Though this year’s Triduum celebrations will be abbreviated and the faithful will not be present because of the pandemic, the “three days” still mark the pinnacle of the Church’s liturgical calendar. As you participate in these liturgies from home, it may help to understand their inherent meaning and symbolism.
The circular letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship, On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts, states: “Just as the week has its beginning and climax in the celebration of Sunday, which always has a paschal character, so the summit of the whole liturgical year is in the sacred Easter triduum of the passion and resurrection of the Lord.”
The Paschal Triduum is a continuous celebration (liturgy) of Christ’s resurrection beginning with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday evening, continuing with the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, and concluding with the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. We do not “recreate” the events of the past, but enter into the ongoing story of the effects of the Resurrection. We celebrate the effects of Christ’s resurrection in our lives, our relationships, and the world.
Let us begin with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. We gather as a community to remember that last night Jesus spent with the disciples in order to celebrate the Passover. In the Gospel of John there is no institution narrative, “take eat” “take drink.” John adds the unique story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. It is a gesture of complete humility and service to others. A challenge to all forms of pretentious power. It is as if Jesus is saying to each of us: if we call ourselves disciples, a member of the Church, this is how we live our lives, in humble service. The washing of feet summarizes the entirety of Jesus’ ministry of humble service that we are to imitate.
Let us focus on the second reading from Thursday evening’s Mass, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Paul is writing just a few years after the Resurrection and he references a ritual already familiar to early Christians in which bread and wine are shared. Put into context, Paul is chastising the community for its divisions. If divided, Christ is not present in their celebration. The Eucharist has ethical consequences for participants. Let us add Jesus’ teaching of the Golden Rule from his Sermon on the Mount, Matt 7:12, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” Thomas Aquinas commented on this and wrote that we are all brothers [and sisters] and our unity in the Eucharist is in our common care for one another. In our brotherhood [sisterhood] as a united humanity, we are to strive to ensure the basic needs and rights of others just as we strive for our basic needs and rights. We bear mutual responsibility for one another.
Now we enter into the liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday where we venerate the Cross which is the central act of the evening’s liturgy. The liturgy of Good Friday is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, not his death. The Cross we venerate is supposed to be plain, no corpus. Yes, Christ died, faithful to his identity as God’s Son and to his mission to proclaim and witness to the Kingdom. We read John’s Gospel which has Jesus lifted up on the Cross to the Father in glory. Jesus lived fully alive in the Spirit received in baptism and this same Spirit raises him from death to the resurrection. We too share in the resurrection when we lift up our lives to the Father in faithful service. To wash the feet of others, humble service in witness to the Kingdom, this is our glorification and our “already” participation in the resurrection.
As we celebrate the Easter Vigil, we shout Alleluia! Because the story of Christ’s humble service offered to the Father in the glory of the Cross has become our story and our Paschal victory.
In response to the old hymn “Were You There?” No! we were not there; we are here in the present reality. We are not remembering the past, but realizing Christ’s Paschal victory through our humble service to family and neighbor. We wash the feet of all we encounter with love, dignity and respect. Christ is Raised! Alleluia!