By Dc. Tom Cuskey | Editor
“Synthesized at Easter …”
These are the opening words of a document from the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, explaining how the Cross and Resurrection inseparably become the “entire history of salvation.” They are part of the history of our faith, unique in that “all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away” but the “Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past.”
Our Catholic faith, then, is alive and present to us today, a fact we celebrate annually in the Easter Triduum.
“The summit of the Liturgical Year is the Easter Triduum” according to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, “from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday.” In human measure, it is a three-day period, 72 hours. In spiritual consideration, it is “liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.”
As a single celebration, the Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, leads us Friday through the Passion and Death, and to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil. The Vigil Mass is the high point of the Triduum and the high point of the liturgical year. The Triduum observance closes with the Divine Office recitation of Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday.
The unity of liturgy and purpose found in the Triduum is reflected today in the way many of our parishes, linked diocesan churches and Pastoral Care Areas (PCAs) celebrate the Holy Week liturgy, given that many pastors have multiple parishes to shepherd.
In Rome, for example, Father Robert Kelly is pastor of St. Paul as well as St. Joseph Church in Lee Center. He explains that his churches join with the other two main parishes in the city—St. John the Baptist and Transfiguration Church—to celebrate Holy Thursday.
“We do it together because it centers on the Eucharist and being community,” Father Kelly says. “We are individual parishes, but we also are a community of faith in the community of Rome.” Father goes on to say that other member parishes of the PCA in Camden (St. John the Evangelist) and Holland Patent (Parish Community of St. Leo & St. Ann) are also invited to Rome to join in the liturgies.
Generally at the Holy Thursday evening Mass, the Holy Oils blessed earlier in the week during the Chrism Mass at the diocesan cathedral may be received in the parish. The liturgy may also include a re-creation or symbolic Washing of Feet “after the Homily, where a pastoral reason suggests it,” according to the Roman Missal.
The spirit of sharing in community continues into Good Friday observances where the service—not a Mass—is a bridge between the Eucharistic celebrations of Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil. Good Friday is the only day of the year when a Mass is not said. The liturgy of the day focuses on the Passion and Death of Christ with the Word, adoration and veneration of the Cross and sharing of Communion consecrated at Thursday’s Mass.
In Rome, the liturgy moves to St. John the Baptist Church where Father Paul Angelicchio is pastor.
Father Kelly says the purpose of the Good Friday experience is “not to re-enact Christ’s suffering,” but rather “it’s the suffering of Christ in the world today,” echoing the Vatican office’s reminder that this is a liturgy that is present to us always.
“These days, so many people are focused on the terrible suffering in Ukraine,” Father Kelly adds. “Our own personal crosses and pains and tragedies bring us solidarity in suffering. Jesus lifts up all the pain and suffering on the Cross.”
The apex of the Triduum liturgy occurs at the Easter Vigil where, after sundown in the darkened church, a new fire is used to light the Paschal Candle for the first time, bringing the Light of Christ to the world. New water is blessed and new members of the church, those who have properly studied and prepared, are welcomed during the Mass with Sacraments of Initiation.
In Rome, the Easter Vigil is celebrated in each parish to allow for acceptance of catechumens and candidates into full communion with the church within their home parish.
“That is the center of the liturgy, the new life that comes to the church through those who are entering into the faith,” says Father Kelly. “They are entering into new life which I think is symbolic for all of us to be renewed.”
Easter Sunday Masses continue the celebration of the Triduum which ends with Evening Prayer later that day. The celebration of the Resurrected Christ never ends, though, as we always recognize the gift that the Savior is to us with gratitude to the Father.
“We are blessed,” adds Father Kelly. “When we look at the world around us, we are blessed in so many ways. It’s important to give thanks to God.”