Thursday, April 2, 2015


Later this afternoon, Lent ends and the Sacred Paschal Triduum begins. It begins with the celebration of the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the first act of a day that will conclude with the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion sometime tomorrow afternoon. Continuing through Vespers on Easter Sunday, this contemporary Easter Triduum attempts to restore the ancient liturgical Triduum of Easter Sunday and the two-day fast that originally preceded it.

Now I am old enough to remember when a different "Sacred Triduum" (then still seen as part of Lent) consisted of the three days - Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, each of which was heralded by the celebration of Tenebrae the afternoon before (except, of course, that hardly any parishes actually did Tenebrae). Easter, however, had somehow become a separate celebration, with a sort of "triduum" of its own, consisting of Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, and Easter Tuesday, which outranked the remaining days of Easter Week. Except insofar as Easter Monday is still a civil holiday in some places, that latter "triduum" has largely been forgotten. Such is the power of older, long established customs, however, that the obsolete notion of a "triduum" beginning Thursday morning and ending on Saturday evening seems to have survived in the way we often think and speak about these days - even though that is contrary to the spirit of the reformed liturgy, and even though it means in effect ignoring Easter Sunday itself (which still remains, of course, the best attended service of the Triduum). 

In any case, the Sacred Paschal Triduum is an unparalleled privileged moment in the annual cycle of Catholic life. Ideally, it ought to be a time when all other activities recede and our contemplation of and identification with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection dominate our consciousness. Ordinary life has a way of intruding here, however. At least since Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday ceased being holydays of obligation in 1642, people's participation in the solemn celebrations of these days has inevitably and understandably  diminished. The demands of ordinary life in a modern secular society do not disappear just because Christ once died and rose from the dead.

All the more reason, therefore, for us to invest these special days with all the solemnity and energy we can call upon. As one of the priests involved in formation used to say to us in seminary, "celebration takes work." Celebrating the Sacred Triduum is not necessarily hard. After all, it doesn't change from year to year! But it does demand effort and a unique focus, in order for all present to experience it with maximum fruit - and for that matter for the rest of the Church who are not present physically but are nonetheless an integral part of the wider community of God's People for whom this Easter celebrate is intended. 

Hence the importance of the final Easter Sunday celebration, to which everything (including the anticipatory Mass of the Easter Vigil) has been leading and when (in the words of Pius Parsch) "the full noonday glory of the feast" bursts forth - and when in fact God's people will most noticeably be present in abundance.

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