Tomorrow marks the start of the three most important liturgical days in the Catholic Church – the climax to the Lenten season and the springboard into the Easter season.
Often referred to as the Easter Triduum (Latin for “Three Days”), Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday celebrate the central mysteries of our faith – the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Celebrated as one continuous liturgy, the Triduum takes us through Jesus’ saving events and gives us a deeper understanding of our redemption from sin and death to eternal life, said Father Chris Barak, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Seward.
“We look more closely with the special grace God gives us during these holy days at the effects of sin, and appreciate more and more the love God has for us that he would undergo terrible sufferings and death to save us from hell,” he said.
The Triduum begins at dusk on Holy Thursday with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and continues with Good Friday, when we gather to remember the Lord’s Passion and Death, and Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil Mass, the celebration of Jesus rising from the dead. It concludes with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday.
At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we celebrate the institution of both the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Jesus gave his followers his body, blood, soul and divinity, which renews the baptismal covenant bound between God and his people, Father Barak said. And the Eucharist expresses and enforces the unity between God and his people, he said.
Through the ceremony of the washing of the feet, which happens during Holy Thursday Mass, we reflect on Jesus’ call to serve others and to help people experience the love of God through our care and concern for others.
“With Jesus in them, the followers of the Lord are empowered to carry out the command of charity to wash the feet of others,” Father Barak said. “And Jesus initiates the sacrament of holy orders by ordaining the apostles as the first priests who will stand in his place and consecrate the Eucharist for future generations.”
After Holy Thursday Mass, we process with Jesus from the Upper Room to the Garden of Agony. Some people may spend time quietly with the Lord, comforting him in his agony to remain faithful through his sufferings to the Father’s will to redeem us, Father Barak said.
“This is a holy evening of gratitude to Jesus as we meditate on his arrest and his trial,” he said.
Good Friday is a special day when Mass is not celebrated. Throughout the day we meditate on Jesus dying and giving himself out of love to the Father, so the Father would forgive our sins and spare us from hell. During the celebration of the Passion of the Lord that evening, we read the Passion from John’s Gospel, venerate the cross, and receive the Eucharist.
On Holy Saturday we meditate on Jesus entering the dwelling of the dead to preach to all who had died before him, inviting them to choose to join him in heaven. That evening, the faithful gather for the Easter Vigil Mass during which the church welcomes new Catholics who have been preparing for months to receive the sacraments for the first time.
“The Easter Vigil helps us in the darkness of the night, symbolizing the darkness sin causes in our thinking, to focus on the Light of Jesus Christ the way to heaven, as symbolized in the flame of the Easter candle, which begins to dispel the darkness,” Father Barak said.
During the Mass, we hear the promises of a Messiah in the Old Testament readings, hear of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead to new life, and sing praises to God, he said.
“We renew our baptismal promises to reject Satan and to accept God the Holy Trinity and the Catholic Church,” Father Barak said. “And we conclude with the foretaste of heaven by partaking in the Eucharist, which is the wedding feast of the Lamb of God who laid down his life so that we might choose to live forever with him.”
Father Dan Andrews, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, said the best way to participate in the Easter Triduum is to attend Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday’s liturgy and the Easter Vigil Mass.
“We make time for what is important to us. What could be more important than the victory of perfect love over death?” he said.
The rites of the Triduum are powerful, Father Andrews said.
“All we have to do is show up and let them have their effect,” he said.
At home, Catholic families can enter into the Triduum by creating the right environment, he said. That could be turning off the television, minimizing or eliminating the use of electronics and observing the fast on Good Friday, he said.
Other suggestions for participating in the Easter Triduum include:
· Read the Mass readings at home in quiet meditation and discuss what God wants us to understand from them.
· Pray the Stations of the Cross.
· Visit churches on Holy Thursday evening to pray with Jesus in the Garden of Agony that’s displayed differently at each church.
· Go to church on Good Friday when the church is empty of the Eucharist, and sense the absence of Jesus and our need for him.
· Make a thorough examination of conscience to discover our sins and then confess them to a priest.
· Fast and abstain from meat not only on Good Friday, but also on Holy Saturday.
· Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, especially on Good Friday at 3 p.m., which is when Jesus breathed out his Spirit from the cross and died.
· Pray the rosary and meditate with Mary about the passion she felt in her heart along with Jesus’ Passion.
· Have some of the Easter food blessed by the priest on Holy Saturday at the church.
· Singing the “Stabat Mater” (“At the Cross Her Station Keeping”) on Good Friday and chant the “Regina Coeli” (“Queen of Heaven”) on Easter.