each person needed to bend down to venerate the Cross, the verse from John came to mind, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains but a grain of wheat … .” In loving service reflective of last night, servers would raise the cross for those who could not kneel. Finally, again, we receive His Presence in the Bread consecrated the night before, strength to endure what sufferings may come our way. The second lens of the Paschal Mystery.
The Easter Vigil
Saturday morning and afternoon there is an unusual silence. We sit at the tomb in hope. We wait in trust for what God will do in the face of His death. Then after the sun has set, we strike a fire. Not just any fire — a bonfire, the ritual book says. Shattering the darkness! The first sign of this new revelation that God does in Christ. We light the Easter candle. We follow the Light into the church. We light our candles from Him. We share the light and we proclaim in song this new wonder that God has done.
We next break open the Word. Old and New Testament Scriptures recall the history of salvation. We sing and pray and keep Vigil. And then after six weeks of silence, we break forth in Alleluias as the Gospel of Resurrection is about to be proclaimed.
Then we go to the water. We welcome new brothers and sisters who are baptized into His Death and Resurrection. They are confirmed in His Spirit and will share the table with us. And then it’s our turn to recommit to discipleship. We renew our baptismal promises and are showered with the waters of life to remind us about our rebirth in Christ Jesus.
Once again we come to the table to participate in receiving His risen Body and Blood. This will nourish us to proclaim in word and deed the power of His Resurrection. The third lens of the Paschal Mystery.
Sunday morning we are still glowing in His Light and we continue our Alleluias! We celebrate the Eucharist again and we begin 50 days of joy as the Easter season unfolds. May we be transformed by the Paschal Triduum and may it strengthen our commitment to Him.
Jesus is risen! Alleluia! Happy Easter!