Spotlight on* Love as Service
* Communion in Living
* Sacramental Priesthood
The Drama of the Holy Triduum Begins
These are very solemn yet very busy days in any monastery. We began a time of recollection with Compline, Tuesday evening. But there is much to prepare especially in the way of liturgy and holy celebration. Our library has been transformed into a fitting place for reposition of the Blessed Sacrament and adoration this evening until midnight. Seating in our chapel has been expanded to accommodate Redemptorist students and other guests. A leg of lamb is roasting in the oven as traditional fare for our Passover Seder with Jesus in community.
One of our guests this evening is a non-Catholic friend who asked for some context and explanation of the liturgy of Holy Thursday. Perhaps others would be interested in my background material. May it enrich your experience of the Sacred Triduum.
As for Holy Thursday... I heard once that the liturgies of these three days were, at one time, one great long liturgy of the Paschal Mystery. Understanding each of the components (the rite for each day) is made easier by that image of a continuing drama being played out in a series of 'acts'. This is particularly true with the transition between tonight's liturgy of Holy Thursday and tomorrow's rite which is not a Eucharistic Liturgy, that is, a Mass with a consecration of the species. The Liturgy of Holy Thursday commemorates three things, not necessarily in this order: Jesus model of service and his last request that we loved one another; the institution of the Eucharist and, therefore, the institution of the sacramental priesthood. At times, this last - the priesthood - has been unduly emphasized in some places by a ritual renewal of vows for priests and religious. Liturgically that is really not in keeping with the most important messages of the liturgy. We try to emphasize the model of service in the foot washing and the institution narrative of the Eucharist. In every Catholic Church the Holy Thursday Liturgy will end with some kind of procession from the church to a place of reposition, a place where the consecrated hosts can be reserved with reverence. Since we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist at this liturgy, the Eucharistic procession and private adoration afterward are in order. This removal of the Eucharist leaves the church empty in readiness for the mood of Good Friday. The door of the chapel tabernacle stands open to remind us of emptiness. There are no linens on the altar, no candles, no flowers, etc.
The Good Friday ritual is really a prayer service consisting of three parts: a reading of the Passion Narrative from one of the Gospels; veneration of the Cross after it is ceremoniously brought into the church in procession and held up for all to see accompanied by the sung antiphon, "Behold, behold the wood of the Cross on which is hung your salvation. Come, let us adore Him." ; and last, a communion service in which the reserved Eucharist, consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass is brought back into the church and is received by the people. After this the consecrated hosts are once again returned to a place of reposition, the altar is left without any linens and a cross of some kind remains in the church for private veneration. All of this sets the scene and the mood which is held throughout Holy Saturday. The empty tabernacle and bare altar, will speak of the death of Jesus and His three day descent to the realm of the dead. It will also speak of the fear, grief, and sense of abandonment in his followers.
The Easter Vigil on Saturday night will begin with the lighting of the new fire from which the Paschal Candle, symbol of the resurrected Christ, will be lit and carried in procession to the church. The Paschal Candle will be set in a prominent place and a great hymn of praise at what has happened in the new Passover of the Lord will be sung (the Exultet). From this ancient hymn comes the line which calls the first sin of Adam, "Oh, happy fault." In the light of the Resurrection even the sin of Adam is seen as in some way fortuitous, as part of the plan of Redemption. Then, in complete darkness, the congregation will hear the Exodus story (seven readings) which culminate in the sung "Gloria" when all the lights go on and all the bells are rung in announcement of the Lord's victory over death.