The Easter Triduum: Entering into the Paschal Mystery

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “the various aspects of the one Paschal mystery unfold”(CCC 1171). The Easter Triduum holds a special place in the liturgical year because it marks the culmination of the yearly celebration in proclaiming the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Latin word triduum refers to a period of three days and has long been used to describe various three-day observances that prepared for a feast day through liturgy, prayer, and fasting. But it is most often used to describe the three days prior to the great feast of Easter: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil.

Just as Sunday is the high point of the week, Easter is the high point of the year. The meaning of the great feast is revealed and anticipated throughout the Triduum, which brings the people of God into contact — through liturgy, symbol, and sacrament — with the central events of the life of Christ: the Last Supper, His trial and crucifixion, His time in the tomb, and His Resurrection from the dead. In this way, “the mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subjected to him” (CCC 1169). During these three days of contemplation and anticipation the liturgies emphasize the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross, and the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, by which the faithful enter into the life-giving Passion of Christ and grow in hope of eternal life in Him.

Holy Thursday | The Lord’s Supper

The Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, which commemorates when the Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper by Jesus. The traditional English name for this day, “Maundy Thursday”, comes from the Latin phrase Mandatum novum — “a new command” (or mandate) — which comes from Christ’s words: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13:34). The Gospel reading for the liturgy is from the first part of the same chapter and depicts Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, an act of servitude (commonly done by slaves or servants in ancient cultures) and great humility.

These realities are further anticipated in Jesus’ remark about the approaching betrayal by Judas: “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.” The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is brought out in the Old Testament reading, from Exodus 12, which recounts the first Passover and God’s command for the people of Israel, enslaved in Egypt, to kill a perfect lamb, eat it, and then spread its blood over the door as a sign of fidelity to the one, true God. Likewise, the reading from Paul’s epistle to the Christians in Corinth (1 Cor 11) repeats the words given by the Son of God to His apostles at the Last Supper: “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Thus, in this memorial of Jesus’ last meal with His disciples, the faithful are reminded of the everlasting value of that meal, the gift of the priesthood, the grave dangers of turning away from God, the necessity of the approaching Cross, and the abiding love that the Lord has for His people.

Good Friday | Veneration of the Cross and Burial service of our Lord Jesus Christ

This is the first full day of the Easter Triduum, a day commemorating the Passion, Cross, and death of Jesus Christ, and therefore a day of strict fasting. The liturgy is profoundly austere, perhaps the most simple and stark liturgy of the entire year. The liturgy of the Lord’s Passion consists of three parts: the liturgy of the Word, the veneration of the Cross.

The simple, direct form of the Good Friday liturgy and readings brings the faithful face to face with the cross, the great scandal and paradox of Christianity. The cross is solemnly venerated after intercessory prayers are offered for the world and for all people.

Holy Saturday and Easter Vigil | The Mother of All Vigils

The ancient Church celebrated Holy Saturday with strict fasting in preparation of the celebration of Easter. After sundown the Christians would hold an all-night vigil, which concluded with baptism and Eucharist at the break of dawn. The same idea (if not the identical timeline) is found in the Easter Vigil today, which is the high point of the Easter Triduum and is filled with an abundance of readings, symbols, ceremony, and sacraments.

The Easter Vigil, the Church states, ranks “the mother of all vigils”. Being a vigil — a time of anticipation and preparation — it takes place at night, starting after nightfall and finishing before daybreak on Easter, thus beginning and ending in darkness. It consists of four general parts: the Service of Light, the Liturgy of the Word, Christian Initiation, and Liturgy of the Eucharist.

In the darkness of the church, lit only by candles, we Armenians sing together the song of light and glory Aysor Hariyav:

The Immortal and the Heavenly King today is resurrected from the dead: unto you good tidings. Oh Bride from the earth: The Church; oh Zion, praise your God with a joyful voice. Today the Wondrous Light, enlightened your children from the Light; be illuminated, Oh Jerusalem…Today the darkness of ignorance was dispersed by the Triple Light; unto you rose the Light of the Knowledge – the Risen Christ…

We Armenians sing  during the Paschal season, “Christ is risen from the dead; by death He conquered death, and to those in the graves, He granted life!.”



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