Three Holy Days Leading to Easter

Little white flowers amid the grass. Wordage: Happy Spring.

Those pretty white wildflowers are some of the early ones that pop up here in Texas. I look forward to them every year.

Full disclosure here. Much of the following information about the Triduum was gathered and written by ChatGPT. My entire body is rebelling against me being on the computer for long, and I wanted to share about these three holy days that start today with Holy Thursday, because for many years the Triduum was the high point of our spiritual year.

Words escape my efforts to capture the emotional high I experienced throughout the three days of special services, and my husband found them just as enriching, even though he was exhausted by Sunday afternoon. For the thirty-five years he served as a permanent deacon, he had specific duties at each liturgy and was on the altar with the priests, sometimes for hours during the Saturday Night Easter Vigil.

Still, he would have it no other way.

Experiencing the Sacred: The Triduum in Roman Catholic Churches

During the liturgical year, Holy Week is a profound period of reflection and reverence for the faithful, culminating in the Triduum—the three days leading to Easter Sunday. For Roman Catholics, these days are not merely a chronological countdown to the resurrection of Christ but a journey through the most sacred mysteries of their faith. The Triduum, comprising Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, encapsulates the essence of Catholicism’s core beliefs and practices, inviting believers to delve deeply into the Paschal mystery.

Holy Thursday: The Institution of the Eucharist and Priesthood

Graphic for Holy Thursday showing a gold chalice and two small loaves of bread. Wordage: "God dwells in our midst in this blessed Sacrament of the altar." St. Maximilian Kolbe

The Triduum begins on Holy Thursday, sometimes called Maundy Thursday, with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, remembering the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles. This solemn liturgy reenacts the pivotal moments when Christ instituted the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders. The church is adorned in simplicity, mirroring the humble setting of the Upper Room. The priest washes the feet of the faithful, the same way Christ washed the feel of his Apostles to show his love and humility.

During the Mass, the institution of the Eucharist is commemorated, signifying the profound mystery of transubstantiation—the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament follows, as believers reflect on the real presence of Christ among them. The atmosphere is one of reverence and introspection, as the faithful ponder the depth of Christ’s sacrifice and the gift of his abiding presence in the Eucharist.

Good Friday: A Day of Solemn Remembrance

Graphic with silhouette images of three crosses against an orange sky. Black hilltop with words: Good Friday.

Good Friday, the second day of the Triduum, is a day of profound solemnity and reflection. It commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. The liturgy is stark and minimalist, reflecting the gravity of the occasion. The altar is stripped bare, symbolizing the desolation of Christ’s sacrifice. The faithful gather for the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, where the reading of the Passion narrative and the veneration of the Cross take center stage.

The veneration of the Cross—a moment when worshippers come forward to reverence the crucifix—evokes a profound sense of sorrow and gratitude. It is a gesture of homage to the instrument of salvation, a tangible reminder of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for humanity’s redemption. In the silence of the church, believers contemplate the enormity of Christ’s suffering and death, finding solace in the hope of resurrection that awaits.

Holy Saturday: Vigil of the Resurrection

Graphic for Holy Saturday. Empty wooden cross against a dark sky with bright light behind it. Wordage: Holy Saturday. In stillness, earth awaits the Resurrection.

Holy Saturday, the final day of the Triduum, is a day of anticipation and preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. The Easter Vigil is celebrated after nightfall, ushering in the joyous feast of Easter. The vigil begins in darkness, symbolizing the despair of Christ’s death and the darkness of sin. The Exsultet, the ancient hymn of praise, is sung, heralding the triumph of light over darkness and life over death.

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

During the Vigil, the Liturgy of the Word recounts salvation history, from creation to redemption, culminating in the proclamation of the Resurrection. The lighting of the Easter fire and the Paschal candle symbolize Christ as the light of the world, dispelling the darkness of sin and death. The church is gradually illuminated as worshippers light their candles from the Paschal candle, symbolizing the spread of Christ’s light throughout the world.

The climax of the vigil is the Easter proclamation—the Alleluia—resounding with joy and exultation. Christ is risen, and the church erupts in celebration. The sacraments of initiation are often administered during the vigil, as new members are welcomed into the faith community through baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist.

Alleluia, alleluia! Glory be to God on high; Alleluia! to the Savior who has gained the victory;
Alleluia! to the Spirit, fount of love and sanctity: Alleluia, alleluia! to the Triune Majesty.

In the Triduum, Roman Catholics embark on a profound spiritual journey, immersing themselves in the Paschal mystery—the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through solemn liturgies and sacred rituals, believers are invited to enter into the mystery of Christ’s saving love, finding hope, renewal, and redemption in the celebration of Easter.

Catholicism isn’t the only religion to celebrate these three holy days. Many other Christian faiths have similar services, and Holy Week has a strong tie to Passover. In fact, Jesus and the apostles were sharing a Passover meal when He shared his Last Supper with them.

The fact that Easter and Passover come at a time when the earth is awakening to Spring is perfect. New growth in the land is a wonderful way to illustrate new grown in hearts and spirits. The combination of liturgies in churches and synagogues, and mosques, as well, with what I call “liturgies of the garden” – digging in the dirt and planting – feeds a person’s soul.

However you mark these next three days, my wish is that your heart and soul are filled to overflowing.

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