Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Guide to Holy Week’s Paschal Triduum: Encountering Jesus in the Summit of his Life

More important than any day of the year, more important than Christmas, is the Paschal Triduum, “three days” which are the very center of a Christian’s year.

Pasch is derived from the Jewish word for “passover”, the celebration of the sacrifice of a lamb, and of the angel's "passing over" the houses of the Jews marked by the lamb’s blood. In Christianity, the Paschal Mystery of Jesus refers to his self-offering as the Lamb of God in his passion and death, and his “passing over” from this world to his Father in his resurrection and ascension.

These mysteries are the very center of a Christian’s life, for they are “the greatest mysteries of our redemption”, the principal saving work of  Jesus Christ that brings the light of his self-giving love to our whole life, our whole year and to the whole history of mankind.

The celebration of this mystery happens daily in the Holy Mass, the peak moment of each Christian’s day, and yearly during Holy Week’s Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday and Easter Sunday.

If these moments make present in our midst the most powerful saving work of Jesus, then it logical that Christians should be eager to receive these most powerful of graces during this unrivaled summit of the liturgical year. 

This guide to take full advantage of the Paschal Triduum is based on the Vatican’s official document, Paschalis Sollemnitatis.


Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper: Remembering Jesus’ Love to the End. The Paschal Triduum starts in the evening of Holy Thursday during the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

It commemorates how Jesus began his paschal self-offering by “loving his own who were in the world, loving them to the end.” He loves us by instituting two key sacraments by which he reaches us today: the Eucharist, the sacrament of love that makes us "time travel" to Jesus' actual paschal mystery in Calvary, and Holy Orders, the sacrament which continues his priesthood.

Because Holy Thursday commemorates such significant events in Jesus' life, this day is considered by the Church as a "solemnity". A solemnity is a feast day of the highest rank, a day of celebration and joy, because the supreme good of the Eucharist, compared to which there is nothing more important on earth, was given to us on this day. 

Visita Iglesia: Adoring Jesus in the Eucharist.  The Church states that the faithful are “encouraged to spend a suitable period of time during the night in the church in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament which has been solemnly reserved.

A practice that started in Rome, done after the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, is visiting seven churches: Visita Iglesia. A free guide to Visita Iglesia, which is based on seven stops (visits or stations) that Jesus made after the Last Supper and before he was led to Calvary, can be found here.

Penance: turning away from our sins and turning back to God. If the whole of Lent and each Friday of the year that commemorates the death of Jesus are called “intense moments of the Church's penitential practice”, what more the Paschal Triduum itself! All these moments, says the Church, “are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).”  This sharing, acts of charity and evangelization, should be practiced above all with the persons nearest to us: family, friends, co-workers, and the acts of self-denial will be most pleasing to God if they are done to perform all our ordinary activities well.  

Sacrament of Confession. The most powerful and effective form of penance is that which Christ himself instituted when he told the Apostles: whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Given that many people are moved by the season to do acts of penance, good Catholics strive during these days to invite many of their relatives, friends and acquaintances to return to this sacrament. This also fulfills Pope Francis' appeal that Christians "put the sacrament of reconciliation at the center once more." A simple guide to Confession can be found here.

Chronology of the Actual Events of Jesus’ Holy Thursday 

To help commemorate the actual events that happened on this day, some scholars give the following chronology:

6-7 PM            Washing of the Feet. Paschal Supper
7-8 PM            Institution of the Eucharist; New Commandment
9 PM               Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane
10 PM             Agony in the Garden
11 PM             Arrest of Jesus


On this day, says Paschalis Sollemnitatis, when Christ our passover was sacrificed, the Church:

  •           meditates on the passion of her Lord and Spouse,
  •           adores the cross,
  •           commemorates her origin from the side of Christ asleep on the cross, and
  •           intercedes for the salvation of the whole world.
Each one of these acts --meditation, adoration, commemoration and intercession-- should mark our Good Friday, permeated by an attitude of allowing God to act: to love us, to heal us, to transform us. 

There are many devotions that the faithful can do during this day, but the Church clarifies that “liturgical celebration by its very nature far surpasses them in importance.” It must be remembered that the liturgy is not the action of one individual, but the action of whole Christ: Jesus and his entire Church in heaven and on earth. The two liturgies on Good Friday are: the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion and the Liturgical Hours.

Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. This most ancient rite so touching for its stark simplicity is celebrated at around 3 PM in all churchesIt consists of readings of the passion, adoration of the cross, and communion.

Liturgy of the Hours: Office of Readings and Morning Prayer.  In the Catechism, the Church says praying the Liturgy of the Hours helps “reveal more deeply the meaning of the mystery being celebrated” and is therefore for “all the faithful as much as possible” and “intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God” (CCC 1177; 1175). Paschalis Sollemnitatis recommends that people participate in the saying of the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours of Good Friday. They can be found here and here.

Fasting. St. Thomas explains that we fast for three noble purposes: (1) to restrain the desires of the flesh, (2) to raise our mind to contemplate sublime things, (3) to make up for our sins. Fasting helps us then to be one with Christ's self-sacrifice that saves all from sin and gives the greatest worship to God.  

Way of the Cross.  This is a favorite practice among Christians on Good Friday, and is traditionally led by the Pope in Rome.

Some of the most-loved versions are:
Books and Movies on the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ.  Meditating on a book and watching a movie on Jesus’ passion is another common practice during these days.

Here are some of the most important books on Christ’s passion:

  •             Passion of the Christ
  •             Jesus of Nazareth
  •             Miracle Maker
To meditate on the significance of Jesus' passion and death, based on the deep insight of the Church, one can use the teaching of the Catechism  and other doctrinal analyses.  Of course, the best book to read and pray on during this time is the Bible, especially the four Gospels.

Chronology of Actual Events of Jesus’ Good Friday

12 AM –3 AM:           Religious process. 1st Session
6 AM:                         2nd Session of the Sanhedrin
7 AM – 8 AM:            Civil process: Jesus before Pilate
8 AM – 9 AM:            Jesus before Herod
9 AM – 11AM:           Jesus before Pilate; scourging and crowning with thorns
11 AM:                        Final sentence; Behold the man
                                    Carrying of the Cross
12 noon:                      Crucifixion; casting lots over garments; insults; darkness; vinegar; last words; Mary
3 PM:                          Death of Jesus; piercing of his side
5 PM:                          Burial


At the Lord’s Tomb. Paschalis Sollemnitatis teaches: On Holy Saturday the Church is, as it were, at the Lord's tomb,
  •           meditating on his passion and death, and on his descent into hell, and
  •            awaiting his resurrection with prayer and fasting.
Use of Images. The same document recommends the use of the following images for the prayer of the faithful:
  •           Christ crucified
  •           Christ lying in the tomb
  •           Christ’s descent into hell
  •           Sorrowful Virgin Mary

Liturgy of the Hours: Office of Readings and Morning Prayer.  As in Good Friday, Paschalis Sollemnitatis recommends that people participate in the saying of the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours of Holy Saturday. They can be found here and here.

Reading and Meditation on the Passion and Descent into Hell. Penitential Acts. Since the mood is that of staying beside the tomb of Christ, Christians continue their reading and prayer over texts regarding the passion and death of our Lord, and other practices of penance. 

The Church's teaching on Christ's Burial can be found here and on his Descent into Hell here

Stabat Mater: make me feel the power of sorrow to grieve with you. Saturday is a day traditionally devoted to our Lady. It is good to accompany her, who is our shortcut to God, as we accompany the entire Church in continuing to meditate on Jesus' passion and death. The hymn Stabat Mater is a beloved prayer to the Virgin of Sorrows, which helps Christians enter profoundly into the mystery of Christ's saving death. This webpage, called the Ultimate Stabat Mater Site, offers various English translations that can help understand and meditate on the meaning of this beautiful Latin hymn


The Catechism teaches that Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the ‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities,’ just as the Eucharist is the ‘Sacrament of sacraments’ (the Great Sacrament). St. Athanasius calls Easter ‘the Great Sunday’... The mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subjected to him.”

Easter Vigil. Celebrated on Saturday evening, the Easter Vigil  is the "greatest and most noble of all solemnities" and can be said to be the most beautiful, inspiring and moving liturgies of the Church. The rite includes the lighting of candles in the dark symbolizing the spread of the light of Christ’s resurrection throughout the darkened world.

It is called the “the mother of all vigils.” A vigil is defined as “a period of time of keeping awake during a time usually dedicated to sleep, especially to keep watch and pray.”

On this night, the Church “keeps vigil, waiting for the resurrection of the Lord”. 

Easter Mass. If one has not attended the Easter Vigil, there is also the Easter Mass, which is celebrated with great solemnity.

Chronology of Actual Events on Jesus' Easter Sunday


Appearance to Mary, his mother (Tradition)
Appearance to Mary Magdalene
Appearance to other women

Afternoon to late evening: 

Appearance to Peter
Appearance to two disciples on the way to Emmaus; Self-revelation at the Breaking of the Bread 
Appearance to Apostles except Thomas; Apostles rejoice. Gave power to forgive sins in Confession  

Easter joy. Easter is the greatest celebration of the Church, and therefore the greatest happiness of each Christian. 

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Benedict XVI explains, "humanity has been made to enter the very nature of God. We are in God. We should rejoice. He loves us, and God loves us to such a point that his love has been made flesh and remains flesh. 

This joy should be the strongest impulse of all, that most explosive force which impels us to communicate the news to all people, so that they likewise may rejoice in the light which is revealed to us, and which in the midst of the world's night announces the day."  

Easter feast. Since Easter is called by the Church the "Feast of feasts", a feast greater than Christmas, then the Easter party should be proportionally well-celebrated. Given that Jesus is the Paschal Lamb, a historic feature of the Easter meal is roasted lamb. Another Easter food that symbolizes the resurrected Christ is the egg. It's hard shell represents the sealed tomb. The life within the egg represents Christ who is Life itself, whose soul reunites with his body, resurrecting to a glorious life so we too can resurrect

Easter octave and Eastertime: 50 days as one great feastday

The longest special season in the Church is Eastertime, 50 days from Easter day to Pentecost. The whole time is celebrated, according to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, as one, single great feast-day, like one grand Sunday. St. Athansius called the first days of Eastertime, from Easter Sunday to the next Sunday, which is Divine Mercy Sunday, "the early hours of the greatest and most noble of all Christian feasts." 

Regina Coeli: rejoicing with Mary throughout the Easter Season, and after.  Pope Benedict XVI taught that Paschal Mystery is the center of the Christian life and Sunday, the day of Christ's resurrection is the first day of every week. And because of this, he said: "Again and again, we begin our time with the Resurrection, our encounter with the Risen one, and from that encounter with the Risen one, we go out into the world."

To always remember the central joy of the Resurrection, Christians cherish each Sunday as the beginning of the week with Holy Mass, a time that gives life to the rest of the days. And during the 50 days of Easter until Pentecost, we pray the Regina Coeli at noontime: Queen of heaven, rejoice! Alleluia! 

Formed in the joys of Easter, living the life of the Risen Christ, the Christian then becomes a cheerful person all throughout the year, who spreads peace and joy to everyone he or she meets. 

A relevant article is Paschal Mystery: Center of the Christian Life. This is the essential teaching of the the most important council that influences our lives today, the Second Vatican Council,  according to Pope Benedict XVI, but is hardly known. You can read the article here

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