Put the ‘Holy’ in Holy Week
Observing the Triduum Well
The Easter Triduum is like a three- or four-part television series of which you don’t want to miss a single episode.
That’s how Father John Paul Mary of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word in Irondale, Ala., describes it.
“The Triduum starts with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper: the institution of the Holy Eucharist and at the same time the priesthood of Jesus Christ. On Good Friday, the Church focuses one whole day on the passion and death of the Lord and what exactly his suffering and death on the cross means. On Holy Saturday, the Church awaits with the Blessed Virgin Mary for the promise of the Resurrection that the Church celebrates with the greatest solemnity of the Easter vigil,” he told the Register.
“Look at it in terms of a three-part miniseries: Most people would not want to miss the first and second show and only go to the third and final show. We want to see all of the parts and see the ‘bigger’ picture. Attending all of the services of the sacred Triduum accomplishes this.”
Within the Triduum, the Church enters into the central mysteries of our salvation. Even though these services on Holy Thursday and Good Friday are not obligatory, we are obliged to attend either Easter vigil or Easter Sunday Mass. However, there is a difference between the Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday services, such that one doesn’t replace the other in terms of the experience.
Prepare for Easter’s Glory
Randy Hain, author of Joyful Witness: How to Be an Extraordinary Catholic and co-founder of IntegratedCatholicLife.org, believes that each of the services is essential in helping us to fully appreciate the glory of Easter.
“If we are to truly appreciate and experience the resurrection of Our Lord, we should make every effort to participate in the days leading up to this great event in salvation history,” he noted, so that “on Easter Sunday, we celebrate the glory of our Savior’s resurrection and revel in the great victory Our Lord has won.”
Catholics who attend say it is essential to their Easter preparations, too.
Pamela Luther, of Quincy, Ill., was a popular evangelical Christian radio personality when she became curious about the Catholic faith. During her search for the truth, she encountered a priest who recommended that she and her husband attend all of the Triduum services. She did — and has gone every year since.
“This priest had encouraged me to go to the Triduum — which was a new word to me — and to be sure we went to the same parish all three nights, which we did,” she said. “Having taught a class on God’s covenant, I flipped out when I heard the readings of the Easter vigil. It was all of God’s covenant history, from his promise of a Savior in the Garden of Eden to Abraham to David to the empty tomb in Jerusalem. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. Participating in the Triduum, even as a non-Catholic, deepened my love for God and continues each year.”
Glenna Bradshaw, of Memphis, Tenn., is a cradle Catholic who enjoys attending the Triduum. She wouldn’t have it any other way: “We’re motivated to go because of the love of God which is so obvious during these beautiful services. It’s not really about the benefits that we obtain. Yes, we’re blessed and our family is strengthened every time we draw close to God, but the motivation and benefit and meaningfulness of the Triduum is all about God and what he has done for us in Jesus.”
James Hanlon of Charlotte, N.C., attends the Triduum not only because of the services themselves, but also for the community that he experiences.
“The people who you are surrounded by on these nights are those who truly want to be there,” he said. “I find the Triduum the most emotional and touching time of the year. When I am there, I am truly able to block out the rest of the world and concentrate on the meaning of each service — perhaps because this is the time that Jesus came to fulfill, as told in prophecy, and also instituted the Eucharist. I have a deeper understanding and a much better connection to my faith.”
Step-by-Step With Jesus
Understanding what the Triduum is all about will help motivate the faithful to go and make it a more fulfilling experience. But proper preparation before and during the times of the Triduum services will make it even more so.
Father John Paul Mary recommends preparing for the Triduum by making a good and integral confession. Usually during this time of year, parishes devote extra time to administering the sacrament of reconciliation.
“Ask the Lord for the grace to make the best confession of your life,” he said. “Ask him for a true sense of sorrow and contrition of the sin in your life and the grace to be willing to make amends: that is, to turn away from sin and avoid your occasions of sin. When we are sorry, confess our sins and are willing to turn our lives around, we contribute to the upbuilding and holiness of the Church. The Church needs holiness, especially in the times that we are living in.”
Also follow along with the events of the Triduum outside of the services.
Edward Sri, a nationally known speaker on Scripture and Catholicism, recommends consciously going step-by-step with Our Lord from Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday, reading the correlating Scripture passages and meditating on them, even if only briefly.
“Live the chronology,” he said. “Walk step-by-step with Jesus, and contemplate each step of the way. Follow the Scriptures, and let yourself experience the agony and sorrow of the apostles and Mary. Think about what’s happening outside the services themselves: for example, when Jesus was in prison after Holy Thursday Mass or how he was in the tomb after Good Friday services and until Easter Sunday. Really live the events. Then Easter morning will be alive and exciting for you, just like Christmas morning.”
Whether we celebrate publicly in our parish community or privately in our own homes, Sri reminds us that this pre-Easter time is a blessing.
“The Triduum is a great opportunity to show our love and gratitude for all that Jesus has done for us,” he said. “If there’s any time to do that, it’s here. This is our time to show our love for Jesus.”
Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.