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The Sacred Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. The Mystery of Faith

By Deacon Keith Fournier
March 31st, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

"Beginning with the Easter Triduum as its source of light, the new age of the Resurrection fills the whole liturgical year with its brilliance. Gradually, on either side of this source, the year is transfigured by the liturgy" (Catechism of the Catholic Church) .

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) – The Easter Triduum begins with the Vigil of Holy Thursday. It marks the end of the forty days of Lent and the beginning of the three-day celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council reminded us of the extraordinary significance of the Triduum : "Christ redeemed us all and gave perfect glory to God principally through his paschal mystery: dying he destroyed our death and rising he restored our life. Therefore the Easter Triduum of the passion and resurrection of Christ is the culmination of the entire liturgical year." (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, # 18)

These last Forty Days were a time of preparation for these great Three days, which is what Triduum means. These three days lead us to an empty tomb and an Octave, eight days, of celebrating the Resurrection. They also introduce an entire liturgical season, the Easter Season, which lasts for Fifty days until Pentecost.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs us: "Beginning with the Easter Triduum as its source of light, the new age of the Resurrection fills the whole liturgical year with its brilliance. Gradually, on either side of this source, the year is transfigured by the liturgy. It really is a "year of the Lord's favor." The economy of salvation is at work within the framework of time, but since its fulfillment in the Passover of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the culmination of history is anticipated "as a foretaste," and the kingdom of God enters into our time.

"Therefore Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the "Feast of feasts," the "Solemnity of solemnities," just as the Eucharist is the "Sacrament of sacraments" (the Great Sacrament). St. Athanasius calls Easter "the Great Sunday" and the Eastern Churches call Holy Week "the Great Week." The mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subjected to him." (CCC #1168, 1169)

There is no better book to assist Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and lay men and women charged with the task of preparing truly good liturgies in the Modern Roman Rite than Monsignor Peter J. Elliott´s "Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year." Monsignor Elliott writes in his Introduction:

"Christians understand time in a different way from other people because of the Liturgical Year. We are drawn into a cycle that can become such a part of our lives that it determines how we understand the structure of each passing year. In the mind of the Christian, each passing year takes shape, not so much around the cycle of natural seasons, the financial or sporting year or academic semesters, but around the feasts, fasts and seasons of the Catholic Church. Without thinking much about it, from early childhood, we gradually learn to see time itself, past, present and future, in a new way. All of the great moments of the Liturgical Year look back to the salvific events of Jesus Christ, the Lord of History.

"Those events are made present here and now as offers of grace. This week is Holy not only because of what we remember but because of what it can accomplish within each one of us as we give our voluntary "Yes" to its´ invitation. To put it another way, in Christ time takes on a sacramental dimension. The Liturgical Year bears this sacramental quality of memorial, actuation and prophecy.

"Time becomes a re-enactment of Christ's saving events, His being born in our flesh, His dying and rising for us in that human flesh. Time thus becomes a pressing sign of salvation, the "day of the Lord", His ever present "hour of salvation", the kairos. Time on earth then becomes our pilgrimage through and beyond death toward the future Kingdom. The Liturgical Year is best understood both in its origins and current form in the way we experience time: in the light of the past, present and future… . 

"The Liturgical Year thus suggests the sovereignty of the grace of Christ. We say that we "follow" or "observe" the Liturgical Year, but this Year of Grace also carries us along. Once we enter it faithfully we must allow it to determine the shape of our daily lives. It sets up a series of "appointments" with the Lord. We know there are set days, moments, occasions when He expects us. Within this framework of obligation, duty and covenant, we are part of something greater than ourselves.

"We can detect a sense of being sustained or borne forward by the power and pace of a sacred cycle that is beyond our control. It will run its course whether we like it or not. This should give us an awareness of the divine dimension of the Liturgical Year as an expression the power and authority of Jesus who is the Lord of History. As the blessing of the Paschal Candle recalls: "…all time belongs to Him and all the ages". The sacred cycle thus becomes a sacrament of God's time. Salvation history is among us here and now... "my time" rests in God's hands (and) is a call to trust, to faith, to letting go of self."

The real question is not whether we will mark time but how we will do so? For the Christian time is not meant to be a tyrant ruling over us with impunity. Rather, it is a teacher, inviting and instructing us to choose to enter more fully into our relationship with the Lord and in Him with one another for the world. Time is not our enemy, but our friend. It is a part of the redemptive loving plan of a timeless God who, in His Son, the Timeless One, came into time to transform it from within.

The Lord gives us time as a gift and intends it to become a field of choice and a path to holiness in this life and the window into life eternal. Through time the Lord offers us the privilege of discovering His plan for our own life pilgrimage. Through time He invites us to participate in His ongoing redemptive plan, through His Son Jesus Christ who has been raised, by living in the full communion of His Church which is the seed of the kingdom. That redemptive plan will find its final fulfillment in the recreation of the entire cosmos in Christ. Time is the road along which this loving plan of redemption and re-creation proceeds.

At the very epicenter of our Liturgical Calendar is the great Three days we celebrate, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Resurrection of the Lord, the Sacred Triduum. Good Liturgy is not simply a re-enactment of something that happened over 2000 years ago but an actual participation in the events themselves through living faith. These events are outside of time and made present in our Liturgical celebrations and in our reception of the Sacraments. Just as every Mass/Divine Liturgy is an invitation to enter into the sacrifice of Calvary which occurred once and for all.

We will soon attend the Last Supper and receive the gift of the Holy Eucharist, the Body, Blood Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. We will enter into the deep meaning of the Holy Priesthood. We will be invited to pour ourselves out like the water in the basins used to wash feet on Holy Thursday. We will be asked with the disciples in the Gospel accounts we will hear proclaimed to watch with the Lord. We will be invited to enter with Him into his anguish by imitating His Holy surrender in his Sacred Humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Through the stark and solemn Liturgy of the Friday we call "Good", we will stand at the Altar of the Cross where heaven is rejoined to earth and earth to heaven, along with the Mother of the Lord. We will 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 the ancient Exultet, "trampling on death by death". We will wait at the tomb and witness the Glory of the Resurrection and the beginning of the New Creation.

The Liturgical year in the words of Monsignor Peter Elliott "… transforms our time into a sacrament of eternity."  Let us enter fully into the Sacred Triduum Liturgies. The Great Three Days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Invite Us into Heart of the Mystery of Faith.Let it Begin! 

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