The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the bedrock fact of our faith. It is the heart of the Good News about Jesus. The Easter triduum, which marks the end of Lent, begins at the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper and spans three days – Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
Although it spans three days, it is one event. The triduum is not really three liturgies, it is one long liturgy, with some rest breaks. One celebrates the three days not just by attending Holy Thursday’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper, or by attending Good Friday’s liturgy (which is not a Mass), or by simply going to the Easter Vigil liturgy. No, one celebrates the triduum by attending all three of those services. It’s all one liturgy!
Everything in the Old Testament flows toward these three days, and everything in the New Testament flows from them. They are the core matrix of all that is Christian. The Christian Bible comes from them – the Church, the sacraments, the Mass and the priesthood.
Let’s take a closer look at the Easter triduum liturgy:
During the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples in a powerful way, re-enacting even the washing of feet. Did you ever notice that Holy Thursday’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper does not really end? There’s no conclusion to it. Without a blessing and dismissal, we process the Blessed Sacrament to a chapel of repose and stay there in prayer and adoration, just as the apostles were asked to do in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The doors of the tabernacle in the church stand open, so everyone can see that it is empty. The sanctuary lamp is extinguished.
On Good Friday, there is no Mass anywhere in the universal Church. We can participate in a variety of services by which we remember Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. Churches offer the Stations of the Cross, the Liturgy of Good Friday and sometimes a Tenebrae service.
During the Good Friday liturgy, we listen to a dramatic reading of the Passion, venerate the cross with a touch or kiss and receive Communion from reserved consecrated hosts. Again, we depart in silence. If the parish has a Tenebrae “darkness” service, it is held at night. The seven last words of Jesus are spoken, with a candle extinguished at each one. It is a powerful and moving experience of the need for the light.
The most beautiful Mass of the entire year occurs on Holy Saturday night, at the Easter Vigil. The Mass begins after dark with the blessing of new fire, the lighting of the paschal candle and a candlelit procession into the darkened church. The Exultet, a history of salvation, is chanted and we listen to readings from the Old and New Testaments that reflect that history. There may be as many as nine readings, followed by the first singing of the Gloria since the beginning of Lent.
The Easter Vigil includes the baptism, confirmation and first Communion of catechumens who have been preparing for this day for months. We welcome them into our community and celebrate their presence among us.
Although the Easter Vigil can be quite long, it is truly worth spending the time – it is a rich experience of the resurrection of the Lord. And for the first time since Ash Wednesday, we sing Alleluia! Light has triumphed over darkness, God has brought life out of death and we are enabled to overcome evil with good. God is victorious over all that would tear us away from him.
The paschal mystery
These three great days are grounded in the paschal mystery. Our word “paschal” comes from the Jewish word Pesach, the “passing over,” or Passover. God is faithful to his covenant and, as Christians, we believe he has fulfilled his promises. Christ, the mystical lamb, joined us into himself and brings us with him in his triumph over death into eternal life. He now takes us back to our Father in heaven. Finally, having over these three days entered into Christ’s Passover, we are sent forth to bring its power into our world.
Water (baptism) and blood (the Eucharist) flowed from Christ’s pierced side when he was sacrificed on the altar of the cross. His life flows out into us now in his Church’s sacraments. God “passes over” our sins because we are justified in Christ’s merciful and sacrificial “Passover.” Truly, we are saved by the blood of the Lamb of God. For our Jewish brothers and sisters, the Passover is a celebration of freedom. In the Passover, God freed them from slavery, their bondage under Pharaoh, and brought them out of the desert to Mount Sinai.
Through Moses, he gave them, in the Ten Commandments, the freedom to do good – no longer held in the bondage of evil. He thereupon led them into the Promised Land. God is always faithful to his covenant. Christians believe he has fulfilled his promises in Christ’s coming – joining us all into Christ, overcoming death – and bringing us through him, with him and in him into eternal life.
The triduum is the core of the matrix of everything that is Christian. Every celebration of the Mass is a recapitulation of all that Christ accomplished in the paschal mystery, which is why we refer to it as the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
What do you do with the fronds you bring home from Palm Sunday Mass? Place them on a dresser or tuck them behind a crucifix, perhaps? This year, why not try something different, something more creative? Here’s a simple cross pattern that is fun for the whole family.
- Take a palm frond about one inch wide and 13 inches long. Hold it horizontally.
- Bend the right end straight up from the center to form a right angle.
- Fold this same top strip, from the center, back and down, up and over again, to form a square at the back. It will still be a right angle at this point.
- Bring the left strip forward and fold over the center toward the right. Fold away from you and thread through the square at the back, all the way.
- Bend the top strip forward and thread the end through the center square to make a shaft of desired length.
- Fold left strip backward and thread through the back square. This makes the left crossbar and should be in proportion to the shaft.
- Fold the right strip back to form the right crossbar and thread through the back square to secure. Cut a “V” into the base of the shaft for a dovetail effect, if desired. The finished cross should measure approximately 2 inches wide by 3 inches high. – Patricia Majher
Top 3 questions About the Resurrection
What is the significance of eating? In the shore-side meeting in Galilee, Jesus eats fish with his disciples. Jesus also eats with the disciples after he appears on the road to Emmaus, and at least one other time.
When the Word became flesh, people couldn’t believe he was God. Now that he is risen, it is tremendously important that people remember that he is human. His eating food is a way of affirming the Incarnation. The resurrection doesn’t mean that Jesus finally went back to being God again. He never ceased being God. And he never ceases being human.
Eating is a simple action – very ordinary. We who are witnesses to the risen Lord have to look for his presence in the ordinariness of our own lives.
Why does the risen Lord still bear the marks of the wounds? Life is a continuum. Resurrected life is not something completely separated from this life, For Christ, the wounds caused by the nails and the spear became emblems of victory. Our sufferings will continue to have meaning, too, for all eternity.
Why don’t we encounter the risen Lord more often? In one of the Gospels, the women come to the tomb and find an angel sitting there who asks them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
The same question might be addressed to us. Perhaps we don’t look for the risen Lord in the right places. We think that the less human we become, the more like God we become. That the more “celestial” we try to be, the closer to God we will get. We do more looking than doing. Perhaps we don’t look with faith. God is in the small moments, the ordinary moments and actions of everyday life – if we but just look with faith and recognize.