Sunday, 10 April 2011 15:53

Triduum is church’s sacred ‘Three Days’

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During Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday (April 17), Lent ends and the Easter triduum — a single three-day celebration of the Paschal mystery — begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. Here’s a short explanation of what happens at your parish, and at Catholic parishes all over, during this most sacred time.

Holy Thursday (April 21) commemorates the day of the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharist and established the sacrament of ordination for the priesthood. During Mass, which is celebrated in the evening, the chrism and holy oils, used for baptism, confirmation and the anointing of the sick are brought forward. Additionally, this Mass includes the simple rite of washing of the feet. The Eucharist is celebrated and following the prayer after Communion, the Blessed Sacrament is transferred to a place of reposition and the main altar is stripped bare.

Good Friday (April 22) is the most somber day of the church year. It is a day of fasting and abstinence and many Catholics visit their parish churches to pray the Stations of the Cross. Additionally, it is the only day of the year in which Mass is not celebrated, and it will not be celebrated again until the Easter Vigil.

The solemn liturgy this day is called the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. Moreover, the liturgical color, red, represents the suffering and death of Jesus. The readings on Good Friday are from the book of the Prophet Isaiah and from the Letter to the Hebrews. At the Gospel, we hear John’s proclamation of Our Lord’s Passion. The second part of the liturgy is the veneration of the cross, which is followed by a Communion service.

Holy Saturday (April 23) is a day of solemn waiting, commemorating the day Christ was in the tomb. This is a particularly good time to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. The Easter Vigil takes place at night. After night has fallen, the vigil begins with a “service of light.” Some of the faithful gather around a fire to light the Easter candle. The priest, who is dressed in white vestments, lights the symbolic candle and the incense. Then, he and other participants process toward the church.

Saturday’s Liturgy of the Word contains between three and seven readings from the Old Testament. The story of the Hebrews deliverance from slavery in Egypt is always included. Each reading is followed by a psalm and prayer. Following the readings, the altar candles are lighted, illuminating a church that is decorated in honor of the risen Lord. The opening prayer for the vigil is recited, followed by New Testament readings from the Romans and from Matthew.

The Easter Vigil is the time when the most new Catholics are received into our faith communities. Those who are being baptized are presented and assembled around the baptismal font, where they profess their faith and receive the sacrament. Following the baptism, the faithful renew their own baptismal vows. The priest sprinkles the assembly with holy water and the newly baptized and newly received are confirmed. Then, the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins.

With the Easter Day Mass on April 24 the faithful celebrates the resurrection and the triumph of the Lord. The readings this day are from the Acts of the Apostles, the Colossians and the Gospel from John, all focusing on Jesus, his ministry and his resurrection. After the homily, the faithful renew their baptismal promises.

On Easter Sunday, the triduum is concluded liturgically with Evening Prayer in the late afternoon or early evening. That’s when the Easter Season — the 50 days from Easter Sunday until Pentecost — begins.