Until sundown this is the final day of ordinary Lenten time. But at sundown the Lenten journey ends and the Paschal Triduum begins. On Holy Thursday evening, we gather together and do something different. We wash feet in response to Jesus' commandment to love one another.
The Gospel of John tells us that on the night before Jesus died, while he was at supper, he got up and washed the feet of his disciples. In the Middle East, where people's feet easily became dusty, this washing was an act of hospitality.
But because rich people usually had servants do it, the apostle Peter was embarrassed and told Jesus not to do it. But Jesus warned Peter, "Unless I wash you, you can have no share with me." Then Jesus said, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you."
On Holy Thursday night we follow the Lord's command; we wash feet, we celebrate the Lord's Supper, and then we keep watch with Christ at the Altar of Repose. The three days of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord have begun.
This day is part of something bigger than itself. It is the first full day of the Paschal Triduum. The liturgical services of Good Friday have no formal beginnings or endings, no greetings or dismissals. The services are all part of the single, three-day liturgy of the Triduum.
The primary liturgy of Good Friday is usually held in the afternoon. This is the time when the lambs were slaughtered in the Temple in Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover feast. This is the time when Jesus died.
St. John's account of the passion is heard today. This account is in many ways different from those in the other three gospels. John shows us how God's glory is seen in the suffering and death of Jesus. We see Jesus reigning from the tree of the Cross, entrusting his disciples to one another’s care. We hear that Jesus was buried with a hundred pounds of sweet-smelling myrrh. The tomb was in a garden. Perhaps John is telling us that, because of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, we are welcome back to paradise.
On Good Friday the gathered church prays for the world and all its peoples. We do this every day, but today the prayer takes an ancient form.
A large wooden cross is carried into church. Symbolically, we say that this wood is the cross on which Jesus died. We also say that this is the tree of life in Eden. This is the ark that saved Noah and his family and the creatures huddled inside. This is the staff that Moses held up to split the waters of the Red Sea. Is it any wonder that people call this Friday "good"?
People fast on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. This is called the "paschal fast." Before a big event or after a tragedy, most people lose their appetites. That's one reason that members of the church fast during these days. We're filled with anticipation. Another reason for the fasting is to remind us of Adam and Eve in paradise. God told them not to eat the fruit of a particular tree. On these days the children of Adam and Eve stand before the tree, the holy cross of Christ, and they refuse to eat.
The paschal Sabbath lasts from Good Friday sunset to Holy Saturday sunset. This is the middle day of the Triduum. It is perhaps the strangest, most mysterious, most puzzling day on the calendar. In Latin, Holy Saturday is Sabbatum Sanctum, the Holy Sabbath. In the tomb, Jesus rested on the Sabbath. The church rests in Christ today.
At nightfall on Holy Saturday, the Sabbath is over. The first day of the week begins. After the Sabbath, according to custom, the first work to be done is to make a fire and to kindle the evening lamp. That is what the church does. That is how the Easter Vigil begins. On this night, every member of the church is asked to gather with the soon-to-be-baptized.
The Great Vigil begins after sundown on the eve of Easter. It is called a vigil, because we keep watch for the joyful celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection. It is the time when the church celebrates the first Mass of Easter (just as Christmas Eve Mass is the first Mass of Christmas).
The Vigil begins around a bonfire. In its light the Church proclaims that Christ is our Light! From the new fire, the Paschal Candle is lighted and carried into a darkened church. All who are assembled light their candles from the Light of Christ until the entire church is radiant with the soft glow of candle light. The darkness has been banished!
At this point the minister will place the Paschal Candle in its special stand and the cantor sing the Exsultet, a great and ancient hymn praising Christ as the One True Light. Then the story of salvation is retold, beginning with the Book of Genesis. After the final reading from the Old Testament, the Gloria is sung and the other lights in the Church are brought up as the assembly sings a joyous song of praise for the first time since Ash Wednesday.
The liturgy continues with the Epistle, Gospel and homily. The celebrant then announces the end of the Lenten fast and begins the Baptismal rite during which the faithful will renew their Baptismal Covenant.
Following the Liturgy of Baptism, the first Mass of Easter is celebrated. This liturgy begins the Church's fifty-day reflection on the glory of salvation won for us by the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus the Christ.
Easter is the Sunday of Sundays, the solemnity of solemnities, the last day of the Paschal Triduum and the first of the fifty-day Sunday of celebration. We celebrate the death, burial and resurrection, the Passover, of Christ. At baptism we became sharers in Christ's passover. No matter what day we were baptized, Easter is the anniversary.
The church's heart and soul is found in Easter. It is the time of the most beloved scripture stories of creation, Noah, the Exodus, of Daniel in the lion's den, of Queen Esther saving her people, of Jonah in the belly of a fish. And, of course, at Easter the church hears the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s resurrection.
Easter is filled with songs and customs and foods that remind us of these stories. Sprinkling ourselves with Easter water can speak to us of the Israelites marching through the Red Sea from slavery to freedom.
Dyeing eggs in rainbow colors can be a celebration of the promise made to Noah and all the animals after the great flood.
Egg hunts in gardens are also an Easter week custom. At Jesus' tomb the angel had asked the women, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" An egg hunt is a search for life. Like the holy women, we discover that life has conquered death.
The word "Easter" comes from the same root as the words "star" and "east." It means "dawn light." This word has become a wonderful way to describe the Christian Passover. In the words of Psalm 118: "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad!
Prayers and Reflections for The Easter Triduum
“Christ redeemed us all and gave perfect glory to God principally through his paschal mystery: dying he destroyed our death and rising he restored our life. Therefore the Easter Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ is the culmination of the entire liturgical year. . . . 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. On Good Friday and, if possible, also on Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil, the Easter fast is observed everywhere.”
—General Norms for the Liturgical Year, nos. 18-19
Thus does the Church’s calendar speak of these Three Days. Lent ends on Holy Thursday. Friday and Saturday are days of private and communal prayer. We fast from food, work, and entertainment in anticipation of the great Vigil. We hold in special prayer the elect who will be baptized, be confirmed, and join in the eucharistic banquet. Thus are the death and Resurrection of Christ proclaimed in our midst. At various moments from Thursday evening until Sunday, the community gathers for prayer and vigil. In the times between these communal celebrations, we pray at home, as individuals and as a family. The following texts are offered to help families prepare for fuller participation in these special liturgies.
Holy Thursday Evening
Lent ends quietly on this evening as the Paschal Triduum begins. The liturgy of this night proclaims that we find glory in the Cross. At the Holy Thursday liturgy, we recall Jesus’ command to love each other as he has loved us. We embrace his call to become one with him in the Eucharist and to offer ourselves in loving service to all God’s children.
From Galatians 6:14
We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
for he is our salvation, our life, and our resurrection;
through him we are saved and made free.
We enter the Three Days in a peculiar way: washing feet, letting our feet be washed. This is an ancient meditation on what we do:b
Jesus, come, my feet are dirty. You have become a servant for my sake, so fill your basin with water; come, wash my feet. I know that I am bold in saying this, but your own words have made me fearful: "If I do not wash your feet, you will have no companionship with me."
But what am I saying: "Wash my feet"? Peter could say these words, for all that needed washing were his feet. For the rest, he was completely clean. I must be made clean with that other washing of which you said: "I have a baptism with which I must be baptized."
From John 13:4, 5, 15
The Lord Jesus, when he had eaten with his disciples, poured water into a basin
and began to wash their feet, saying: This example I leave you.
From John 13:14
If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, then surely you must wash one another’s feet.
From John 13:34
I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you, says the Lord.
Today and tomorrow the Church takes on the Paschal Fast, the Easter Fast. This is afast not of penance but of anticipation. We fast also from work and from all the usual distractions. Our minds and hearts grow hungry for God’s Word. Our lives are filled with the mystery of Jesus’ death and Resurrection and with how we ourselves take on that dying and rising, little by little becoming the image of Christ in this world. On Friday afternoon, the parish community gathers to read the Passion, to pray, and to venerate the Holy Cross. These are prayers and songs of Good Friday.
Lord, Send Your Abundant Blessing
Lord, send your abundant blessing upon your people
who devoutly recall the death of your Son
in the sure hope of the Resurrection.
Grant us pardon; bring us comfort.
May our faith grow stronger
and our eternal salvation be assured.
We Worship You, Lord
We worship you, Lord,
we venerate your Cross,
we praise your Resurrection.
Through the Cross you brought joy to the world.
Holy Is God!
Holy is God!
Holy and strong!
Holy immortal One,
have mercy on us!
The Wood of the Cross
This is the wood of the Cross,
on which hung the Savior of the world.
Come, let us worship.
The Paschal Fast begun on Thursday night continues today. The Church puts aside work and food to continue watching and praying. Some prayers for Holy Saturday are given here. The first text is from a centuries-old homily for Holy Saturday.
Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager.
The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
The Easter Exultet
Rejoice heavenly powers! Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes forever!
Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!
It is truly right
that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God,
the all powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin
to our eternal Father!
This is our Passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.
This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.
This is the night
when the pillar of fire
destroyed the darkness of sin!
This is the night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin
and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace
and grow together in holiness.
This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.
O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!
Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!
Of this night scripture says:
"The night will be clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy."
The power of this holy night
dispels all evil, washes guilt away,
restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.
Night truly blessed
when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!
Therefore, heavenly Father,
in the joy of this night
receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
your Church's solemn offering.
Accept this Easter candle,
a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.
(For it is fed by the melting wax,
which the mother bee brought forth
to make this precious candle.)
Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
and continue bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night!
May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Easter Sunday and the Easter Season
The Three Days of the Easter Triduum continue until the evening of Sunday. At the same time, the Church begins the Fifty Days of Easter, the time of rejoicing that ends on Pentecost.
This Is the Day the Lord Has Made
V/. This is the day the Lord has made;
R/. let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia.
Christ Is Risen, Alleluia!
V/. Christ is risen, alleluia!
R/. Christ is truly risen, alleluia!
Easter Sequence: Victimae Paschali Laudes
Christians, to the Paschal Victim
offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended
in that combat stupendous:
the Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
what you saw, wayfaring.
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection;
bright angels attesting,
the shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he goes before you.”
Christ indeed from death is risen,
our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Blessing of Easter Foods
The custom of blessing food for Easter arose from the discipline of fasting
throughout Lent and the special Easter Fast during the Easter Triduum. Easter was
the first day when meat, eggs, and other foods could again be eaten. According to custom, food may be blessed before or after the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday or on Easter Sunday morning for consumption at the first meal of Easter, when fasting is ended and the Church is filled with joy.
Christ is risen. Alleluia. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
God of glory,
the eyes of all turn to you
as we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death.