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What Is the Meaning of Triduum at Easter?

Triduum services are an important part of several denominations' Easter services, highlighting the final events of Holy Week.

Contributing Writer
Apr 04, 2022
What Is the Meaning of Triduum at Easter?

For Christians, the season leading to Resurrection Sunday (what most call Easter) is the holiest time of the year. “Triduum refers to any three-day prayer period, but several denominations call the three days leading to Easter Sunday the Paschal Triduum, “Easter, three days” in Latin).

When Do Christians Observe Triduum?

Triduum concludes the forty-day prayer and fasting period called Lent. Triduum’s three days relate to Jesus’ three days in the tomb. However, believers also use Triduum reflect on and worship Him for His suffering, death, burial, and Resurrection. Without His Resurrection, there is no Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:20-28); we would not have the promise of our resurrection and would be doomed to death. So, we proclaim Christ’s victory over death as we celebrate Triduum during this holy season.

When Is Triduum This Year?

The Triduum season for 2022 encompasses the evening of April 14 (Maundy Thursday), April 15 (Good Friday), and April 16 (Holy Saturday, also called Black Saturday).

What Denominations Observe Triduum?

According to Scott P. Richert, “In those Protestant churches that observe Lent, such as the Anglican and Protestant denominations, like the Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, the Easter Triduum is not considered a separate season, but rather one that includes portions of Lent and the Easter festival. For Roman Catholics since 1955, the Easter Triduum is formally considered a separate season.”

What Happens During a Triduum Service?

The ritual, chronologically observed over three days, beginning the Thursday before Resurrection Sunday, is considered one service leading to Resurrection Sunday. Each order of service listed below is a sample, and different congregations’ services may vary.

Roman Catholic Triduum Service

Maundy (also called Holy) Thursday: “Maundy” stems from the same root word as “commandment,” and Maundy Thursday commemorates the day Jesus held the Last Supper. The Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The church relives the Eucharist’s establishment, the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the Last Supper,” and the formation of their priesthood, which Roman Catholics say occurred the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Priests present a homily, then an optional foot-washing ceremony. The service concludes with a procession of the “The Blessed Sacrament” to the Altar of Repose, which holds the consecrated Eucharist elements. Many parishes will dedicate a section for people to stay long into the night as they ceremonially “watch and pray” with Jesus. Some parishes will play the organ and ring the bells, after which the organ and bells remain silent until the Easter Vigil Mass.

Good Friday: The only day of the Catholic year when no masses are held. The Good Friday service usually occurs at 3 p.m., the hour Jesus died on the Cross. Fasting and abstinence are mandatory on this day. The altar is plain and bare, the candle by the tabernacle stays unlit, and the tabernacle doors are left open to display its emptiness (for Jesus is gone). All this reminds the worshipers that Good Friday is for mourning and prayer. Communion takes place using the consecrated elements from Maundy Thursday, and priests often prostrate themselves before the altar. Veneration of the Cross usually also occurs, where the priest and the congregation kneel at the cross and kiss it.

Holy Saturday: On this day, Roman Catholics remember Christ in the tomb. This day continues fasting and mourning until the evening Easter Vigil. Catholics believe Jesus “descended into hell” between His burial and Resurrection to “save the righteous souls who died before His sacrifice (e.g., the Old Testament patriarchs).” The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls Jesus’ descent into Hades “the last phase of Jesus’ Messianic mission,” where He “opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before Him.” Roman Catholics believe that before Holy Saturday, no souls saw God in heaven.

Anglican Triduum Service

Maundy Thursday: On this day, the Anglican church observes Jesus’ command to “love one another” (John 13:34). This evening service includes partaking of the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper-Holy Communion) and foot washing at various stations throughout the church building. Congregants take communion elements—none must remain, and there will be no more until Resurrection Sunday. Then the lights are dimmed, and the altar is made bare to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice for us. The congregants quietly reflect on what the Lord did. The Office of Tenebrae follows: the lit candles are extinguished, leaving a darkened sanctuary representing Jesus’ betrayal and death by sinful men. The candle representing Christ (The Gospel Candle) is blown out, signifying death’s temporary hold on Him, followed by prayer and a period of silence. Afterward, a large crash is heard, symbolizing the earthquake at Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:32-56). Then the Gospel Candle is re-lit, and people silently leave the church building.

Good Friday: Stations of the Cross (usually fourteen) tracing Jesus’ route as He carried His cross to Golgotha are displayed twice during the day. People may walk through and reflect on His torturous journey to the Cross. The evening Good Friday Liturgy is held without music and includes the priest reciting the Passion Narrative (John 19). The Solemn Collects then occurs, where the people kneel as a priest recites prayers for persons, the church, and the world. After a litany called The Reproaches (usually recitation of a Psalm with responses), the priest prays and all leave quietly.

Holy Saturday: The Great Vigil of Easter is usually held in the evening, after dusk. The New Fire of Easter is kindled with the lighting of the Paschal candledenoting “the Light of Christ.” The person carrying the Paschal Candle chants “the Light of Christ” several times, and congregants respond, “Thanks be to God.” Pew candles are then lit, and the sanctuary becomes aglow with the Light of ChristScriptures are read, and a congregation often sings the Exsultet (Proclamation of Easter). Thus, the church is ready to celebrate Resurrection Sunday the next day.

Lutheran Triduum Service

Maundy ThursdayThe Lutheran church stresses foot washing during their evening service, followed by Communion. They strip the altar before concluding the service.

Good FridayBidding prayer is their focus during the Triduum, and the Good Friday prayers center on remembering the Lord’s death and praying for the worldwide church and its leaders, those preparing for baptism, the Jewish people (being the first to hear God’s Word), unbelievers, public officeholders, and the needy. They believe these prayers serve as self-reproach for “not living as resurrected people.” A cross, symbolizing Jesus’ atoning work on it, is carried into the sanctuary.

Saturday (Easter Vigil)Near dark, the priest lights the Paschal Candle. The Exsultet is sung as the candle is brought into the sanctuary. Recitations recounting God’s grace are offered, and the people go to the font for remembrance of baptisms and then enjoy the Resurrection feast.

Methodist Triduum Service

Methodists call the Triduum “the Great Three Days,” celebrating the same three days yet with minor differences.

Maundy Thursday: A service is held where the participants remember Jesus’ command (to love one another) as He washed His disciples’ feet and shared supper with them. This service sees the blessing of the oil used in worship and on the ill, the sharing of the Eucharist, and seeks to have people recommit themselves to service. The evening concludes with the Stripping of the Altar as the church readies itself for Good Friday.

Good Friday: The church gathers in a “bare” church setting to reflect on Christ’s Passion and His time on the Cross. Some congregations have a Tenebrae (shadows) service to remember the darkness.

Holy Saturday: A day for silence, fasting, and quiet contemplation as they commemorate Christ’s descent to the dead.

What to Remember at Triduum

Whatever way we commemorate the days leading to Resurrection Sunday, the important thing is that as Christians, we must remember and worship the only One who brings life to us sinners. Without what He did on the cross, we would be forever lost. This season, praise God with a thankful heart for what Jesus has done.

Photo Credit: Getty/arismart

Lisa Baker 1200x1200

Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis. 

Learn more about the meaning and significance behind the Easter holiday and Holy Week celebrations:

What is Palm Sunday?
What is Maundy Thursday?
What is Good Friday?
What is Holy Saturday?
What is Easter?

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.

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