Paschal Triduum and Holy Week: Christians recount Passion, prepare for Easter

Last Supper

A portrayal of Maundy Thursday’s Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari II. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, APRIL 18, FRIDAY, APRIL 19 AND SATURDAY, APRIL 20: Western Christians across the globe entered Holy Week on Palm Sunday, and begin the Easter Triduum—recounting the final days of Jesus’s life and Passion—on Thursday, with Holy (Maundy) Thursday.

HOLY (MAUNDY) THURSDAY: THE LAST SUPPER

The Paschal Triduum is initiated with Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week. Alternatively known as Holy Thursday or Covenant Thursday, this day commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles.

Some scholars believe that the name “Maundy Thursday” derived from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase stated by Jesus to describe the purpose for his washing their feet. (“A new commandment I give to unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”) In some churches, to this day, clergy ceremonially wash the feet of 12 persons as part of Maundy Thursday services. Following the Maundy Thursday service, in most Christian denominations, the altar is “stripped” in solemn fashion in preparation for Good Friday.

Today, even outside of the church building, global traditions for Maundy Thursday are varied and colorful. In the United Kingdom, the Monarch offers Maundy money to worthy elders; in Bulgaria, Easter eggs are colored and homes are prepared for the upcoming holy days. Holy Thursday is a public holiday in many Christian countries.

At the conclusion of Maundy Thursday services, the attitude in the Church becomes somber, dark and mournful. Church bells fall silent until Easter.

Round circle of thorns on white

A replica of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during events of the Passion. Photo by Waiting for the Word, courtesy of Flickr

GOOD FRIDAY: THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS

While in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night, Christian tradition says that Jesus was located by the Romans—led by Judas Iscariot—and arrested. This led to interrogation, torture and, eventually, to Jesus’ death by the horrific Roman method of crucifixion. In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a fast day of the deepest solemnity. The altar is bare, vestments are red or black and the cross is venerated.

In many parishes, the Stations of the Cross recount Jesus’ journey to the site of the crucifixion. In countries such as Malta, Italy, the Philippines and Spain, processions carry statues of the Passion of Christ. In Britain, Australia and Canada, hot cross buns are traditionally consumed on Good Friday.

Check local news reports in your part of the world: In the U.S., each year, more groups of churches in cities and rural areas are planning annual processions of the cross.

HOLY SATURDAY: QUIET AND SOLEMNITY

Tomb of Jesus in midst of church

The Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem, which is believed to hold the tomb of Jesus. Photo by Jorge Lascar, courtesy of Flickr

Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, ushers in with the darkness of Good Friday, commemorating the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. Traditionally, the altar remains bare or is draped in a simple black cloth. In Catholic parishes, the administration of sacraments is limited. Holy Saturday is a time of suspense, quiet and solemnity, as Christians continue to mourn the death of Jesus Christ. In Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows is given the title Our Lady of Solitude, for her grief at the earthly absence of her son, Jesus.

THE EASTER VIGIL—In the evening on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins. A service that begins in darkness is illuminated, in Christian tradition, with the Light of Christ—the Paschal candle. After prayers, chants and biblical readings, “Gloria” is sung for the first time since Maundy Thursday. The church is flooded with light, statues covered during Passiontide are unveiled and the joy of the Resurrection begins. The Paschal candle, the largest and most exquisite candle in the church, is lit each day throughout the Paschal season.

Note: Eastern Orthodox Christians following the Julian calendar will observe Holy Week one week after the Western Christian Holy Week in 2019, with the Eastern Pascha (Easter) falling on April 28.

Paschal Triduum: Christians enter The Three Days, prepare for Easter

crucifix against sunset

Photo by Waiting for the Word, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, MARCH 24 and FRIDAY, MARCH 25 and SATURDAY, MARCH 26: Holy Week began on Palm Sunday, March 20, for more than a billion Christians around the world who follow the Western traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches. (Eastern Orthodox Christians just began Great Lent on March 14 and are about a month later in this traditional cycle of holidays, in 2016.)

Western Christians traditionally refer to the three-day cluster of holidays coming this week as the Easter Triduum. This period runs from Thursday evening through the evening of Easter Sunday. During this time, Christians will perform centuries-old rituals and review the final events in the life of Jesus. From foot washing to the Stations of the Cross, Christians lament the tragic events of Jesus’ final days. In the days of solemnity, the faithful prepare for the most joyous holiday of the year: Easter, which Christians mark as the Resurrection of Christ.

MAUNDY THURSDAY:
THE LAST SUPPER AND DIVERSE EVENTS

For Christians, Maundy or Holy Thursday recalls the Last Supper and Jesus’s washing the Apostles’ feet. In fact, the word “Maundy” is believed to derive from the Latin mandatum, meaning “commandment”: the first of the words the Bible says Jesus used to describe the purpose of washing his disciples’ feet. (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”)

Interestingly, Maundy Thursday is observed in a diversity of ways by American Christians. In evangelical and Protestant churches, Holy Thursday is barely observed. For Catholics, Maundy Thursday begins the intense series of Easter-related customs associated with the Triduum. Today’s liturgies include colorful services, the blessing of holy oils and the washing of the feet. Protestants and Methodists remember the institution of the Last Supper.

Did you know? Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the anniversary of the Last Supper on the first night of the Jewish Passover, because that was the night the first Last Supper was held. The date of Passover—Nisan 14—varies annually on the Gregorian calendar, and this year, it falls on the evening of April 22.

Stained glass Judas kissing Jesus

Jesus is betrayed by Judas’s kiss. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

On Holy Thursday night, after Mass, some devout Catholics sit in Adoration. Many Protestants follow a related custom, and recall Jesus’s request that his disciples sit with him while he prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane. Following Maundy Thursday service, the altar is stripped in preparation for Good Friday.

Fast fact: On Holy Thursday, the Catholic Chrism Mass is celebrated in each diocese, during which holy oils are blessed. The blessed oils are used on Holy Saturday, at the Easter Vigil and for baptisms and confirmations.

GOOD FRIDAY: THE WAY OF THE CROSS

While in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night, Christian tradition tells that Jesus was located by Romans—led by Judas Iscariot—and arrested. This led to interrogations, torture and the crucifixion of Jesus. In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a fast day of the deepest solemnity.

Did you know? The Way of the Cross takes place at the Colosseum in Rome and in many other places around the world.

In many parishes, the Stations of the Cross recount Jesus’ journey to the site of the crucifixion. In countries such as Malta, Italy, the Philippines and Spain, processions carry statues of the Passion of Christ. In Britain, Australia and Canada, hot cross buns are traditionally consumed on Good Friday.

HOLY SATURDAY: STILLNESS IN THE TOMB

Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, ushers in with the darkness of Good Friday, commemorating the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. The altar remains bare, or is draped in a simple black cloth. In Catholic parishes, the administration of sacraments is limited. Holy Saturday is a time of suspense, quiet and solemnity, as Christians continue to mourn the death of Jesus Christ.

Fast fact: In Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows is given the title Our Lady of Solitude, for her grief at the earthly absence of her son, Jesus.

At approximately 6 p.m. on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins. A service that begins in darkness is illuminated, in Christian tradition, with the Light of Christ—the Paschal candle. After prayers, chants and biblical readings, “Gloria” is sung for the first time since Maundy Thursday. The church is flooded with light, statues covered during Passiontide are unveiled and the joy of the Resurrection begins.

HOLY WEEK NEWS 2016

  • This year, Pope Francis will reportedly preside at all ceremonies of Easter (learn more here). Pope Francis will, once again, preside over the most intense papal liturgical periods of the year during this time.
  • Don’t forget refugees during Holy Week, Pope Francis told attendees of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square earlier this week. According to Reuters, Pope Francis relayed, “I am thinking of so many people, so many marginalized people, so many asylum seekers, so many refugees. There are so many who don’t want to take responsibility for their destiny.”
  • During Holy Week and in the Easter season, the Vatican will take part in several initiatives highlighting the importance of ecology and the care for creation, news sources reported. The tens of thousands of flowers brought in for Easter morning Mass will be repurposed and replanted; the Vatican will also participate in “Earth Hour 2016.”