In reality the Triduum is a single three-day celebration that includes Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. It begins on the evening of Holy Thursday, which is the vigil of Good Friday. For the Jewish people, the day begins at sunset of the previous day. The Triduum ends at sunset on Easter. For this reason, there is no concluding ritual on either Thursday evening or on Friday, because the observance is seen as continuing for the three days. For our purposes we will treat each of the three liturgies separately.
At the center of the Holy Thursday celebration is the Eucharist, not as it is in every liturgy, but in a special way as we remember and reflect upon the great gift of Thanksgiving that Jesus left us. In the opening prayer we are told that “He gave it to us when he was about to die and commanded us to celebrate it as the new and eternal sacrifice.”
The importance of remembering is brought out by the Passover story from Exodus which concludes with the words: “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution.”
Interestingly the scripture recalling the institution of the Eucharist is taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. The memorial or remembrance theme is continued with Jesus’ words: “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” He repeats it with the cup when he says; “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
With these simple words the Lord not only instituted the Eucharist, but also the means of continuing it by providing a ministerial and hierarchical priesthood. We are reminded of exactly what the Eucharist is by the responsorial psalm: “our blessing-cup is communion with the Blood of Christ.” It is the Eucharist that unites with Jesus as well as one another.
In the gospel from St. John we see that Jesus commanded us not only to celebrate and remember him in worship but also in service. When Jesus began to wash the disciples’ feet, impetuous Peter shouted out “You will never wash my feet.” Not surprising since the task of washing feet was not that of a servant but of a slave.
Jesus not only took on human flesh, but the role of a slave and then commanded his disciples to do the same. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” This theme of servant and slave will be amplified in the readings as the celebration continues on Good Friday.
During the liturgy of the Eucharist enough bread is consecrated to provide for the Friday observance. Because the bread for Friday is consecrated on Thursday evening, the Friday liturgy was at one time referred to as the Mass of the Pre-sanctified.
Finally, with no closing ceremony, the Eucharist is carried in procession to a chapel where it will be reserved until Friday. During the procession the Pange Lingua an ancient hymn that celebrates the institution of the Eucharist , is sung. The altar is stripped bare and any crosses in the church are covered.
We are left to reflect upon the unmistakable fact that worship of God is eternally linked to service to others.
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