Holy Week has arrived, with it the end of Lent, and the beginning of the shortest season on the Liturgical Calendar, Triduum. This season begins at the Mass of The Lord’s Supper, reaches its pinnacle during the Easter Vigil, and ends with evening prayer on Easter Sunday. Though it lasts only three days, the Triduum is often called the highpoint of the Church’s year. In these three days, we celebrate and remember the passion, death, and resurrection of Our Lord; and with those events, the culmination of salvation history, the institution of the new covenant, and the establishment of the Church.
On Holy Thursday, we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist (the source and summit of our faith) at the Last Supper, when our Lord broke bread with His Apostles just before He was betrayed by Judas in Gethsemane. We also celebrate the institution of the priesthood, without which we would have no access to the Blessed Sacrament that Our Lord gave us. One thing that stands out to many people in this particular liturgical celebration is the Washing of The Feet. This act, called Mandatum, comes to us from John’s narrative of the Last Supper, and is an act of love and humility by Our Lord, which He then told His Disciples to emulate.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper ends with a Eucharistic procession, and a Eucharistic Host is reserved to be adored and prayed before throughout the night, just as Jesus asked His apostles to pray with Him during His agony. This Mass does not have a dismissal, as it is not the end of the liturgy, but continues into Easter vigil as one liturgical act.
On Good Friday we remember Our Lord’s passion and death. We will notice many differences inside our church, with the most notable usually being the stripped altar and bare cross that we venerate during the Liturgy of The Lord’s Passion. This liturgy is not a Mass, and the Eucharist we receive during communion was consecrated and reserved from the Mass on Thursday, because no masses are celebrated on Good Friday. While the liturgical color through Lent has been violet, the color of the priests’ vestments is red to represent the blood that Christ spilled for us and our salvation on this day.
(For more on Good Friday see these articles: https://nowthatimcatholic.com/2017/04/14/good-friday-meat/ and https://nowthatimcatholic.com/2018/03/30/the-seven-last-words-of-christ/ )
Holy Saturday is a day of waiting and expectation. We have now celebrated the institution of the Eucharist and priesthood, we’ve observed Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on the cross, and now we await His resurrection with joyful anticipation.
Today Christ’s body is laying in His tomb, but His spirit has descended to the dead to preach the Good news to the righteous dead that have been awaiting the Messiah, as we proclaim in the Apostles’ Creed.
One of the most noticeable changes to the liturgy on this day is the reintroduction of the Alleluia before the Gospel and the singing of the Gloria at the beginning of the Mass. Except for Holy Thursday and Laetare Sunday, we haven’t heard the Gloria sung since we started Lent.
Since Easter is the “feast of feasts”, and the ultimate solemnity of the Church year, Easter Vigil is the most important and Holy of all the vigils in the liturgical year. On this day, in parishes and cathedrals around the world, new members of our family of faith will be welcomed through baptism and confirmation. But, this day isn’t only for these new Catholics, because during the Easter vigil liturgy we are all asked to renew the very important promise that we made (or were made on our behalf) at our own baptisms. We renew our commitment to live in a covenantal relationship with our God and Savior.
None of the days that make up the Triduum are Holy days of obligation, but they are so beautiful and rich in meaning, that it adds so much to our spiritual life to be present and observe these special liturgies.