St. Joseph - St. Pius X

Catholic Parish of Leicester, MA

The Sacred Paschal Triduum

The Easter Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, and closes with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.

The single celebration of the Triduum marks the end of the Lenten season, and leads to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil.

The liturgical services that take place during the Triduum are:

  • Mass of the Lord’s Supper
  • Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
  • Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord

The Sacred Paschal Triduum is the three most solemn days of the liturgical year; Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.  These most holy days celebrate the Paschal Mystery, first, the passion, suffering, and death of the Lord Jesus, followed by his resurrection, the triumph of the holy cross, and Christ’s decisive victory over sin and death.

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Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper:

Holy Thursday is the commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, when he established the sacrament of Holy Communion prior to his arrest and crucifixion. It also commemorates His institution of the priesthood. The holy day falls on the Thursday before Easter and is part of Holy Week. Jesus celebrated the dinner as a Passover feast. Christ would fulfill His role as the Christian victim of the Passover for all to be saved by His final sacrifice.

The Last Supper was the final meal Jesus shared with his Disciples in Jerusalem. During the meal, Jesus predicts his betrayal. The central observance of Holy Thursday is the ritual reenactment of the Last Supper at Mass. 

He also establishes the special priesthood for his disciples. Christ washed the feet of his Disciples, who would become the first priests. This establishment of the priesthood reenacted at Mass with the priest washing the feet of several parishioners.

During the Passover meal, Jesus breaks bread and gives it to his Disciples, uttering the words, “This is my body, which is given for you.” Subsequently, he passes a cup filled with wine. He then says, “This is my blood…” It is believed those who eat of Christ’s flesh and blood shall have eternal life.

During the Mass, Catholics rightly believe, as an article of faith, that the unleavened bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ through a process known as transubstantiation. The Last Supper is celebrated daily in the Catholic Church as part of every Mass for it is through Christ’s sacrifice that we have been saved. On the night of Holy Thursday, Eucharistic Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place where the faithful remain in the presence of the Eucharist just as the Disciples kept a vigil with Christ.

Following the Last Supper, the disciples went with Jesus to the Mount of Olives, where he would be betrayed by Judas.

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Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion:

Good Friday is a Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary.

According to the gospels, Jesus was betrayed by Judas on the night of the Last Supper.  The morning following Christ’s arrest, he was brought before Annas, a powerful Jewish cleric.  Annas condemned Jesus for blasphemy for refusing to repudiate Annas’ words that He was the Son of God.  From there, Jesus was sent to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the province.

Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus, but found no reason to condemn Him.  Instead, he suggested Jewish leaders deal with Jesus according to their own law.  But under Roman law, they could not execute Jesus, so they appealed to Pilate to issue the order to kill Jesus.

Pilate appealed to King Herod, who found no guilt in Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate once again.  Pilate declared Jesus to be innocent, and washed his hands to show that he wanted nothing to do with Jesus, but the crowds were enraged.  To prevent a riot and to protect his station, Pilate reluctantly agreed to execute Jesus and sentenced him to crucifixion.  Jesus was convicted of proclaiming himself to be the King of the Jews.

Before his execution, Jesus was flogged, which was a customary practice intended to weaken a victim before crucifixion.  Crucifixion was an especially painful method of execution and was perfected by the Romans as such. It was reserved for the worst criminals, and generally Roman citizens, women, and soldiers were exempt in most cases.  This symbol of pain and death becomes for us a sign of Jesus’ love and victory in the resurrection. During his flogging, the soldiers tormented Jesus, crowning Him with thorns and ridicule.

Following his flogging, Jesus was compelled to carry his cross to the place of His execution, at Calvary.  During his walk to the site of His execution, Jesus fell three times and the Roman guards randomly selected Simon, a Cyrene, to help Jesus.

After arrival at Calvary, Jesus was nailed to the cross and crucified between two thieves. One of the thieves repented of his sins and accepted Christ while on the cross beside Him.  A titulus, or sign, was posted above Christ to indicate His supposed crime. The titulus read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” It is commonly abbreviated as “INRI” (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum) using the first letters of each of the Latin words.

During Christ’s last few hours on the cross, darkness fell over the whole land.  Jesus was given a sponge with sour wine mixed with gall, a weak, bitter painkiller often given to crucified victims. Prior to death, Jesus spoke His last words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This line is the opening of Psalm 22, and it may have been common practice to recite lines of songs to deliver a greater message.  Properly understood, the last words of Christ were triumphant.  Guards then lanced Jesus’ side to ensure He was dead.

At the moment of Christ’s death, an earthquake occurred, powerful enough to open tombs. The long, thick curtain at the Temple was said to have torn from top to bottom. Following the incredible events of the day, the body of Christ was removed from the cross and laid in a donated tomb, buried according to custom.

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Holy Saturday - The Easter Vigil

Holy Saturday, the Saturday before Easter Sunday and the Resurrection of the Lord, is the third day of the Sacred Paschal Triduum. The Easter Vigil begins between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Sunday. This night’s vigil is the greatest and most holy of all solemnities in the Catholic Church as Catholics remember Jesus’ entombment.

Holy Saturday is a day of preparation; a day of quiet and prayerful reflection on the true gravity of the crucifixion and Jesus’ sacrifice, and a day of anticipation of Easter’s triumph over darkness and evil, sin and death. The quietness of the day permits us to ponder the implications of physical death and how each of us in life and death, affects others.

The Easter Vigil Mass consists of four parts:

  • The Service of Light
  • Liturgy of the Word
  • Christian Initiation and the Renewal of Baptismal Vows
  • Liturgy of the Eucharist

The Service of Light:

The vigil begins between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Sunday outside the church, where an Easter fire called the Lucernarium is kindled. This fire is symbolic of Christ who is not dead, but very much alive, burning brightly. From this fire, coals are taken out to light the incense and the fire is also used to light the new Paschal candle, which is blessed and then lit. This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, remaining in the sanctuary of the church or near the lectern, and throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals, reminding all that Christ is “light and life”.

Once the candle has been lit, it is carried by a deacon through the nave of the church, itself in complete darkness, stopping three times to chant the acclamation ‘Light of Christ’ (Lumen Christi), to which the assembly responds ‘Thanks be to God’ or ‘Deo Gratias’. As the candle proceeds through the church, the small candles held by those present are gradually lit from the Paschal candle. As this symbolic “Light of Christ” spreads, darkness is decreased.

The deacon, priest, or a cantor now chants the Exsultet (also called the “Easter Proclamation” or “Paschal Praeconium”), after which the people sit for the Liturgy of the Word.

The Liturgy of the Word:

The Liturgy of the Word consists of seven possible readings from the Old Testament and two readings from the New Testament, all recounting the outstanding deeds of the history of salvation.  Recalling these readings allows us to meet the Lord “beginning with Moses and all the prophets” once again on our journey and to open up our minds and hearts, preparing us to share in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup.

Christian Initiation and the Renewal of Baptismal Vows:

After the readings, baptismal water is blessed in the font and when the Christian Initiation of Adults takes place at the Easter Vigil. While the new members of the community are baptized, the faithful join in renewing our promises as the whole community is sprinkled with the water as we remember our baptism.

Liturgy of the Eucharist:

Regarding the Eucharist, we are reminded “about the preciousness of so great a mystery, which is the climax of initiation and the center of the Christian life”.  The Easter Vigil comes to a climax in the sharing of the Eucharist.