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The Paschal Triduum is the heart of the liturgical year, marking the end of Lent and the apex of Holy Week. It is filled with solemnity, anticipation, and celebration that together capture the essence of Christian faith. It is a journey through the most sacred days of the year that commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, starting with Maundy Thursday and culminating in the glorious Easter Day festivities.

The Three Holy Days

The Paschal Triduum, or simply called the Triduum, is the most sacred period in the Christian liturgical calendar. This three-day observance (triduum) is a separate season in the liturgical year. It marks the end of Lent and leads up to Easter (paschal) Sunday. It begins on the evening of Holy Thursday with the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, continues through Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and concludes on Easter Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During the Triduum, the community gathers in liturgy to reflect upon the sacred mysteries of Christian belief, particularly Christ’s work of redemption for humanity. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and the washing of feet, symbolizing service and love. Good Friday is a somber day of prayer, featuring the veneration of the cross. The Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night is a joyful culmination, with candlelight symbolizing the light of Christ piercing the darkness. The Triduum is a pilgrimage feast—a spiritual journey that encourages personal time for reflection.

The practices of these sacred days in the Church are ancient. The Pilgrimage of Egeria records the visit of a devout Christian to Jerusalem late in the 4th century. She participated in the liturgies throughout the holy city that led up to Easter. Many of those practices are still part of Holy Week worship today.

Though many may associate these services primarily with Roman Catholic or Anglican churches, Christian communities of all kinds observe the Triduum. Orthodox Christian churches have a different date for Easter, but their worship is closest to that which Egeria witnessed in Jerusalem. Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and all other communities of Christians, prepare for Easter with some or all of these traditional practices.

Maundy Thursday

The Easter Triduum begins with Maundy Thursday — the Thursday before Easter.

This solemn day recalls Jesus’ final night with his disciples. The Gospel of John records that Jesus said to them, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” (John 13:34) It was on this night that Jesus washed his disciples feet. Then, while he was at dinner with them, Jesus took bread and told them that it was his body, telling them to remember him whenever they ate it. And he took a cup of wine and said it was his blood, which they should share until he returned. (Matthew 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:14–23)

Maundy Thursday observances may begin with a shared meal, remembering Jesus eating with his disciples. Worship services often include foot washing, in keeping with the reading from John, and his command that his followers love one another. This service generally concludes with the celebration of Eucharist, or Holy Communion.

In some traditions, after this service churches strip their altars bare, and all the lights and candles in the church are extinguished, signifying Jesus’ impending death. An altar of repose might be set up in a separate location, remembering Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Participants in the Triduum may be invited to take turns praying at this altar, in remembrance of Jesus saying to his friends, “could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”. (Matthew 26:40-45)

Good Friday

Good Friday is the pivotal day in the Triduum. This solemn day is observed as a day of prayer, reflection, and commemoration of Christ’s crucifixion. A Gospel reading of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and death is usually read. Worship services includes significant silence for prayer on this day. Communion is not generally celebrated, though some faithful may help consume the bread and wine that was removed from the church the previous night.

Churches on Good Friday often toll their church bells in remembrance of Jesus. Many people take personal time on this day to engage in individual acts of devotion, such as visiting stations of the cross, prayer, and fasting.

Although Good Friday is a somber occasion, it is not isolated; it is part of a continuum that ultimately culminates in the joyous celebration of Easter Sunday. Good Friday stands as a testament to the solemnity and sacredness of the Easter narrative, guiding the devout on their spiritual journey through what is considered a separate season within the broader context of Lent.

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday marks the final day of the Triduum, the three-day period leading up to Easter Sunday. This sacred day is a time of quiet reflection and anticipation within the Christian community as they commemorate the day Jesus Christ lay in the tomb after his crucifixion. Unlike the tolling of church bells typically heard during festive celebrations, Holy Saturday is often characterized by a notable silence, symbolizing the silence of the day after Jesus died, when his followers were grieving, confused, and unsure what would happen next.

There is great anticipation on this day. From people dying eggs, preparing special meals, and maybe getting out their “Easter clothes” it also a day of preparation. Christian tradition considers this a time when Jesus descended to the dead for our redemption, which earth waited in silence.

Holy Saturday is a hinge day between the sorrow of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. And so, in many churches, particularly Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican or Episcopal, the day ends with the celebration of the Great Vigil of Easter.

Easter Day

Easter Day, also known as Resurrection Sunday, is a joyous and celebratory occasion for Christians around the world. It marks the end of the Holy Week and contains the culmination of the Easter Triduum on the evening of Holy Saturday, before Easter Sunday dawns.

With Easter, the solemn silence and contemplative nature of the previous days are replaced with exultant church bells ringing out across towns and cities, calling the faithful from their homes to church to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This festive sound heralds the victory of life over death and is a pivotal moment within the liturgical calendar.

With vibrant services filled with uplifting music and the community at liturgy, Easter Day brings a profound sense of renewal and hope. The day is also marked by the return of the Alleluia, previously omitted during Lent, a sign of the joyous nature of the celebration.

Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter is the first official celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. As a night watch of expectation, this liturgy begins in darkness and then bursts into light, symbolizing Christ’s passage from death to life. Held between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Sunday, the Easter Vigil is called the “Mother of all Liturgies,” and is one of the most important services in the liturgical year of the Christian church, especially within the Anglican and Catholic traditions.

During the service, a new fire is lit, from which the Paschal candle is ignited. An ancient adn haunting hymn is sung before this candle that serves as a symbol of the light of Christ, which dispels all darkness and represents the eternal presence of God. The Easter Vigil is rich with symbolism; it includes the service of light, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of Baptism or Renewal of Baptismal vows, and the first Eucharist of Easter. In the ancient church, including the community that Egeria experienced, Easter was when new Christians were baptised and welcomed into the community, following their long Lenten preparation. This is a night in which the faithful and seekers alike embark on a pilgrimage feast of the senses, with a sequence of readings recounting the story of God’s saving deeds throughout history, culminating in the Gospel proclamation of the resurrection.

The Easter Vigil is also a time when days of prayer and preparation find their fulfillment. It’s an opportunity for individual reflection and for the personal time spent during Lent to merge into a collective experience of celebration. Communities gather to share in the joy, renew their baptismal vows, receive new members into the church and to affirm once more the Easter proclamation: “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Many churches offer a Sunrise Service on Easter Morning. This liturgy is a descendant of the Easter Vigil. The particular parts of the service may be different, but it is the same celebration of retelling of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and his victory over death for the sake of all creation.

The Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom

The Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom is a cherished tradition in many Christian traditions, especially within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Its origin lies with St. John Chrysostom, a revered archbishop of Constantinople in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, known for his eloquent preaching. This specific homily is traditionally recited during the Easter Vigil, in the early hours of Easter Sunday, marking the culmination of the Holy Week and the joyous celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The text itself is a powerful message of inclusivity and redemption. St. John Chrysostom addresses not only the fervent and the pious but also those who have been lax in their observance, declaring that all are welcome to partake in the feast regardless of their diligence in fasting or late arrival. It extends a universal invitation to celebrate the triumph over death and partake in life eternal. At the heart of the homily lies the theme of mercy and the boundless grace of God, offering comfort and hope to the faithful, assuring them of God’s love and the joys of salvation without discrimination or judgment.

Great 50 Days

The “Great 50 Days,” often referred to as Eastertide or Easter season, encompass the time from Easter Sunday until Pentecost. This period in the Christian liturgical calendar is marked by joy and celebration, as it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the founding events of the Christian Church.

The Great 50 Days include:

  • Easter Sunday: The commencement of the season, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.
  • Ascension Day: Occurs on the 40th day of the Great 50 Days, marking Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
  • Pentecost: The conclusion of the period, celebrated on the 50th day, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and followers of Jesus.

Whether you are a regular participant in the days of prayer and worship leading up to Easter, or whether you have never participated in the dramatic liturgies of these days, you are welcome to enter into them now. This holy season is unmatched in its drama, hope, anticipation, and joy. The Paschal mystery of sorrow turned to joy is a reality that we live over and over again. Spending some time at the root of that mystery, in awe and wonder at the redemption of the whole world, is an astonishing gift.

And one tip: if you can only attend one service, make it the Easter Vigil! It is the heart of all Christian worship, and everything we do stems from this service. (Even if the details have changed over time!)