The Sacred Paschal Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday

The Paschal Triduum, Easter Triduum, Holy Triduum, or the Three days is the period of three days that recalls the passion, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as it is portrayed in the canonical Gospels. This movable observance begins with the liturgy on the evening of Maundy Thursday, followed by the Easter Vigil, and ends on Easter Sunday with a prayer.

Since 1958 the Paschal Triduum has been considered a liturgical season according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Paschal Triduum is the most liturgically rich while simultaneously being the shortest of all liturgical seasons. These three consecutive liturgical days unfold for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.

Although technically Lent ends with the start of the Paschal Triduum, the discipline of Lent, which includes praying, fasting, and almsgiving, continues until noon on Holy Saturday, when the preparations for the Easter Vigil begin. In several denominations of Western Christianity, such as Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, and Reformed churches, the Paschal Triduum is regarded as part of the liturgical season of Lent.

Triduum Definition

Triduum is a period of three days of observance and prayer usually preceding a Roman Catholic feast.

Paschal Mystery

The Paschal Mystery refers to the four processes that Jesus went through to save humanity from his. This includes his passion, death, resurrection, and glorification. The concept of Paschal Mystery is closely related to the redemption and salvation of humankind. It stands at the center of the Christian faith as God’s plan for humankind’s salvation was fulfilled by the redemptive death of himself as Jesus Christ.

Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches celebrate the Paschal Mystery every year on Easter. It is also celebrated during every Eucharist and on Sundays, which is considered the Pascha of the week. The word ‘Paschal’ is related to Easter and the Jewish Passover. According to the book of Exodus, Yahweh (God) instructed Moses to tell everybody to mark their doors with lamb’s blood so that the Angel of Death would pass over them.

Therefore, Paschal refers to the passing over of God’s destroying angel on the night of Passover. The Angel of Death eventually passed over the houses of the Israelites, however, it killed the firstborn child in the houses of the Egyptians. It is believed that the Paschal Mystery is a sacred mystery that is beyond the grasp of human reasoning and can only be revealed through God’s grace. 

The Sacred Paschal Triduum- Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday
The Sacred Paschal Triduum- Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday

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

Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper which is considered as the Institution of Holy Eucharist, also known as the Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper. Many Christian denominations consider the Eucharist the central act of worship.

According to the Gospel of Luke, this rite was instituted by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper when he gave his twelve Apostles bread and wine during a Passover meal and commanded them to do the same in his memory.

During the Last Supper, Christ bade farewell to his followers and prophesizes that one of his 12 apostles will end up betraying him by alerting the Roman Soldiers. On the morning of Holy Thursday, Bishops and priests come together to celebrate the institution of the priesthood. At the Holy Thursday Mass, just like Jesus Christ washed the feet of his twelve Apostles, the bishop washes the feet of twelve priests. He also blesses the Oil of Chrism which will be used for the anointing of the sick, confirmations, and baptisms.

After sundown, the Holy Thursday liturgy takes place. This marks the end of Lent and the beginning of the Triduum, which consists of the three holiest days in the Catholic Church. This period starts on the evening of Holy Thursday, reaches its highest point during Easter Vigil, and concludes with the evening prayers on Easter Sunday. Holy Thursday is a significant day because it stresses the importance Jesus Christ put on the humility of service, cleansing with water, the sacrifice of Christ’s Body, and the Eucharist.

In Western Christianity, the Maundy Thursday service includes the commemoration of the Last Supper. On this day, devout Christians celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion. Feet washing is practiced amongst several Christian denominations.

In Catholic Churches, the Chrism Mass is also celebrated in each diocese. During the Chrism Mass, those in attendance are asked to renew their baptismal promises, and the priests present are also called to reaffirm their ministry by renewing the promises they made at their ordination.

Once the Holy Thursday Mass is concluded, people are also invited to continue the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night. This symbolizes the apostles being invited by Jesus Christ to stay up during His agony in the garden before his betrayal. Mass is not conducted again in the Church until the Easter Vigil celebrations and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Read more: Luminous Mystery of the Rosary

Good Friday: Commemoration of Christ’s Passion and Death

Good Friday is a Christian holiday that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Golgotha. Good Friday, which is also known as Holy Friday, Black Friday, and Great Friday, is observed during the Holy week as a part of the Paschal Triduum. Members of many Christian denominations observe Good Friday with fasting and church services.

In several Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, and Anglican churches, the Service of the Great Three Hours’ Agony is held from noon until 3 pm. This service commemorates the three hours of Christ’s hanging at the cross and includes sermons on the Seven Last Words from the Cross. This service takes place from noon till 3 pm and sometimes between 6 pm till 9 pm, the time at which Jesus is said to have died on the cross, it also coincides with the beginning of Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion.

It is believed that on this day, Jesus died for the sins of humans. It is a significant religious holiday because it is observed to ask for the forgiveness of our sins. People pray to be liberated from their pain, suffering, and agony in life.

According to popular Christian beliefs, Jesus’ death signifies the end of all sins. Therefore, people celebrate Good Friday because it symbolizes that, sins can be eliminated and that you can give your life a fresh start. Easter, which is a day after Good Friday, commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which according to the New Testament was on the third day of his burial.

After 3 p.m., the priests conduct the day’s only formal liturgy. During the liturgy, no bells are rung, no instruments are played, and the door of the sacred tabernacle that holds consecrated hosts hangs open. The priests then read the Passion of St. John from the Gospel and offer prayers for the Church. A simple ceremony that honors the cross, known as the Veneration of the cross is performed before the distribution of Communion hosts.

In Orthodox Churches, the main tradition during the Good Friday service includes liturgies and Gospel readings. These readings recount Jesus’ story. While many churches conduct Good Friday services in the evening, some prefer to conduct them in the afternoon for people who have children or cannot stay up late.

During the service, a table is placed in the middle of the church. Devotees walk underneath a table and light a candle when the church bells signal. This practice is meant to cleanse the sins of the participant. Priests also wrap or cover any statues of Jesus Christ with black clothing. This symbolically represents burial rites being performed.

Read more: Joyful Mystery of the Rosary

Holy Saturday: Preparation for the Resurrection of the Lord

Holy Saturday or Black Saturday is the day between the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. The Triduum of Holy Week concludes the Holy Saturday, often with a late-night Easter Vigil service. On Holy Saturday the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting, meditating on his Passion and Death and on his Descent into Hell, and awaiting his Resurrection.

According to the Apostle’s Creed, before His resurrection, Jesus Christ descended into the realm of the dead to save the righteous souls- the patriarchs who died before his crucifixion. This is considered the last phase of Jesus’s messianic mission during which he opened the gates of heaven for the just who had gone before him. Before Holy Saturday, no souls enjoy the beatific vision of God in heaven.

The Church abstains from the Sacrifice of the Mass, with the sacred table left bare, until after the solemn Vigil, that is, the anticipation by the night of the Resurrection, when the time comes for paschal joys, the abundance of which overflows to occupy fifty days.

Holy Week moves from the enthusiastic shouts of ‘Hosanna’ to the somberness of Holy Wednesday and Maundy Thursday, to the horrors of the agony and death of Jesus on Good Friday, to the joyous celebration of the first Eucharist of Easter.  Before the Easter Vigil begins in the evening, Holy Saturday is still considered a day of fasting and sorrow. There is no mass in the daytime on Holy Saturday.

Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of Christ

Easter is a Christian festival aka Pascha or Resurrection Sunday that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The account is described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after being crucified by the Romans at Golgotha. Easter is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus and is preceded by Lent, which is a 40-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.

Easter is a movable religious holiday that doesn’t fall on the same day every year. The date on which Easter is celebrated is calculated based on the lunisolar calendar. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or close to March 21st. Easter is considered one of the most important Christian holidays because it celebrates Jesus’ supernatural resurrection from the dead. This occurrence famously established him as the Son of God and as an indicator that God is the righteous judge of the world.

We observe the 40-days of Lent in preparation for Easter Day when our mind and soul can fully grasp the culmination of the Paschal Triduum Mystery: the Resurrection. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Therefore Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the ‘Feast of feasts’, the ‘Solemnity of solemnities’, just as the Eucharist is the ‘Sacrament of Sacraments’.

St. Athanasius calls Easter ‘the Great Sunday’ and the Eastern Churches call Holy Week ‘the Great Week’. The mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time until all is subjected to him.”

Read more: The Mysteries of the Rosary

How to Celebrate Paschal Triduum?

  1. Try to make this week special. Don’t treat it as a normal week. If the Paschal Triduum isn’t considered a public holiday in your city or country, then try taking some time off to attend the liturgies and participate in church activities. You can also make a sacrifice during this time and allow yourself to create extra space and time for God.
  2. Detach yourself from the material world by giving up worldly comforts like social media, television, music, or deserts in order to find comfort in God’s presence and dedicate time to home. Attend the church daily and spend time praying and meditating on the Stations of the Cross.

Make attending the liturgies a priority. The Paschal Triduum liturgy is the most extraordinary liturgy of the year as it reminds you of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made.  

Conclusion

The Paschal Triduum is considered an important religious observance because it reminds us that Christ redeemed us all and gave perfect glory to God principally through his paschal mystery: by dying he destroyed our death and by rising he restored our life. The Paschal Triduum is to the entire year what Sunday is to the week. It is a single liturgy that encompasses three days: the evening of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

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About the Author: Naomi Hills

God has given me the gift to read the signs, interpret the dreams, decode the angel numbers since birth. Through rigorous practice and application, my gifts have been fine-tuned. Now, I use my gifts solely to help those distressed souls who have lost all hopes, those who have been left alone to fend for themselves, those whom the system doesn’t care anymore, those whom the mainstream science has ignored.

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