From the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper until Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday, the Church celebrates a very special period called the Paschal Triduum. As the USCCB explains, the Easter Triduum is the summit of the Liturgical Year which “marks the end of the Lenten season.” Because of this important spiritual shift, there are some symbols used during this liturgical season that are unique to the Paschal Triduum, and I hope that you might find and reflect on these symbols this year as we commemorate the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ.
The Holy Oils that are used by the Church throughout the year (Oil of the Sick, Oil of the Catechumens, and Holy chrism) may be presented during the entrance procession of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. These oils are blessed by the Bishop during the Chrism Mass—which can happen on Holy Thursday or another time during Holy Week—with the priests of the diocese gathered at the local cathedral. During this celebration, all of the priests present renew their priestly vows.
Ringing of the Bells
During the “Gloria” which is sung on Holy Thursday, we hear the altar bells ringing! We are celebrating the Mass for the last time until the Easter Vigil, and the Church is in mourning so the bells will remain silent until we sing the “Gloria” again.
Washing of the Feet
As Jesus did at the Last Supper (John 14:1-17), the Church is called to wash the feet of the members of the Body of Christ during the celebration of the Institution of the Eucharist. This symbol of humility is a wonderful connection with the service of Christ.
It is rare that the Church prescribes a specific hymn to be sung other than those prescribed for the Proper of the Mass, yet on Holy Thursday the Roman Missal says that we should sing the ancient song “Ubi Caritas” during the Offertory. A very simple song, the lyrics are very meaningful, especially for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Translated, they mean "Where charity is, God is there."
Eucharistic Procession and Reposition
The Church’s tabernacle, while normally filled with the Blessed Sacrament and reserved hosts, is emptied and brought to the Altar of Repose where the faithful are invited to join in Adoration. This procession is meant to be of great importance for the community and reminds us of the walk that Christ is about to take the following day on the Via Dolorosa, but instead of being nailed to a cross, we place our King in a place of honor.
After the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, churches are supposed to empty their Holy Water fonts “in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday).” (EWTN)
On Good Friday, the Church is mourning the death of Christ and is full of sorrow. In response to this sorrow, the priest (and deacon, if present) prostates himself in front of a stark, barren altar. There is no music and none of the regular pomp and circumstance that comes with the beginning of a liturgical celebration. No sacraments are to be celebrated but that of penance and the anointing of the sick. The earth has gone quiet.
Normally, when a priest begins Mass, he invites us all to pray along with him, saying, “Let us pray.” During the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion (Good Friday), no such invitation is made. The priest just begins his invocation.
You may find that the prayers of the faithful may take longer than normal. Your church may sing them or have them chanted, with some kneeling and standing interspersed.
Adoration of the Holy Cross
There are many ways in which the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion is different from other liturgical celebrations, and the adoration of the Cross is certainly one of them. We are invited to come forward and spend time in veneration and adoration of the Cross on this most solemn of days – the day on which Christ perished while hanging from the very cross which we venerate. You may notice people genuflecting to the cross – this is something reserved specifically for Good Friday, out of veneration and sorrow for the blood which was shed and soaked up by the wood of the cross.
The Celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not a Mass. It is the one day out of the year in which no Mass is celebrated anywhere on Earth. Therefore, when we come to the celebration, there is no Eucharistic Prayer or any prayer related until, after the Adoration of the Holy Cross, the priest or deacon brings out the Blessed Sacrament and begins praying the Agnus Dei as it is normally done at Mass, which follows with himself and others receiving the Blessed Sacrament.
Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil
When one walks into the church for the Easter Vigil, they will notice a big change from the celebrations of Lent and Holy Week – the church should be decorated with lilies, white and gold, and a joyful décor! While the lights should be turned down as well, we are anticipating the Resurrection and the excitement is palpable!
The Light of Christ
From the fire used to light the Easter Candle, the inscriptions on the Easter Candle, and the procession into the Church, light is integral to the Easter Vigil due to its representation of the "light of Christ, rising in glory," scattering the "darkness of our hearts and minds." We process into the Church with the Easter Candle, “just as the children of Israel were guided at night by the pillar of fire, so Christians follow the risen Christ” as we proclaim The Light of Christ while singing praises of thanksgiving! (USCCB)
Instead of the standard 3 readings at a Sunday Mass, at the Easter Vigil we generally hear anywhere between 5 and 9 readings.
As we prepare to celebrate some of the holiest days in our Church, I invite you to observe the different rituals, customs, and symbols present during the Triduum. May you have a blessed and joyous Easter season!
Question for Reflection: What changes do you notice from the Lent to Easter season?
For more resources to guide you throughout the Triduum into the Easter season, please click here.
Alex Cranstoun is the Media Manager for the Catholic Apostolate Center.