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Triduum: The Great Three Days

Triduum: The Great Three Days
Excerpt from "Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary," Raphael, 1517 (Public Domain)

As the passion and resurrection of Christ is the culmination of the gospel accounts, so the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Vigil of Easter are the culmination of the church year.

The services on Maundy Thursday have at least four emphases:

  1. Concluding Lent as a time of repentance: we begin the service with confession and the opportunity for individual absolution. We end what we started on Ash Wednesday with what was absent then: a clear and personal statement of the gospel: “In obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.”
  2. The second emphasis is Jesus’ gift of himself in the bread and cup and his commanding this as the way to remember him, the crucified and risen one.
  3. The third emphasis is the New Commandment (mandatum) that we love one another as he has loved us. It is from that commandment that this day receives its title.
  4. Finally, there is the foreshadowing of Good Friday with the stripping of the altar and leaving in silence at the end of the service.

When we return on Good Friday at Noon and at 7 PM it is to hear the passion according to John, sing the traditional hymns associated with the crucifixion, and to offer prayers for people in all conditions of life. The services focus on the contemplation and adoration of the cross, a means of death become the means of life and salvation.

On Saturday evening we will gather outside for the most ancient liturgy the Church has–the Vigil of Easter, the original celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It begins in the darkness of Good Friday with the striking of a new fire from which the paschal candle is lighted. We will process into the darkened church carrying this light of Christ. A song will be sung that proclaims the wonder of Christ and his resurrection, then we will read from the Old Testament to remember God’s prior actions to save his people; that our faith is rooted in the faith of Israel. We will renew our baptismal vows as sign of the way the hope of the resurrection comes into our lives. Then we will celebrate the resurrection with the Lord’s Supper.

In this way we are prepared for the continuing celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday and every Sunday afterward.