Today, we enter in to the most Holy Week of the liturgical year. On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the first joy of the season, as we celebrate Our Lord’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where he was welcomed by crowds worshiping him and laying down palm leaves before him.
We celebrate several important liturgies during this week.
Wednesday, April 17 @ 11 AM Chrism Mass at Cathedral
Holy Thursday, April 18 @ 7:00 PM – Mass of the Lord’s Supper followed by Holy Hour of Adoration
Good Friday, April 19 @ 1:30 PM – Divine Mercy 2:00 PM – Living Stations 3:00 PM – Celebration of the Lord’s Passion
Easter Saturday, April 20 @ 8:30 pm – Easter Vigil
Easter Sunday, April 21 @ 8:15 AM & 11:00 AM – Easter Mass
What, really, do the liturgies of the Triduum celebrate? Most all of us believe we know the answer. We assume that Thursday commemorates the day Jesus instituted the Eucharist; Friday commemorates the day he was executed on the cross; and the vigil commemorates his emergence from the tomb. We assume, further, that the liturgies of these days are dramatic “reenactments” of events – by turns touching, tragic and triumphant – which happened during Jesus’ last days and culminated in his victory over death. We assume, in order words, that the paschal Triduum is simply springtime’s parallel to winter’s Christmas.
As it gathers on these days, the liturgical assembly is often thought to be engaged in acts of historical “reconstruction” that recreate scenes in the “upper room,” on Calvary, and at the tomb. People are encouraged to imagine they are “actually present” at these events – comforting Jesus during his fearful watch in Gethsemane, walking with him along the Via Crucis, and witnessing his miraculous “return to life” on Easter morning. This view may frequently be reinforced by popular hymns that focus on the “historical facts” of the celebration.
But is “history” the central focus of celebration during the Triduum? Certainly, the early Christian creeds anchored belief in the historical, this-worldly circumstances that accompanied Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion “under Pontius Pilate”. Jesus’ life, career and death were, in other words, attached to a specific time, in a specific place. His proclamation of God’s arrival in the present moment, his rejection of “religion” as a means of social or political control – all this took place not in some cosmic cloud of unknowing but in a remote province of the later Roman Empire at a time of sociopolitical transition.
Precisely because these faith-anchoring events are historical, however, they cannot be repeated or “reenacted”. That is why the church’s long tradition insists that what happened once in history passes over into the mystery of the assembly’s liturgical/sacramental celebrations. What the Paschal Triduum actually celebrates is mystery, not history; anamnesis, not mimesis. The liturgies of these days do not “take us back” to the upper room or the path to Calvary. Their ultimate purpose is not to retrace or relive the last hours of Jesus’ life – nor to catch sight of him emerging from the tomb at Easter’s dawning. They celebrate not what once happened to Jesus but what is now happening among us as a people called to conversion, gathered in faith, and gifted with the Spirit of holiness. They celebrate God’s taking possession of our hearts at their deepest core, recreating us as a new human community broken like bread for the world’s life – a community rich in compassion, steadfast in hope, and fearless in the search for justice and peace.