The Easter Triduum and the Paschal Mystery

Triduum, Passover

This evening, on Holy Thursday, the Easter Triduum begins.  The Easter Triduum is three days celebrated as one continuous unfolding of the Paschal Mystery.  It is the summit of the Liturgical Year for Catholics.

We are unable to celebrate the Easter Triduum in the traditional ways this year.  Nevertheless, we should not forget why this is the Holiest time of the year.

The Easter Triduum

The meaning of triduum is easy to understand.  It is Latin for “three days.”  The Easter Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.  It ends with the evening prayer on Easter Sunday.  So while we might be tempted to say, ‘hey, that’s four days,’ it really is only three.  It is part of Holy Thursday, the 24 hours of Good Friday, the 24 hours of Holy Saturday, and part of Easter Sunday.

As explained on USCCB website, “Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.”

The Paschal Mystery, however, is not so easy to explain.  It is, after all, a mystery.  And as we say at every Mass, it is the mystery of our faith.  Yet some Catholics do not really understand the meaning of the term ‘Paschal Mystery.’

The Paschal Mystery

In a general sense, the Paschal Mystery is the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And there really is nothing mysterious in this for Catholics and Christians.  This is a truth.  Our Lord suffered, died, was buried, and rose again from the dead.  And He ascended into heaven body and soul.  This is why Easter Sunday is the greatest day ever for mankind in the history of the world.  Through His death and Resurrection Christ opened the gates of heaven for us.  But this is also the Paschal Mystery.

The word paschal is derived from the Hebrew word pasach which means ‘to pass over.’  It refers to the first Passover when the Angel of the Lord passed over the homes of the Israelites and stuck down the firstborn of the houses of Egypt.  The blood of an innocent lamb Had been smeared on the doorposts of the Israelites’ houses.  This was the means of their salvation from death and slavery.

In much the same way, the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, became mankind’s means of salvation from death and sin.  His death destroyed death.  His death freed us from sin and gained eternal life for us – exactly what God intended for us when He created us.

The Paschal Mystery then is the seeming contradiction that Jesus’ death destroyed death.  Because His death was a perfect sacrifice, death was ‘passed over’ and we were given eternal life.

All is Made New

The Fourth Station of the Cross is “Jesus meets his mother.” This scene is recounted in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ.  We do not know what, if any, words were actually exchanged during their brief meeting.  But there is a wonderful line in this scene in the movie.  Gibson has Jesus saying to Mary, “See mother, I make all things new.”  And this precisely why Easter Sunday is the greatest day ever for mankind in the history of the world.  In Jesus’ death we received new life.  Everything was made new.

Even though we cannot celebrate the Triduum as is customary, many parishes and dioceses are, offering online, real-time streaming of the Stations of the Cross, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Veneration of the Cross, the Easter Vigil Mass, and of course Mass on Easter Sunday.  Catholics should take advantage of these offerings while we are separated from the sacraments.  Even though we may be sheltering in place, we should not forget that Easter Sunday is the Holiest day of the year.

The whole of the Catholic Faith revolves around Easter Sunday and the Paschal Mystery.  If Jesus really did suffer, die, and resurrect Himself by His own power – and we know this to be true because we have the written testimony of witnesses to these events – then Jesus truly is the Son of God, and everything He taught us, as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible and handed down to us through oral tradition, is the Truth.

Laudetur Jesus Christus!

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