It begins with the celebration of the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, continues through the commemoration of Christ's death on Good Friday, and culminates with the great Easter Vigil.
Pope Benedict XVI offered a perfect summary of each day in his Wednesday Audience in 2007:
"In the evening, entering the Easter Triduum, the Christian community relives what happened at the Last Supper in the Mass of the Lord's Supper. In the Upper Room, the Redeemer wanted to anticipate the sacrifice of his life in the Sacrament of the bread and wine changed into his Body and Blood: he anticipated his death, he freely gave his life, he offered the definitive gift of himself to humanity.
With the washing of the feet, the gesture with which, having loved his own, he loved them to the end is repeated (cf. Jn 13:1), and he bequeathed this act of humility to his disciples as their "badge": love unto death.
After the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the liturgy invites the faithful to pause in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, reliving Jesus' agony in Gethsemane. And we see that the disciples fell asleep, leaving their Lord on his own."
"Good Friday, which commemorates the events between Christ's condemnation to death and his Crucifixion, is a day of penance, fasting and prayer, of participation in the Lord's Passion. At the prescribed hour, the Christian Assembly, with the help of the Word of God and liturgical actions, renews the history of human infidelity to the divine plan, which was nonetheless brought about exactly in this way; and it listens once again to the moving narrative of the Lord's sorrowful Passion.
The Assembly then addresses to the Heavenly Father a long "prayer of the faithful" which embraces all the needs of the Church and of the world.
Subsequently, the community adores the Cross and receives the Eucharist, consuming the sacred species reserved from the Mass of the Lord's Supper on the previous day.
In commenting on Good Friday, St. John Chrysostom observes: "First, the Cross stood for contempt, but today it is something venerable; before it was the symbol of condemnation, today it is the hope of salvation. It has truly become a source of infinite good; it has freed us from error, it has dispelled our shadows, it has reconciled us with God, it has transformed us from being enemies of God to being members of his family, from being strangers to being his neighbours: this Cross is the destruction of enmity, the source of peace, the casket of our treasure" (cf. De Cruce et Latrone I, 1, 4).
Holy Saturday is the day when the liturgy is hushed, the day of great silence, and Christians are invited to preserve interior recollection, often difficult to encourage in our day, in order to be better prepared for the Easter Vigil.
Finally, during the Easter Vigil the veil of sorrow which shrouds the Church because of the death of the Lord will be torn by the victorious cry: Christ is risen and has defeated death for ever! We will then truly be able to understand the mystery of the Cross, "since God also creates wonders even in the impossible", an ancient writer says, "so that we may know that he alone can do what he wills. From his death comes our life, from his wounds our healing, from his fall our resurrection, from his descent our uplifting" (Anonymous, Quartodecimano).
At one point in history, parishioners would not leave the church building and would stay in prayer and fasting for these three sacred days. The Church reminds us of the continuity of the three liturgies by not offering a dismissal on Holy Thursday or Good Friday, with the priest leaving in silence, not instructing the people to depart.
The Easter Vigil in particular is one of the high points in the Church's year, for it goes through all of Salvation History, reading scripture passages from Genesis onward to the New Testament. The liturgy reminds us of God's saving action that was foretold by the prophets and fulfilled in Jesus' death and resurrection.
The juxtaposition of darkness and light further brings out the symbolism and shows us that Christ really is the "light of the world" and came to bring us out of the darkness of sin.
The Easter Triduum is a great time of joy, even though we have to endure the sadness of Good Friday. It is meant to fuel us for the rest of the year, so that we do not forget how God can bring much good out of suffering.
No matter the cross, God will always lead us to the joys of His kingdom, as long as we let Him.
Read the Entire Series
- Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus During Holy Week
- What is Almsgiving?
- Why Do We Abstain from Meat on Fridays?
- Entering into a Prayerful Lent: Stations of the Cross
- What is the Purpose of Lent?
- What is Ordinary Time All About?
- The Epiphany Blessing - A Beautiful Tradition During the Christmas Season
- The Prophecy is Fulfilled: The Joyous Christmas Season
- The Start of a New Year: Advent
- The Liturgical Year - Christ's Life Relived Each Year