Today we are entering into the final two weeks before Easter. In fact, in just ten days we will find ourselves in the most sacred days of the liturgical year, indeed, the most holy days of the year for a Christian: the Paschal Triduum. In these three days punctuated with powerful liturgical moments, we focus as a Church on what is truly essential, on what is, in the words of Pope Francis, “most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 35).
What is this most necessary thing?
The Paschal Mystery is the divine love revealed and made present, efficaciously present, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The efficacy and benefits of the death and resurrection of Jesus were so important to Paul that he wrote to the Corinthians, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). And to his beloved Philippians he stated that the one “who died for me” occupied him so completely that desired only this: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection” (Phil 3:10).
Our presence, in person or at least in spirit, at the liturgical celebrations of the Triduum reminds us that being Catholic is not about being club of like-minded people gathering around shared core ideas, people who happen to like each other like good neighbors, or a group come together to make a difference in the world. Our gathering as Christians is made possible solely because of the salvation offered by Christ, the crucified and risen Bridegroom who has brought the Church into existence.
We delight in salvation
In the Paschal Triduum we celebrate this unmerited Love that has saved us. Saint Paul often retold the story of the way Jesus sought him out personally on his way to Damascus and through the gift of Baptism refashioned the direction of his life through the blood of the Lamb once slain and now risen. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
We too should treasure and share the story of how we encountered the God of all salvation in Jesus Christ. The days of the Triduum should open out in awe and gratitude.
In the Triduum we turn our eyes to salvation, carrying in our hearts the whole world, this whole and entire messy and suffering world of 2023, a world that God loves.
During the Paschal Triduum we delight in the salvation provided us by the Savior. Looking about our world, our neighborhoods, our families, and even our own hearts we see the overwhelming burden of the very darkness that Christ came to dispel. As worries crowd our hearts, we yet cast ourselves at the feet of the crucified and risen Lord.
Holy Thursday: Total, selfless giving
On Holy Thursday we receive again the love of Christ in the Eucharist that is the very origin of the Church, the reason for its very existence. We learn again from him how to pour ourselves out in total selfless giving and presence, how to see in others those who have become through the blood of the Lamb once slain our brothers and sisters. We immerse ourselves in the Savior’s own courage as he walked into the darkness with his apostles, knowing that the actions of the darkness itself contribute to bringing about the triumph of Life and of the Day.
Good Friday: Trophy of salvation
On Good Friday we venerate the cross which was the instrument of Jesus’ death and the very source of our salvation. The refrain of the Reproaches cries out, “My people, what have I done to you? / Or how have I grieved you? Answer me!” Timothy O’Malley reflects on the suffering of Jesus on the cross:
“The God-man, Jesus Christ, was born to suffer. At his birth, he was wrapped in swaddling bands, an image of the burial clothes he would wear in the tomb. Christ was born for this moment, for this suffering on the wood of the tree. He hungered and thirsted in the desert, he cried at the tomb of Lazarus, because he came to take on the fullness of the human condition.
“Furthermore, the human condition, in all its violence, is on display in the crucifixion. The body of our Lord bleeds and oozes, is perforated by the nails and the spear. The blood and water that comes forth does so not in a gentle manner but in a torrent. The world itself is renewed through this washing, through this river of love flowing from the side of Christ” (“A Guide through the Poetic Theology of the Triduum,” April 10, 2020).
The cross becomes for a hungering and struggling, indeed for a wandering world, the trophy of salvation, the sign of victory, the promise of unending Life. Together we gaze on the cross of Christ that we might cast ourselves into the arms of the Bridegroom, and uniting our sufferings to his we become the instruments of salvation our world today so desperately needs.
Easter Vigil: Night so blessed
At the Easter Vigil, the crowning jewel of the evening of Holy Saturday and the beginning of the celebration of the resurrection, we are led by the Easter candle into the darkness of the Church, a sign of how the Light of the World leads the people lost in darkness into the wondrous light of salvation. We are meant to follow the Light and to be the light for people who still wander in darkness. We proclaim that all creation, like this candle, has been transformed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is the night, is sung again and again during the Easter Vigil. It is the night of all nights. It is a night of dazzling glory. It is a night full of gladness. For on this night, Israel was rescued in Egypt from slavery, escaping with their very lives through the power of the Lord. On this night, they wandered through the desert led by the pillar of light—forty years of learning that God is the one who fulfills his promise on his own terms and through his own power according to the mystery of his providential timing. On this night, Christ rose from the dead. In all nights, we learn that we receive salvation. We learn a posture of prayer and ministry that transfigures us into instruments of God’s love, the hands and feet and voice and heart of Christ today.
Night, usually a time for terror, is now blessed. The tragedy carried forward in the garden on the night before Jesus’ death through the kiss and betrayal of Judas now gives way to the resurrection of the Light and Life of the World. The stingy selfishness of those who live in the self-preservation and self-promotion of the night is transformed by the pure generosity of Jesus’ excessive love, a love beyond measure, a love that gave itself for us even when we were at enmity with God. As the final verse of the Exsultet proclaims: May the Easter Candle “shine continually to drive away all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find it ever burning—he who gives his light to all creation.”
There is a beautiful Hymn of Light found in the 1995 edition of the Lenten Triodion that would make a beautiful prayer as we end the Lenten season and enter into the Triduum.
Hymn of Light
O Christ, who make the light arise, purify my heart from all sin and save me.
Send forth your eternal light, O Christ our God, illuminate my eyes and my heart and save me.
Send forth your light, O Christ our God, and illuminate my heart and save me.
You make the light shine upon the whole world; enlighten my soul by purifying it of every sin and save me.
O Lord, the source of light, send forth your brightness to illuminate my heart and save me.
Send forth your everlasting light upon our souls, O Lord, and save me.
Enlighten my heart, O Lord, that I may sing to you: teach me to do your will and save me.
O Christ, the everlasting Light, enlighten me completely, and save me. (page 675)
Hymn of the Resurrection
Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us adore the holy Lord Jesus who alone is sinless. We bow to your Cross, O Christ, and we praise and glory your holy Resurrection. You are our God and besides you we recognize no other, and we invoke your name. Come all you faithful, and let us bow to the holy Resurrection of Christ, since, through the Cross, joy has come to all the world. Ever praising the Lord, let us extoll his Resurrection, since he, having endured the crucifixion, has destroyed death by his Death. (page 749)
Image Credit: Cathopic