Every year the Catholic Church revisits the most significant week in human history – where divine love and divine power came face to face with human frailty and weakness. The result is salvation. Easter Week is an opportunity not only to remember the events from Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem to the gift of his very self at the last supper, his passion, and finally his resurrection. For those who participate in the Triduum it can be a time of profound spiritual enrichment.
PALM SUNDAY MARKS THE START OF HOLY WEEK, WHICH CULMINATES IN EASTER SUNDAY. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE GEORGES / DIOCESE OF ORANGE
THE VERY REV. CHRISTOPHER SMITH, FORMER RECTOR OF CHRIST CATHEDRAL, PERFORMS THE MASS AT PALM SUNDAY IN MARCH 2021. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE GEORGES / DIOCESE OF ORANGE
According to the US Catholic Conference of Bishops, “The summit of the Liturgical Year is the Easter Triduum— from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.”
The first celebration is the Chrism Mass, either celebrated Holy Thursday morning or as is done in the Diocese of Orange, on the Monday of Holy Week. All of the Diocese priests attend to renew their priestly commitment. In addition, the bishop blesses the holy oils that will be used throughout the year – The Oil of the Sick, the Oil of the Catechumens, and the Holy Chrism.
According to Msgr. John Urell, pastor of St. Timothy Parish in Laguna Niguel, “The evening Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday marks the end of Lent when Catholics spend 40 days preparing themselves for the most important time of the liturgical year. Catholics memorialize Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, which the Triduum is all about.”
The Gospel reading from John 13: 1-15 recounts Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet before the last supper. “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, to that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
Likewise, after the homily, the priest has the option to wash the feet of members of the congregation. Good Friday is the only day of the year Mass is not celebrated. Extra hosts are consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass to be used to celebrate the Lord’s Passion and veneration of the Cross on Good Friday. Keeping Christ’s passion and death on the cross in mind, there is no consecration or Mass on Good Friday, but the Eucharist which was consecrated the previous day is distributed.
“We venerate the cross to remember Jesus’ sacrifice and because his death was necessary to get to the resurrection. We also read the passion narrative, said Msgr. Urell. “At the end of the Good Friday service, the congregation leaves in silence.”
The Holy Saturday Easter Vigil begins outside after sunset. Rich in symbolism, the darkness symbolizes Jesus’ time in the tomb. The Celebrant lights a flame which is passed candle to candle through the congregation. Candles in hand, the congregation process into the darkened church. “All this symbolizes Christ passing from death into life through the resurrection,” said Msgr. Urell. “This is also the first Mass of Easter, similar to a Saturday evening Mass; there is no need to go to Easter Sunday Mass if one has attended the vigil.”
The highlight of the Easter Vigil is the welcoming of new members into the Catholic Church. The Elect, those who have never been baptized, receive the sacrament of Baptism that evening. The Candidates or Catechumens, those who were baptized in a Christian denomination but have not received the other sacraments of initiation are confirmed along with the Elect. The Mass continues, and both the Elect and Candidates receive their First Holy Communion with the congregation.
Easter Sunday is a joyous celebration. A highlight of the Easter Mass comes after the homily, where the entire congregation renews their baptismal promise and is sprinkled with holy water. Much like the diocesan priests did during the Chrism Mass, the community is called to remember its promise to reject Satan and all his works and their commitment as followers of Christ.
Taking the time to participate in the Triduum, or even one of the services, allows us to focus more deeply on our faith and the profound love and grace that God gives his people. Be patient though, it is also a hectic time for the clergy and staff at the parish. Msgr. Urell quipped – “People often ask me what I’m going to do after all the Easter festivities are over. I tell them that I’m going to crawl back home and take a long nap!” Until he rises again.