“Part company with the earth and ascend to the realms of heaven!”
-St. John Chrysostom
During the supreme days of the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter), the saving work of Jesus Christ is re-presented to us in the mystery of the liturgy of the Church. These days mark the pinnacle of the battle between good and evil, light and darkness, of life and death. Entering into these sacred days is an entering into a cosmic and most ancient mystery, a mystery which continues by its power to transform the lives of believers throughout time and throughout the world.
Our attention, your attention, must be given to these sacred days! No other activity, be it work, sport, recreation, no other preoccupation can take the place of the Sacred Liturgy in which Jesus Christ accomplishes our salvation and is victorious over sin, suffering and death. This cannot be adequately stressed. Secularism continues to push the truth of our existence from our lives, it is more imperative than ever to teach our families, remind our neighbors and to be observant ourselves, of all that God revealed to us in the Paschal Mystery. “For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed” (I Corinthians 5:7).
If the Monday following Easter finds you unmoved, detached, careless in your observation, you will have lost an invaluable encounter with Jesus Christ. Satan’s gnarly and hideous grasp on the heart of man is broken in these dramatic days. Be careful that –when all is accomplished- you are not one remaining under this diabolical influence.
Lent comes to an end and the Sacred Triduum begins!
The Liturgy: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that is celebrated on Holy Thursday recalls the Last Supper. Three mysteries are commemorated in this liturgy: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ’s command of brotherly love. Tradition has instituted the washing of the feet of twelve men to represent the institution of the priesthood. Following Mass, a procession forms and the Blessed Sacrament is carried through the church to a place of reservation where the faithful may spend a “suitable period of time” during the night praying with Jesus. He who asked, “Will you not watch one hour with me?” awaits you in the night. The altar will be stripped and washed as a reminder of the burial preparation of Our Lord. From midnight onward, adoration ceases as the day of the Lord’s Passion has begun.
Scripture: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (I Corinthians 11:23-26).
- “The scene [the washing of feet in John 13] was a summary of Jesus’ Incarnation. Rising up from the Heavenly Banquet in intimate union of nature with the Father, He laid aside the garments of His glory, wrapped about His divinity the towel of human nature which he took from Mary; poured the laver of regeneration which is in His Blood shed on the Cross to redeem men, and began washing the souls of His disciples and followers through the merits of His death, Resurrection, and Ascension.” –Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ, page 283.
- “At the end of Holy Thursday Liturgy, the Church puts the Blessed Sacrament in a specially prepared place that represents Jesus’ loneliness and mortal anguish in Gethsemane. …the faithful contemplate Jesus in the hour of his solitude and pray that all the loneliness in the world may cease.” -Benedict XVI (31 March 2010)
Liturgy: Without exception, Good Friday is a “day of mourning, not a day of festive joy.” Good Friday is a day of penance, we join the whole Church in abstinence and fasting. Strict and uncompromising silence is to be observed between noon and 3 PM – the hour of Christ’s agony. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not celebrated. The celebration of the Lord’s Passion includes the Liturgy of the Word, the veneration of the Cross, and the reception of Holy Communion.
Scripture: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” … “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 4:14-5:10).
- “It seems to me that you do not rightly understand the difference between what he did and suffered at the demand of obedience, and what he suffered, not demanded by obedience, but inflicted on him, because he kept his obedience perfect… God did not compel Christ to die; he suffered death of his own will, not yielding up his life as an act of obedience in maintaining holiness; for he held out so firmly in this obedience that he met death on account of it.” (St. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo)
- “There flowed from his side water and blood. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the holy Eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.” -St. John Chrysostom, Liturgy of the Hours, Good Friday.
The Easter Vigil
Liturgy: The full meaning of this Vigil cannot be comprehended. The Church is a waiting for the coming of the Lord and observes a “vigil for the Lord” which is the “mother of all holy vigils”. A service of light and the Easter Proclamation is followed by seven Old Testament, a New Testament reading and the Gospel Proclamation recall the saving works the Lord God fashioned for his people from ancient times. New members are then reborn in Baptism and all who are prepared approach the altar to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist.
Scripture: “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein!’” (Revelation 12:10-12).
Meditation: The significance, the majestic and incompressible significance of this most Sacred Day is expressed somewhat closely (but even still inadequately) by an ancient text that some attribute to St. Ambrose of Milan and that others believe is even more ancient: The Easter Exultet.
As the Easter Liturgy of the Church begins, the sacred fire, the Light of Christ, now glowing atop the Paschal Candle, enters the nave of the Church and is taken to the Ambo and is incensed. The minister, a Deacon of the Word, vested in a white dalmatic, calls to our mind the angel of the Gospel, who stood next to the empty tomb to proclaim to all the world the joyful news, “He is risen, as he said!” The Sacred Scripture records, “And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow” (Matthew 28:3).
And the angelic Deacon begins to proclaim one of the most beautifully profound texts preserved by the Church: “Exalt! Let them exalt, hosts of heaven… Be glad! Let the earth be glad… Rejoice! Let Mother Church exalt!”
What follows has the power to destroy the grip of the Evil One over all the earth! The text continues to proclaim “the awesome glory of this holy night,” the night that saw the work of Christ complete, the work that “paid Adam’s debt” and “wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.” “This is the night, when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld” “This…” “THIS,” the text demands, “This is the night!”
And, in the midst of the power and glory and triumph of so great a risen Savior crashing forth upon the earth, the text turns radically to a truth so beautiful, so tender, that those who listen and truly hear, men or women, girl or boy, feel tears dripping down their face: “O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!”
What is this proclamation? One’s mind returns to the desert where nomads traveled about and are caught or raided by a marauding party and you, a worthless slave, is manhandled and taken from your master and his tribe. Contemplating the violence, abuse and, perhaps, death to come, you are succumb to a dark and hopeless despair. Then it happens: you look up from the darkness, utterly stunned to see your master at the edge of the camp, ready to exchange his own son into slavery to win your release. It is not comprehensible! Nobody would believe it; you, yourself, do not even believe it.
And yet, that is what we proclaim! Man, you and me, captured by so great an enemy as Satan, a fallen-spirit of Archangelic Power, tears us from the life of the Father… who, in turn, pursues us over the centuries until he approaches us at the edge of Satan’s camp… and with an unfathomable depth of love, comes before us, beaten down and enslaved as we are, and makes the offering of his Son for YOU. Sweet unfathomable exchange! His life for your life; too great for us even to conceive.
What good would life had been to us, had Christ not come to us as our redeemer!