The Triduum: Three Days that Define Us
by Roisin Spitzig
Do you attend Mass on Holy Thursday? What about the Good Friday Service? How about the most sacred of celebrations for Catholics – the Easter Vigil? I have heard many people say that the celebrations on these three days are too long, or there are too many readings, or how difficult it is to attend church three days running. These three holy days, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Vigil on Holy Saturday, are longer celebrations with many elements included in them. The Triduum, as these days are known, is however, the days that define who we are as Catholics and Christians!
As I was reading about the Triduum, I discovered many interesting pieces of information, some that I knew and many that I did not know! I thought I would share some of my discoveries with you. For instance: The word Triduum comes from the Latin roots meaning ‘three days’: ‘tri’ meaning three and ‘dies’ meaning days. Although the celebrations are spread over three days it is, essentially, one continuous liturgy that begins with Mass on Holy Thursday and ends with the Vigil on Holy Saturday. If one looks at the liturgy of Holy Thursday, you will notice that there is no ‘ending’ to this Mass – there is no final blessing or dismissal. Instead, we are invited to remain and “watch and wait with Jesus” before the Blessed Sacrament. Good Friday’s Service has no ‘opening’ or ‘closing’ but contains the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross and the receiving of Holy Communion, consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass. Then we move into the holiest celebration of all: the Easter Vigil. We are invited, through the Triduum, to enter into quietness and prayer throughout the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus!
There are only two Masses which may be offered on Holy Thursday: the Chrism Mass and the Mass of the Last Supper. A priest may only celebrate one Mass on this day and this is why Holy Thursday’s Mass is celebrated with the whole community in one location. The Chrism Mass is celebrated in the Diocese of Calgary at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary. During this Mass the Bishop consecrates the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick, and the Oil of Chrism which only the Bishop can bless. The priests of our Diocese are invited to be at the Chrism Mass where they renew their commitment to serving God’s people, and their unity with the Bishop. The Sacred Oils are then sent back to each parish where they will be processed into the church as part of the Easter Vigil liturgy. These oils are used throughout the year for baptisms, confirmation, and anointing the sick and those who are dying. The Chrism Mass in our Diocese will be celebrated Monday, April 14 at 7:30 P.M. at St. Mary’s Cathedral and all are invited to attend!
As part of the Holy Thursday liturgy we experience the powerful symbolism of the Washing of the Feet. This, for me, really emphasizes the love and commitment that Jesus has for us, his children. That He would do such a menial service for His disciples reminds me that I, too, must strive to serve the people of God. Fr. Kevin and Fr. Nathan will wash the feet of twelve people chosen from the parish during the Liturgy. I have been told by those who have had their feet washed that it is a humbling and holy experience to have your parish priest wash your feet. The liturgy also stresses the “institution of the Eucharist”, the precious Gift that Jesus gave to us of His Body and Blood which has defined us as Catholic people, and the “institution of the priesthood” where Jesus called those who would receive the mandate to shepherd His flock, including bringing the Eucharist to His people. At this liturgy we are also called to watch and pray with Jesus in the Adoration of the Blessed Eucharist, just as the disciples were charged by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Can we not watch for just one hour?
The Good Friday Liturgy helps us to focus on the great sacrifice that Jesus made for us – his dying for the redemption of His people past, present and future! We are invited to remain in quiet prayer, watching and waiting for His Resurrection. Good Friday is also one of only two days of mandatory fasting and abstinence in our Liturgical year, the other being Ash Wednesday. Many people try to also observe abstinence from meat on the Fridays during Lent. During the Good Friday service, we are invited to venerate the Cross, to make a conscious effort to focus ourselves on the meaning of Jesus’ death in our lives. I find the act of veneration of the Cross to be a humbling and sacred moment as it is hard to overlook Jesus’ sacrifice as I face the Cross and acknowledge His gift! As well, in this Liturgy, we pray specially for our world and its many needs becoming united with the Church around the world who is doing the same. There is a sense of unity that takes place for me in knowing that many Catholics and Christians are united on this day to remember what Jesus did for us and how much He loves us!
The Easter Vigil, the highest point of our Liturgical year, is held on the evening of Holy Saturday. Again, we celebrate this liturgy once, as one people united in God’s love. This is meant to be a celebration which takes place at night, when it is dark, to emphasize that we are keeping vigil for the coming Resurrection! The darkness also emphasizes the beautiful symbolism in the lighting of the new fire and the passing of the flame from person to person, signaling the Light of Christ moving among us and lighting our lives. In this we are called to take the Light of Christ to the world. There is a rhythm to the Vigil Liturgy which is both comforting and exhilarating. The readings and psalms walk us through our history, each building on the last until the Gospel which proclaims that Jesus has truly risen! The welcoming of our brothers and sisters into the Catholic faith is a beautiful symbol of the endurance of our faith and the hope for our future. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is triumphant on this night for Jesus has truly risen and given us the gifts of His love and joy, His very Self!
As you can see, there are many elements of the Triduum which call us and remind us of who we are as Catholics and Christians. The Triduum is the telling of our story, a reminder of what Jesus has done for us and given to us. We are called to enter into the Triduum whole-heartedly. Can we make time in our busy schedules to spend with Jesus this Easter, to watch, wait and pray?
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