Thoughts from the Prioress on the Triduum

Thoughts from the Prioress on the Triduum

The General Norms for the Liturgical Year state this about the Triduum:

“On all high festival days the church counts a day in the same way as Jewish people count days and festivals, that is, from sundown to sundown. Thus, the Triduum consists of three twenty-four-hour periods that stretch over four calendar days. Therefore, the Easter Triduum begins at sundown on Holy Thursday with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and concludes with Easter Evening Prayer at sundown on Easter Sunday; its high point is the celebration of the Easter Vigil.” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, GNLYC no. 19)

We celebrate these holy days as a unified celebration of the paschal mystery, as one event, one observance, one central moment in the life of every Christian and in the life of the Christian community as a whole.

There is a unity manifested even in the way that each liturgy begins and ends which connects each day and each celebration.

At every service we contemplate the whole mystery and each service enables us to behold that mystery from a different perspective.

We are called to approach these days open and ready to be transformed. Yes, we focus on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus but we grapple with what this deep mystery means in our own life and in the lives of others.

These days fill our senses with sounds, symbols, images and powerful words that draw us into the heart of our identity as church, as a people who have died and risen with Jesus Christ. We celebrate our dying and rising in Christ today.

On Holy Thursday we celebrate Jesus’ great love for us, his giving of himself, his example in the washing of the feet and in the sharing of the sacred meal.

Think for a minute about how you feel the night before an important happening or event. We tend to be focused on ourselves and preparations for the next day. But Jesus is not focused on himself; rather, he is focused on his disciples and on all who will come after the disciples. Jesus teaches us in the washing of the feet and the breaking of the bread to give ourselves to one another, to love to the end. In this, loving and serving others, we are living and sharing the life of Christ over and over again. We are celebrating God’s great love for us in Christ:”Do this in remembrance of Me.”

On Good Friday, we celebrate the Passion of Jesus in an austere form of the Liturgy of the Word followed by the Veneration of the Cross and then Communion.

The title Veneration of the Cross indicates that we honor the cross that embodies the mystery of Jesus and our redemptive triumph over sin and death.

Even as we focus on the cross, this day is not about pain and suffering; it is about love and exaltation. It is about the glory of the cross; the new life to which the cross leads us.

Jesus’ last words, “It is finished,” assure us that Jesus forgives our betrayals that cause divisions, suffering and misery brought on by human weakness. Jesus offers healing, reconciliation and new life. For it is not finished with the death of Jesus rather, the cross is the entry to the fullness of life, the promise of eternal life. Maybe this is why we sing in the Navajo Night Chant, “It is finished in beauty.”

Holy Saturday leads to the Easter Vigil. It is a day of preparation. Transforming the austere environment of Lent and Good Friday to one filled with glory requires much planning; symbols of light, water and glory will soon overwhelm the faithful.

Symbols and images and sounds that will echo through the long months of Ordinary Time, through Advent and Lent to come, constant reminders of the core of our belief: the resurrection.

During the Easter Vigil, the faithful acts of God throughout history are fully proclaimed. God’s love for us unfolds, revealed in stories of covenant and of Christ. With a focus on the paschal mystery, there is particular emphasis on our participation in that mystery through baptism.

We hear about water again and again—culminating in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

We begin the Easter Vigil with fire and light, suggesting the dawning of a new creation. We hear over and over that this is the night. Yes, this is the night the Light broke the chains of death. O holy night! O night of glory! The Exsultet rings out, “This is the night.” Christ has been raised and so have we into a new relationship with God and with others. We sing our alleluias and we are sent on a mission this night: Go in the peace of Christ, Alleluia! Alleluia! We go in peace to bring the good news to a broken and fractured world.

On Easter Sunday we renew our baptismal promises and we state our belief in the Risen Christ.

Easter Sunday is about believing and embracing the mystery of Resurrection. Like the apostles, we want to see and believe yet we do not understand either. We cannot grasp someone rising from the dead. Resurrection is out of our human experience. We simply cannot understand it.

Our mortal bodies will die but this risen life—eternal life—already within us, is forever. This is the Easter Mystery. We believe it. We embrace it. We celebrate it. Alleluia!

Sister Anne Wambach, OSB, the twenty-first prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania is a native of Philadelphia. She moved to Mount St. Benedict Monastery in 1992 to respond to a desire to experience the monastic way of life. Previously a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill, Sister Anne began the formal transfer process to the Erie Benedictines in 1993 and made her monastic profession in 1997.

Sister Anne has served the people of the Diocese of Erie as a teacher at St. Gregory's School in North East, Pa., from 1992-1995, and at the Neighborhood Art House in Erie, beginning as program director in 1995 and as executive director since 2005. She served on the Monastic Council from 2006-2010.