Preparing for the Easter Triduum
The Easter Triduum of the passion and resurrection of Christ is the culmination of the entire liturgical year. Through the liturgy of the Triduum, the Church is intimately united with Christ and shares in his passage from death to life.
Since the Easter Triduum is the high point of the whole liturgical year, the liturgy of these days demands careful, thoughtful preparation and sensitive celebration. In recent years the Committee on the Liturgy has examined how the Triduum liturgy is celebrated in the United States both in preparation for the proposed revisions of the Sacramentary and in response to the Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts (CL), issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1988. This brief reflection highlights particular questions appropriate for careful consideration as parishes and other communities begin their preparations for "the Triduum of the crucified, buried and risen one." (Saint Augustine, Epistle 55)
Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper
The Mass of the Lord's Supper is fittingly the first liturgical action of the Easter Triduum. It is celebrated in the evening at a time convenient for the full participation of all the people.
"Careful attention should be given to the mysteries that are commemorated in this Mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ's command of brotherly love; the homily should explain these points (CL 45)."
The rite of washing feet should be seen as more than a mime in which the washing of the disciples' feet is reenacted. It is a rite in which the presiding priest so closely joins himself with Christ's act of perfect love, that the true nature of Christian love and discipleship is revealed. This is not just any act of service but is specifically a Gospel sign. Through this gesture, the community is encouraged to follow more closely the one who "came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).
An extended reflection on the washing of the feet may be found in the February 1987 edition of the BCL Newsletter (pages 53-54). A place is prepared for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and "adorned in such a way as to be conducive to prayer and meditation; that sobriety appropriate to the liturgy of these days is enjoined, to the avoidance or suppression of all abuses. When the tabernacle is in a chapel separated from the central part of the church, it is appropriate to prepare the place of repose and adoration there (CL 49)."
"The Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a closed tabernacle or pyx. Under no circumstances may it be exposed in a monstrance (CL 55)."
The oils blessed by the bishop at the Chrism Mass can be fittingly received and welcomed by parish communities at the Mass of the Lord's Supper or, if the oils are not blessed on Holy Thursday, they may be received on another day. The rite for The Reception of the Holy Oils Blessed at the Chrism Mass may be found in the Sacramentary Supplement (published by Catholic Book Publishing Company and the Liturgical Press).
Celebration of the Lord's Passion and Death
On the afternoon of Good Friday, the Christian faithful assemble to recall devoutly the death of the Lord "in the sure hope of rising again." On this day the community of faith with full heart worships God, who chose to redeem us by the cross, "that Satan, who conquered through a tree, might on a tree be overcome."
The afternoon celebration of the Lord's passion is the center of Good Friday's worship. It may take place around three o'clock unless pastoral reasons suggest a later hour. In addition, it is recommended that the office of readings and morning prayer be celebrated publicly with the people; evening prayer however is not celebrated by those who participate in the afternoon liturgical service. Devotions such as the Stations of the Cross, processions of the Passion, and commemorations of the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary should not be neglected. The time of day chosen for such devotions, however, should make it clear that the liturgical celebration of the Lord's passion by its very nature far surpasses them in importance. All devotions should be so fashioned that they accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it, and lead the people to it.
Veneration of the Cross
Number 68 of the Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts directs that the cross used for the veneration should be "of appropriate size and beauty...The rite should be carried out with the splendor worthy of the mystery of our salvation."
Proclamation of the Passion
The proclamation of the Passion needs to be carefully prepared. Traditionally it is read or sung by three persons taking the parts of Christ, the narrator, and others. It may be helpful, for example, to divide the narrative into sections, with different readers and some variation in the posture of the assembly for each part. The sections may be separated with periods of silent reflection and acclamations which all can sing. While it has a dramatic quality, the passion is not so much enacted as proclaimed solemnly and simply, without candles, greeting, or signs of the cross.
The Passion is to be proclaimed by deacons, or, in their absence, by priests, or in their absence, by readers. In the last case, however, the part of Christ should be reserved for the celebrant.
At the present time, there is no provision for a lay person to lead the Celebration of the Lord's Passion and Death, even in the absence of a priest or deacon.
The question of a deacon presiding at the Celebration of the Lord's Passion in the absence of a priest was discussed by the NCCB Committee on the Liturgy in June of 1994. It was the unanimous opinion of the Committee that although the Sacramentary makes no specific provision for such a practice, it is within the competence of the bishop in particular cases to permit such a practice.
Only the approved and confirmed text from the Lectionary for Mass may be used for the proclamation of the Passion, as in number 12 of the General Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass:
"In the celebration of Mass the biblical readings with their accompanying Scriptural chants may not be omitted, shortened, or, worse still, replaced by nonbiblical readings. For it is from the word of God handed down in writing that even now 'God is speaking to his people' and it is from the continued use of Scripture that the people of God, docile to the Holy Spirit under the light of faith, receive the power to be Christ's living witnesses before the world."
In preaching on the Passion, special care should be taken not to show the Jewish people in an unfavorable way. The crimes during the Passion of Christ cannot be attributed indiscriminately to all Jews of that time, nor to Jews today. The Jewish people should not be referred to as though rejected or cursed, as if this view followed from Scripture. As the Church has always held, Christ freely suffered his passion and death because of the sins of all, that all might be saved. This is also the way in which the liturgical texts of Good Friday, such as the Reproaches, are understood by the Church.
The Easter Vigil
On this holy night, called the "mother of all vigils," the Church keeps watch, celebrating the resurrection of Christ in the sacraments and awaiting his return in glory. It is the turning point of the Triduum, the Passover of the new covenant which marks Christ's passage from death to life.
The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil takes place at night, beginning after nightfall and ending before daybreak on Sunday. It occupies the main part of the night and it does not correspond to the usual Saturday evening Mass in time or duration; its character is unique in the liturgical cycle. The people assemble around a visible fire. Its flames dispel the darkness and light up the night. The beauty of the fire, its warmth and its light, draw the liturgical assembly together as the people arrive. Assistance should be provided for the infirm. Sound amplification equipment may be necessary to enable all to hear. After a while, the ministers in white Mass vestments come to the fire. It is blessed and the large Easter candle is prepared.
The joy of the resurrection, proclaimed and celebrated during the Easter Vigil, overflows into the Masses of Easter day. The Easter candle is alight in the sanctuary and alleluias are sung. It is important to sustain the celebration of the resurrection during this festival day, so that its place as the last day of the Triduum is evident.
To conclude the sacred Triduum, evening prayer may be celebrated solemnly together with the newly baptized.