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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Word of the day: Triduum

This isn’t going to be much of a posting, and I suspect you can guess why. Time is of the essence in my work these days. Thank God for my colleagues, especially Georgene and Karen, who take care of all the copying, sorting, ordering, filing, and reminding that needs to be done, or else we’d have to celebrate Easter in June. That, or I’d have to start working on it on St. Steven’s Day.
I apply what I consider to be a healthy hermeneutic of mistrust to liturgical catechesis (in practice, not in theory). If you do liturgy badly, and don’t understand even its basic principles, then you can’t do catechesis based on it. You’ll be compounding the problem, not solving it. This is also why liturgists frequently start drinking earlier in the day than other people with less stressful jobs, like brain surgeons and ordnance and explosive handlers. Case in point: a priest who will not be named in a church which will not be disclosed once told three hundred school children and about 150 adults that “Lent is over today (Wednesday), and the Triduum begins tomorrow. The Triduum is the three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, ending with the Easter Vigil.” 
It’s not like this is something everyone has to know, but if you’re in the Catholic “biz” as a professional, it’s a given that you should know what the Triduum is, and when Lent begins and ends (and why you can’t really figure out 40 days when you’re counting them up.) But in case someone asks you at a party what Catholics mean by “Triduum,” or it appears as a Final Jeopardy Answer, I thought you might want to know that “Triduum,” a strange late Latin word whose meaning isn’t all that clear, refers to the three days beginning with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, after Vespers on Holy Thursday, and goes for three days ending on Easter Sunday at Vespers (evening prayer at sundown). Lent ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. Easter Sunday is part of the Triduum. It’s not a way we usually count days in Western culture, but the feast didn’t originate in Western culture, it originated in Eastern culture among people who counted days as going from sundown to sundown. Finally, "Triduum" is pronounced like this: "tri" like the "tri-" in "triple;" "du-" like the "du-" in "duet"; "um" like, um..., um..., well, like "um." Accent on the first syllable. TRIduum.
Soundcloud excerpt of Dan Schutte's "Glory in the Cross"
Glory in the Cross - Dan Schutte (iTunes link to Dan's album)

The church celebrates the Paschal Mystery of Christ as a single liturgy lasting for three days. You’ll notice, when you come, that we begin with singing and the sign of the cross (if your presider is following the Roman rite) on Holy Thursday, and we don’t really “end” that celebration. There’s no dismissal, just a procession with the blessed sacrament to an altar that is in a different place from the main sanctuary. We pray there, keeping vigil through at least part of the night. The next day, Good Friday, we begin without a procession as such, there is no sign of the cross or opening song, we just begin with the opening prayer, as though we were continuing the celebration from yesterday. Again, we leave in silence after a closing prayer, no dismissal, no singing. Then, at the Great Vigil, we begin outside and process into the church, taking part in a series of processions following the newly consecrated candle to the ambo and then to the font with the elect; processions carry the neophytes into the assembly bearing the gifts, and finally lead them and all of us to the table. Now, finally, we are dismissed to the world. Those who attend on Easter Sunday continue the celebration begun the night before at the Vigil, renewing their baptismal promises with the good news of the Lord’s resurrection ringing in their ears. All in all, it’s a grand celebration, exhausting, but in the good way!
The General Norms for the Liturgical Year speaks of the Triduum as bearing the relationship to the entire year that Sunday bears to the week, and sees it as having an arc that reaches its acme at the Vigil:
18. Christ redeemed us all and gave perfect glory to God principally through his paschal mystery: dying he destroyed our death and rising he restored our life. Therefore the Easter triduum of the passion and resurrection of Christ is the culmination of the entire liturgical year. Thus the solemnity of Easter has the same kind of preeminence in the liturgical year that Sunday has in the week. 19. The Easter triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday.
So it is fitting and just that we spend all this time getting ready for it, that our music be as good as it can be, that the church and its building look beautiful and act beautifully and with justice on these days more than any others. And this is why blog entries are shorter this time of year, and why, when writing one, a musician or liturgist might not even finish a


  1. It's always a challenge to balance the ritual demands of the vigil Mass with the huge crowds of Sunday morning. Probably 90% of our musicians time and effort goes into the three evening liturgies, but 90% of the people attend just on Sunday. We do them all well, but with a finite amount of volunteer effort and budget for extra instruments it is a balancing act. It doesn't seem right to have Sunday appear like every other Sunday of the year and tell 1000 people, "boy, you should have been here last night!"

    1. Well said. And yeah. They should have been. :-)