Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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The Great Feast of Three Days
by Father Jan Larson
(From the April 7, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
On Thursday afternoon of Holy Week, silently and without any liturgical rite to mark its passing, the season of Lent ends. Later, with the start of the Evening Mass of the Lordís Supper, the Easter Triduum begins. These are the holy three days, the greatest celebration in the Churchís year, a feast that extends from Holy Thursday evening to the evening of Easter Sunday. The high point of this three-day feast is the Easter Vigil of Saturday night.
There is something quite unusual and significant about each day of the Triduum. The Mass of Holy Thursday evening commemorates the events of the Last Supper. Something unusual this evening is that the Gospel reading makes no mention of Jesus giving his disciples the bread and wine that he proclaims to be his Body and Blood. Johnís Gospel is read, telling us instead about how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Following the Gospel, the priest then washes the feet of others. The Eucharist, in other words, cannot be genuinely celebrated without disciples who are thereby shaped as people of service, and that the Church itself should be known not so much as an institution of dominance and control, but as a community of believers who serve the needs of others. After the liturgy, all are invited to remain in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for a suitable period of time during the night.
Good Friday is unusual in that there is no Mass celebrated anywhere in the world. It is as if we are fasting from the full celebration of the Eucharist on this day, just as we fast from food and drink. Today we hear the proclamation of the Passion story of Jesus. We offer many intercession prayers Ė intentions that are almost as old as the Church itself. We make acts of reverence to a wooden cross, reminding us of what has happened to us because of the cross of Jesus. Finally we receive Communion Ė bread that was consecrated the night before at the Mass of the Lordís Supper. The custom of receiving Communion on this day died out in the Middle Ages, but was restored in 1955. Some would argue that we should fast not only from Mass on this day, but even from Communion. But perhaps the reception of Communion reminds us that Good Friday is not a day of mourning, as if Jesus had died once again and is no longer with us. Communion tells us, in no uncertain way, that the Risen Christ is with us on Good Friday, praying with us to the Father, and always interceding on our behalf.
The Vigil service of Holy Saturday is always celebrated after nightfall, because it must have full darkness for its powerful symbol of the Risen Christ, represented by the Easter fire. It is the night we hear the Scriptural accounts of the history of our salvation, the stories that tell us of our identity as people who have been saved and transformed in Christ. It is the premier time for parish communities to celebrate the sacraments of initiation for those entering the Catholic Church. The liturgy is long, but we shortchange ourselves if we try to shorten the liturgy for the sake of convenience. The liturgy is powerful in its symbolism, for this night our children are born, and we renew our own commitment as people baptized into Christ Jesus, people born again.
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)