Liturgical Year
Part 3 Easter

Chapter y33 The Sacred Triduum

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Spirituality of the Season

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

 

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Bibliography

 

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Spirituality of the Season

[Reprinted from: Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Spirituality of the Seasons: Triduum: How Much Love," St. Anthony Messenger, 102:11 (April, 1995) p 56.]

"Father, do I have to go to Mass on Good Friday?" "Father, is Good Friday a Holy Day of Obligation?" This time of year, the phones in countless rectories across the United States ring with these questions. And I, for one, don't know how to answer! "No" is surely not the right answer.

I know that there is no celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday, and you couldn't go to Mass if you wanted to -- but this is not what the question is really asking. Furthermore, I know the list of "Holy Days of Obligation" given in Canon 1246 of the Code of Canon Law and I know that you won't find Good Friday on the list -- but I don't think that is what the person really wants to know. I think that what the person is really asking is "How important is it for Catholics to go to Church on Good Friday?" And the answer to that question is: "It is really important! It is more important than going to Church on Holy Days of Obligation!"

The fact that there is an obligation to celebrate the Eucharist on a particular day does not, in itself, indicate that the day is more important than other days. A list of obligations is different from a list of what is most important. For example, parents might tell a son or daughter "Be home by midnight. Don't get into a car if the driver has been drinking. And I don't want you drinking beer or smoking marijuana." While the parents might well intend these rules to be strictly observed, these obligations do not, in themselves, state what the parents consider most important, for example, "We love you very much and do not want you to get hurt." The obligation "don't drink beer or smoke marijuana" doesn't mean that it is O.K. to drink vodka or use cocaine! A list of obligations is different from a list of what is most important. And when the Church spells out which days and feasts are most important, at the head of the list is "The Easter Triduum." (General Roman Calendar, "Table of Liturgical Days according to their Order of Precedence", 1)

You'd think that if the Easter triduum were so important you'd at least be able to find the word "triduum" in a dictionary! Triduum is a new word for many Catholics. A triduum is a three day period; it is derived from the Latin word for three, tres -- just as novena comes from the Latin for nine, and octave, comes from the Latin for eight.

The fact that Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are not "Holy Days of Obligation" does not mean that they are not important or that we do not need to make an effort to attend the solemn liturgies on these days. The very opposite is true: "The Easter triduum of the passion and resurrection of Christ is the culmination of the entire liturgical year. Thus the solemnity of Easter has the same kind of preeminence in the liturgical year that Sunday has in the week." (General Roman Calendar, 18) These are the most important liturgies of the Church year and each of us should place our participation in these celebrations among our most important religious practices and obligations.

Sunday is the original and oldest Christian feast. But it wasn't long before the Sunday which fell closest to the Jewish Passover began to be celebrated with special solemnity. This "Christian Passover" became what we now call Easter. There was some debate over exactly which Sunday would be Easter, but the Council of Nicea (325 C.E.) determined that Easter would be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

The Easter Vigil -- the celebration of Christ's passage from death to life -- became the community's special time to celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism, the Christian's passage from death to life in Christ. As the rites and celebrations surrounding these mysteries grew and developed, one day was not enough time to experience the mystery in all its richness, and the celebration was extended to three days and became a triduum. St. Augustine (d.430) speaks of the triduum of Christ crucified, buried, and risen; in his day the triduum was Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. The day before Good Friday was the day for the reconciliation of penitents, so that the reconciled sinners would also be able to join the catechumens and the faithful at the Easter Eucharistic.

About 650 C.E. an evening liturgy of the Lord's Supper became a part of the Holy Thursday celebration in Rome. The triduum was extended to embrace not only Friday but the eve before Friday. The three days -- reckoning a day to extend from sunset to sunset -- began sunset Thursday and ended at sunset Easter Sunday. Today, "the Easter triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday." (General Roman Calendar, 19)

"Beginning with the Easter Triduum as its source of light, the new age of the Resurrection fills the whole liturgical year with its brilliance." (CCC 1168) "Therefore Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the 'feast of feasts,' the 'Solemnity of solemnities,' just as the Eucharist is the 'Sacrament of sacraments' (the Great Sacrament). St. Athanasius calls Easter 'the Great Sunday' and the Eastern Churches call Holy Week 'the Great Week.' 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)

As the liturgies of the triduum are our greatest liturgical celebrations, we would expect to find our churches packed with worshipers on these days. We do not merely sit at home and recall these great events of the past, we participate in the solemn liturgies and thus enter into the mysteries so that they are not merely past events but present realities. We are seated at the Last Supper with the apostles; we are there at the foot of the cross; we rejoice at the empty tomb! A treasured part of our Catholic belief has always insisted on real presence. Our Eucharist is not simple remembering the past.

It takes a special kind of attention and alertness to enter into these mysteries. The Church recommends that we prepare for the Resurrection by fasting. The Council directed "let the paschal fast be kept sacred. Let it be observed everywhere on Good Friday and, where possible, prolonged throughout Holy Saturday, as a way of coming to the joys of the Sunday of the resurrection with uplifted and welcoming hearts." (CSL 110) This fasting is different from dieting; it is not to loose weight but to gain insight--a vision into the mysteries present to us. This fast is not primarily a way to join our suffering with the suffering of Jesus on the cross. It is a fast of awareness. It is the opposite of that heavy, bloated, tired feeling we get when we eat too much and want to go to bed and take a nap. This two day fast creates a hunger that can be satisfied only by the best of foods: our Easter Eucharist -- which we eat and drink together with those who join our Eucharistic table for the very first time.

That fast and that food can clear our minds to see into the heart of the matter. Our urgent and multiple questions ("Why did my baby die?" "Why did my marriage fail?" Why did my son end up in prison rather than in college?" "Why does my daughter stay with her abusive husband?") fade into one question and we simply ask, "Jesus, how much do you love me?" And he mounts the cross, extends his arms as far as they will go and answers, "This much."

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To Think About

 

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/06/13 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org