If “Triduum” isn’t the most commonly mispronounced word in history, there’s a good chance it’s in the top 10. At first glance, it may look like “Try-doo-um.” Some folks insist that it’s “Tree-do-um.” It’s actually pronounced “Trih-doo-um.”
Regardless of how it mellifluously rolls off the human tongue, Easter Trid-uum is a glorious three-day period, the most solemn time of the Liturgical Year. It takes place from sundown on Holy Thursday to the Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday.
“These three days of Triduum are symbolic of the three days that Jesus was in the tomb after he died,” says Fr. Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar of Christ Cathedral. “It’s a very special time.”
Easter Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The Church recognizes the Holy Sacrifice of the Last Supper, which took place the evening before Christ was crucified.
“It’s very joyful,” Fr. Christopher says. “The ‘Gloria’ is sung during Mass and bells are rung.”
The washing of the feet ceremony, in which a priest or priests wash the feet of others, points to Jesus’ role as a servant, the way He served his disciples.
“In our Diocese, at least one priest in each parish – sometimes there are more – washes the feet of some of the faithful gathered at Mass,” Fr. Christopher says. “It all depends on the parish. Some pick 12 people to be served, which is symbolic of the 12 Apostles. To be Christian, we must be willing to ‘wash the feet’ of others, to be of service to one another.”
Later, everything goes silent on this Holy Thursday. The bells cease ring-ing, the beautiful altar decorations are removed and taken to the Altar of Repose, and the consecrated hosts are taken away. The somber mood serves as a reflection of the night Jesus was betrayed.
Good Friday marks the day Jesus was crucified and died for the world’s sins. The environment is empty and plain. There is no consecrated Host. The day is rooted in solemn prayer and mourning. Not a Mass, the Good Friday ceremony marks the communion with the consecrated Hosts taken away during Holy Thursday. It often takes place at 3 p.m., the time Jesus died on the cross.
If it’s so somber, why is it called Good Friday?
“It’s called ‘good’ because it’s the day Christ gave His life out of love for us,” says Fr. Christopher. “But it’s a very painful thing as well, that terrible violence of the crucifixion. What the death of Jesus on Good Friday represents to me is God’s unconditional love for us in the ordinariness of our lives. We all have our good and bad traits, but Jesus loves us unconditionally despite that.”
Also a day of mourning, Holy Saturday occurs before the Easter Vigil, which begins that evening. It’s a time to recall how, for the first time, Jesus was separated from Mary and the disciples after he died. As is the case with Good Friday, it’s a day of limited fasting.
“This is the day we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord on Easter,” Fr. Christopher says. “It’s a time to stay quiet and remember how Jesus was in the tomb after his death. On Holy Saturday, we prepare to celebrate the Vigil of Easter, which begins on sunset.
Today, the Vigil Mass is composed of the Service of Light, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of Baptism and Liturgy of the Eucharist.
“We keep vigil in order to anticipate Jesus’ resurrection, as His disciples did,” Fr. Christopher says. “During the Vigil Service, scripture readings take place, from the beginning of the creation story all through our salvation history. The heart of the Easter Vigil is the ‘Alleluia,’ which is sung for the first time since Ash Wednesday.”
The Baptism is an immersion into what has been celebrated during the last three days. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, everyone is called to live out every day based on His teachings and eternal life.
Easter Sunday, which actually starts on sunset the previous day, is the culmination of the past 40 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. “In the Catholic Church, it’s a glorious celebration that begins in the morning and continues throughout the day until the evening,” says Fr. Christopher.
Regardless of how you pronounce it, Easter Triduum is the holiest three days of Holy Week.