JJUUKO MATHIAS: The Easter Triduum

The Easter Triduum or Holy Triduum, is the period of three days that begins with the liturgy on the evening of Thursday, reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday.

File Photo: Sem. Jjuuko Mathias

First and foremost, we as Christians gather by the season of Easter Triduum to celebrate the essential mystery of our Christian faith. We have been preparing for this season with the 40 days of fasting, prayer, repentance and alms giving. We encounter Jesus’ triumph over death which was marked by his resurrection from the dead. “Triduum” is a Latin word which means “three;” and thus, Easter Triduum is a period of three days of prayer in which, we remember and participate in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Factually, Easter Triduum marks the end of lent and begins the three day celebration of Jesus Christ’s passion commencing on the evening of Holy Thursday and ends on the evening of Easter Sunday. As Catholics, it is important to note that Easter Triduum is liturgically one celebration and a pivotal liturgical time for our faith as the Church and all believers at large. 

Inquisitively, why is Easter Triduum a period of three days yet they actually cover calendar days with different names; that is, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Vigil? In fact, the Church counts a day in the same way as the Jewish faith counts days and festivals, that is, from sundown to sundown instead of midnight to midnight. Therefore, this period commences at twilight on Holy Thursday with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, continues with the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and concludes with the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, which includes the Easter Vigil. With sureness, let us look at these days that make up the period of Easter Triduum. 

Holy Thursday marks the beginning of the Church’s liturgical celebration of the Triduum. We celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which includes the washing of feet. In other words, while the apostles were at table, Jesus took a bowl of water and a towel. He went around and washed the feet of each of his disciples. What does the washing of the apostles’ feet signify? Keenly, this is a sign to us, as it was to Jesus’ disciples that night, of the service we are called to live.  Jesus’ action teaches us that no one is greater than the other. 

Christ gave his apostles a command after he washed their feet saying: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). This command also cuts across to us those who actually believe and accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. Are we truly upholding the command of love Jesus Christ directed? For other people to know that you are chosen in God’s own predilection, we ought to have love for one another.

Still, during Holy Thursday, we celebrate the Last Supper which is a meal of unison, love and collective life. At the Last Super, Jesus instituted the Eucharist for the Church which is a sacrament of sacraments. At the Last Supper, we receive the gift of the Holy Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We enter into the deep meaning of the holy priesthood. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist; we participate again in the death and resurrection of Jesus and commit ourselves to be His disciples. In the evening of Holy Thursday, we are all then invited to spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, keeping watch with Jesus as we prepare for Good Friday. This time is so fundamental as it is mysterious as an echo for those who love and accept Jesus as their Lord and Master.

Then is Good Friday, on this day we come face to face with the cost of sin. Jesus, who had no sin, had to carry the burden of our sins and obediently suffer death. Good Friday has been kept as a day of lament, a day of self-denial, and fasting but not revels. This is not because we don’t know the ecstatic end of the story, but it’s a time for us believers to contemplate on the cost of that bliss. We celebrate the Lord’s Passion and remember His suffering and death for our sins. It is that time we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary as believers.

Good Friday represents both sadness and gladness. The day becomes sad because Jesus suffered, nailed to the cross and died. We encounter gladness on this day as well, when we know that Jesus died out of love for us. He gave up his life for us sinners who at times don’t even comprehend the importance of the sacrifice Jesus made. It is truly imperative if we stay at Jesus’ side as we commemorate his suffering and painful death for the sake of all humanity. Jesus never gave up on us, who are we to give up on him? Can’t we be like Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene who walked with Jesus on that path of suffering never losing sight? 

Traditionally, on Great Friday, the church offers the General Intercessions which we pray as the entire Church to God for humanity, the universe and the different needs of the world. This depicts the universality of the Church and the need for God’s intervention in our lives as we become aware of our own faith.  Consequently, the second part of the liturgy is the Veneration of the Cross. This was first practiced by the early Christians in Jerusalem on Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. Centuries later, this practice was adapted in Rome and other cities. We venerate the cross as the instrument of our salvation; for the cross bore our Sacred Victim. In so doing, we also adore Christ for his saving work. 

Briefly, let us look at the Cross and what it indicates to us Christians. Recalling the crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross, we come into contact with the redeeming benefits of his passion and death. The Cross, on which Jesus hangs, is a manifestation of our salvation. Jesus on the Cross became the ultimate sacrifice for sin of all time. It is the cross that reminds us of God’s love through how and why he died on the cross. Looking at the personal experience of Jesus on the cross, it flummoxes me to wonder how an innocent man can accept death for the sake of others. Reflecting on the fury Jesus faced from those who crucified him, the injustice, misperception of him, torture, physical pain, the hunger and shame which he accepted; but at the end of the day, Jesus forgives them right there on the cross. St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “The Cross is the school of love.” Who are we not to ask for forgiveness or even forgive others? Our salvation is injected in us by love, with love and for love.

Fortunately, the high point of the Easter Triduum is the Easter Vigil celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. At this time, we celebrate the feast of feasts. The Vigil includes the blessing of the Easter fire and the Paschal candle, the singing of the Easter Proclamation, the expanded Liturgy of the Word that traces our Salvation story, the Liturgy of Initiation in which people become new members of the Church and the celebration of the Eucharist. The paschal candle lit on the new fire and carried into the dim Church is a sign of Christ the light of the world who has overcome the darkness of sin and death. Jesus rose to give us life, for he is our life and light at all times.

After walking alongside Christ through the realms of gloom and torment as well as infidelity, the light of Easter brings an assurance of resurrection and redemption to the entire world. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with joy and thanksgiving as we do on every Sunday of the year. Him dying and rising from the dead, Jesus made it possible for each one of us to attain and own a place in heaven with the Father. Easter mood gives us the chance to rejoice and experience what it means when we say Christ is risen. The feast of resurrection is the most important and greatest feasts in the liturgical year.  The Christ, who died and was buried, is risen and it is time to rekindle our hearts and to awaken our memory of God’s presence for Jesus has brought salvation and a new life.

Christ’s paschal mystery represents two indispensable facts: our redemption and the perfect glory directed to God. St Ephrem of Edessa calls us to give glory to our God who raised up our cross to span of jaws of death like a bridge by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living; and to give glory to him who put on the body of a single mortal man and made it the source of life for every other mortal man. The road of suffering Jesus walked, few of us can really manage even a quarter. How many times do we complain when a little cross comes our way? 

When we participate in the action of Jesus’ passion as we take part in the way of the cross, we encounter the Son of God who was humbler yet, a servant of all and a lamb to be slain. He fell three times, he stood up three times for he never stayed on the ground in order that, he may fulfil the will of his father; and for the original sin to be washed away from the world by shedding his blood.

For those who really want to know the love of God, the Easter Triduum is the exact opportune moment for you to engulf that love. It is the time, we can best go into the spiritual desert and reflect unceasingly on how best to be like Christ. We read in the liturgy of the word on Good Friday that his disciples, his best friends, all denied him. For Simon Peter denied him three times before the cock crooked as it was predicted by Jesus. 

In this epoch of newness, we put Christ on the Cross each and every time but it is never too late to be like Simon Peter and other apostles who picked themselves back and forth, then turned back to God. The Christ, who resurrects on the Easter Vigil, calls us to rise with him so that he makes us new in our faith and in our lives. 

In addition to that, let me share with you the words of Deacon Keith Fournier in his writing about ‘The Sacred Triduum Which Invites Us To Be Transformed By Love’ on Catholic online (https://www.catholic.org) saying, “we enter into the moment that forever changed – and still changes – all human history, the great self-gift of the son of God who did for us what we could never do for ourselves by in the words of ancient exulted, “trampling on death by death.” This transformation brought by love through Jesus’ death is what we ought to experience and in return, strive to transmogrify other souls as Jesus did when he trampled over death by giving up his life for us.

In conclusion, these three days of prayer gather us together in a special way to remember the saving act of Jesus, the miracle of His Resurrection and we celebrate our faith and identity as Christians. During these days, the Church takes time to reflect and celebrate the Mystery that is the core of our Faith; that is, Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Each one of us has nailed Jesus on the cross in one way or the other. Have we taken any initiative to seek Jesus once again? Through the death of Christ, he destroyed our death and through his rising, he restored our life. My passionate call to you all readers is to participate in this period because it is the gist of our faith. 

Sem. Jjuuko Mathias
Alokolum National Major Seminary.

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