Our reflection on Mercy Week reaches its climax with the Easter Triduum, the summit of the liturgical year. Holy Thursday marks the end of Lent and the beginning of the Triduum. Our senior Catholics will recall that Lent ended at noon on Holy Saturday, but liturgical reforms that followed Vatican II established the Triduum, beginning Holy Thursday evening and ending Easter evening, as a separate liturgical season, changing the end of the Lenten season to Thursday.
Triduum is Latin for three days. Following the ancient Jewish tradition that a day begins and ends at sunset, the Triduum begins Holy Thursday evening and ends Easter Day with evening prayer. Liturgically the Triduum is only one day, recalling the continuum of the last days of Jesus’ life, his passion, death and resurrection.
It is meaningful that the passion begins with a ritual meal commemorating God’s merciful deliverance of his people from bondage in Egypt, for the Last Supper initiates a new deliverance from the bondage of sin, that leads to redemption. Not just a promise but a new covenant of mercy enduring and perpetuated through the gift of his body and blood. Which we recall in the Eucharistic Prayer:
Take this all of you, and drink from it,
For this is the chalice of my blood,
of the new and eternal covenant,
Which will be poured you for and for many
For the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.”(Matt 26:26-29, Luke 22:19)
John in his Gospel describes the incredible sight of Jesus, taking the role of a servant, washing the feet of the apostles, over the strenuous objections of Peter who recognized the incongruity of the situation. Jesus responded, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
This action of Jesus has taken on new meaning in this Year of Mercy with the decision of Our Holy Father Francis to modify the rubric regarding the washing of the feet to embrace all disciples, establishing that the selection of participants in the Rite is no longer limited to men but can now include women and youth.
After the Lord washes the feet of the startled Apostles he explains the meaning of merciful discipleship:
Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13:5-8)
At the conclusion of the supper, Jesus and the Apostles, less Judas, depart for Gethsemane where he will endure his agony and confront his betrayer and cross.
Mercy permeates the Mass of the Lord’s Supper as it does the entire Triduum. It is indeed “twice blessed,” showered upon us in great abundance of love and sacrifice to which we respond in worship and faithful discipleship.