Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Easter Triduum


Today begins an important time in my religion...The Triduum. The term Triduum means three days. 
The three days are counted as the Hebrews counted their days, from dusk to dusk. Therefore, the three days of the Easter Triduum are from dusk on Holy Thursday to dusk on Good Friday (day one), dusk on Good Friday to dusk on Holy Saturday (day two), and dusk on Holy Saturday to dusk on Easter Sunday (day three). Each of those days "tells" a different part of the story of Jesus' saving action. On Holy Thursday we remember the Last Supper. Jesus gives us the Eucharist and tells us to "Do this in memory of me." He then washes the feet of the apostles. On Good Friday we remember the passion and death of Jesus. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ either at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night when new members are baptized and welcomed into our Catholic community or on Easter Sunday morning.
We look at the Easter Triduum as one single celebration that lasts for three days. We cannot separate the death of Jesus from his resurrection. We do not spend all of the three days in church, but at various times during those days, we are called to church to gather and remember together. When we are not in church, we are asked to keep the spirit of those days even in our homes, if possible. Those days are not days of "business as usual."

Many people are under the impression that Lent ends with Easter Sunday, but Lent really ends at dusk on Holy Thursday. Our forty-day preparation for celebrating a good Easter is complete on Thursday; our time is up. All regular masses in a parish are suspended to allow for only one mass, the mass of the Last Supper held always on Thursday evening. There are no daytime masses held anywhere in the Catholic world, only the evening mass which begins the Triduum celebration.

Because the procession of Holy Thursday is the procession for a three-day celebration, it is larger and more encompassing than the procession of a regular Sunday mass. One part of the procession exclusive to Holy Thursday is the procession of the holy oils. The oils used in the parish throughout the year are received at the Chrism Mass, a special mass held once a year at the cathedral and presided over by the bishop. All the oil used in the entire diocese is blessed and presented to each parish at that time.

The sacred Scripture which we hear this night reminds us of the first Passover meal of the Israelites as they prepare for their journey out of slavery in Egypt. We then hear of the institution of the Eucharist by Christ and his admonition of "Do this, in remembrance of me." And then we have the wonderful example of the service to which we all are called when Jesus, who is Lord and master, takes a basin of water and a towel and washes the feet of his apostles ending with the words, "What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do." Christ saves us from the slavery of sin, the Eucharist nourishes and strengthens us so that we can serve our brothers and sisters. In order to reinforce this important teaching of Jesus, the presider of the mass washes the feet of members of the parish family.

The mass continues; we receive the Eucharist and the final blessing. The Blessed Sacrament is then taken to the chapel to rest there; the sanctuary is cleared, and we are invited to stay and vigil with the Blessed Sacrament until midnight, if we so desire. There is no procession to end this mass because the celebration does not end. The prayer continues in our homes until we are called together again on Good Friday to remember the next part of the story of our salvation.

Something which has always set Good Friday apart is that it is a day of fast and abstinence. Because we are asked to fast on Good Friday, we often think of this day as part of Lent. But remember that Lent ended at dusk on Thursday. The fast of Good Friday is not the Lenten fast of discipline and repentance. It is the excited, nervous fasting of anticipation. We might all have experienced this type of fast before a wedding (a happy time) or before a wake or funeral (a sad time). At these times food is not important to us. On Friday we remember that something monumental happened. We remember that someone died so that we might live - not just someone, but God.

We begin the service in silence with no procession. There is no need to process. This service does not stand alone; it is a continuation of what began on Holy Thursday. The priest kneels or more often prostrates himself as a sign of utter humility before God. During the Liturgy of the Word, the Passion of Christ is proclaimed. We listen and remember how Jesus suffered and died for our sins. After the Passion we are reminded that there are many people in the world who need our prayers, and so in our role as priestly people we pray a more lengthy and elaborate form of the General Intercessions.

Then a cross, the symbol of our salvation, is brought forward for us to venerate. The veneration of the cross is a practice unique to Good Friday. It is our opportunity to humble ourselves before the awesome saving action of Christ. We approach the cross and acknowledge its power in a number of ways. We can genuflect before the cross, kiss it, kneel before it, touch it with our hand, or stand before it and say a short prayer. The method we choose to show our respect is our own choice. After veneration we participate in a simple reception of the Eucharist and then leave church again in silence to continue our prayer and fasting at home and to return on Saturday evening for the Easter Vigil.

The Easter Triduum begins with the mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday; it reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, celebrated on Saturday night. This celebration is a long one; we have a lot to do this evening. We proclaim with fire and song that Christ is risen. We listen to the Scripture stories of God's interaction with humankind from creation through to the resurrection.

We baptize those desiring to be Catholic and confirm and give Eucharist to those seeking full membership in the Catholic Church. Then we are strengthened with the spiritual food of Christ's body and blood.

Because we have a lot to do this evening, we need time to do it well. Some people think of the celebration of the Easter Vigil as just another mass, but one that is longer than a Sunday mass. This is not true. There are things we do at the Easter Vigil that we do at no other time in the church year. The most significant of these is the welcoming of new members into our Church and our parish. They have been studying and learning about what it means to be Catholic for a year, and now it is time for them to become one of us. We hear more of Holy Scripture proclaimed on this night because our salvation history is a long story dating back to the creation of the world. We build a large fire outside to remind us that Jesus is our light in the darkness, and after lighting the new Easter candle from this first fire, we process it into the darkened church and hear of Christ's resurrection. We need time to do all of these things well.
A vigil is a watch kept for an extended period of time. In our daily lives we might keep vigil as we wait by the telephone or in a hospital waiting room for news. We cannot rush a vigil; it must take as long as it takes. The same is true of the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. As masses go, it is considerably longer than a Sunday mass. As vigils go, it is relatively short.

So this is the focus of our week as Catholics.  It is a holy, serene time for me.  As a member of the Hand Bell Choir...I will participate in all the services.  To be there and experience is inexplicable.

@some of the information in this post is quoted from Nativity Catholic Church

I hope you all have a wonderful Easter filled with many blessing and the love of family and Christ.

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