The Sacred Triduum

Pulpit Crucifix: Canterbury Cathedral

Pulpit Crucifix: Canterbury Cathedral

The last three days of Holy Week are called the Sacred Triduum, the three holy days.

We can look at this period from three perspectives:

These days bring to a climax and conclusion our preparation for Easter.

The season of Lent has pointed us in this direction.

Now we enter the Holy of Holies so to speak – where Christ our great high priest offers himself on the cross for sinful humanity.

These three days are already a part of Easter; for there is an inseparable union between the death of Christ and his resurrection. The two together constitute the Paschal Mystery.

pulpit-crucifix1This is the Christian Passover, when our Lord passed over from death to life, and through his victory he overcame death and the grave. Therefore, we pass from Holy Week to Easter Week with no noticeable break. Elements of Easter can be found in each of the parts of the Sacred Triduum. The image of the cross is not forgotten in the Easter celebration.

These three days may, nevertheless, be regarded as a unit in themselves, a true triduum or trilogy, a three-part drama showing forth Christ’s redemptive work. This is in keeping with the tradition of the Apostolic Church, where the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus were always remembered together. The Sacred Triduum is really one Liturgy that takes place over a period of three days, like a three act play, which carefully describes through words and signs the saving action of God in Jesus Christ.

Maundy Thursday
Holy Thursday is rich in significance. It is the day when Jesus gave the gift of the Eucharist to the Church. “Do this in memory of me”. His commission to the disciples can be seen as the institution of the Sacred Priesthood. He also gave his friends the commandment to love one another and in the sign of foot washing we can find the origins of the Diaconal ministry. On this night the unity of the Last Supper is in stark contrast with the agony in the garden and the arrest and betrayal of Jesus that followed. The Liturgy, then, is filled with conflicting images. There is the joy of the Eucharist, celebrated with all its splendour. There is the gift of caring for each other in the humble sign of foot-washing. There is also sadness expressed in the stripping of the altar as we prepare the church for Good Friday.

Christ has been taken away from us. We do not despair, however. In peace we pray before the Sacrament on the altar of repose. Unlike the disciples who could not stay awake for one hour, we watch with Christ.

Good Friday
The Good Friday Liturgy is marked by traditions that go back to the Ancient Church. The Passion of St. John is recited with great solemnity. The Solemn Prayers are chanted according to the ancient formula of biddings followed by Collects. A Cross is brought into view of the people so that they may come forward to offer their devotions. And lastly, Communion is given, (not celebrated in the usual way) from the consecrated bread that was saved from the previous night). This is not a day of sadness, for we leave the church uplifted by the powerful sign of the cross and our unity in Christ who was victorious over death.

Holy Saturday/Easter Eve
“Queen of Festivals” is one name given to the Easter Vigil and so it should be. The lighting of the fire and the Easter Candle both proclaim God’s saving activity in the world. The Prophesies that are read point the way to the coming of Christ the Saviour. The blessing of the font, the renewal of baptismal promises (and if possible, the actual celebration of Baptism and Confirmations) point to our personal involvement with Christ who brings new life to his Church and his people.

The Liturgy continues with the celebration of the Eucharist where we celebrate our rising again with Christ. With great fanfare, the organ, which has been silent for three days, is played once again to help lift our hearts to God in song and praise.

Father Keith Whittingham
from St. Barnabas Anglican Church in St. Catharines, Ont. Canada