Our Faith: Holy Week: Entering the Paschal Mystery through the liturgy

Parishioners at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral venerate the cross on Good Friday, April 6, 2012. (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)
Parishioners at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral venerate the cross on Good Friday, April 6, 2012. (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)

The Easter Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ is the capstone of the entire liturgical year.

We enter into the historical and sacred Holy Week on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, which sets the whole week apart. As a holy people, we make our final preparations for Easter morning — the greatest feast of the Church year.

“The triduum is the best kept secret in the Catholic Church,” said Fr. James Turner, pastor of St. Thomas More in Glendale. “It is the most powerful time of the year, but everyone waits for Easter morning. I couldn’t imagine missing out on the triduum.”

Triduum is a Latin word that means “three days.” The Paschal Triduum consists of the three days, sunset to sunset, from Holy Thursday night through Easter Sunday evening.

Liturgically speaking, Lent ends at sundown on Holy Thursday, marking the end of the 40-day period of fasting and penance practiced by Christians throughout the world.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the Easter Triduum the “source of light” for the whole liturgical year.

As we encounter these three sacred days, the dying and rising of Jesus are made present through the liturgies, which draw us deeper into the Paschal Mystery through symbols, signs, sounds and gestures.

During these three days — which are one, continual Mass — parish communities gather in prayer in anticipation for the celebration of the risen Lord.

“There is nothing greater that we celebrate as Christians than the resurrection,” said Fr. John Lankeit, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral.

Fr. Lankeit said the three days correspond to the Last Supper, the Passion of the Lord and the Resurrection, which we express with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday; Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion; and the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday Masses).

Throughout history, there have been great prophets, teachers and miracle workers, but Jesus is not “just one of them.”

“Jesus proclaimed that He would rise from the dead –— something never before claimed and certainly never before accomplished,” Fr. Lankeit said. “He is not just another great teacher. Jesus Christ is Lord. He rose from the dead and, in doing so, conquered death. And by giving us a share in His resurrection in baptism, has made it possible for us to spend eternal life with Him in Heaven.”

In addition to celebrating the evening Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper on Holy Thursday, we reenact Jesus’ washing of the feet (John 13:1-15).

This day is also known as “Maundy Thursday.” The word Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum – Jesus’ command to love and serve others. Christ showed His humility and washed His disciples’ feet as an example of how His followers are to act.

Holy Thursday also celebrates the institution of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Holy Orders. The altar, a symbol of Christ, is also stripped. This is a reminder that Jesus was stripped of His garments on Friday.

The second day of the triduum, Good Friday, commemorates the saddest day in the life of Christ — His crucifixion and death.

The tabernacle is empty as we observe Jesus’ dying on the cross. Priests all over the world do not say Mass on this day, but the faithful gather to hear the Gospel of John, pray for the needs of the Church and the world and venerate the cross.

We receive Holy Communion that was consecrated on Holy Thursday.

The third day of the triduum, Holy Saturday, was described by St. Augustine as “the mother of all vigils.”

Holy Saturday is a day of great anticipation and prayer as Christians await the celebration of the Easter Vigil. The four main parts of the Mass are the Service of Light, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of Baptism and Liturgy of Eucharist.

Those joining the Catholic Church throughout the world receive the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist. And everyone renews their baptismal promises.

Fr. Turner said on Easter Sunday we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, who conquered sin by His death on the cross, and He conquered death by His Resurrection.

“Easter,” he said, “is the foundational event for Christianity.”

“Our Faith” is a special Year of Faith feature that seeks to clarify often misunderstood Catholic teachings. The Year of Faith, which began in October, calls Catholics to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.