Holy Thursday brings the end to Lent, and begins the celebration of the great Triduum. On the three days of the Triduum, we gather several times and together, hear some of the church’s most beautiful prayers and scriptures. On Thursday, we bless the oils that will be used throughout the year. After listening to the scriptures, we wash each other’s feet. We go down on our knees with pitchers of water, basins and towels. Jesus gave us this image of what the church is supposed to look like, feel like, act like. This is rehearsal for Christian life, as is the next thing we do, a collection for the poor. Next we celebrate the Eucharist. Then, we remove the Blessed Sacrament from its place, and take it to an altar of repose. Here we stay, and keep watch. This evening’s liturgy has no ending.
The celebration of the Triduum continues on Good Friday of our Lord’s Passion. The liturgy begins with silence, then spoken prayer, followed by the liturgy of the word. The structure of the liturgy of the word is simple: scripture, silence, psalmody, scripture, silence, gospel acclamation, the proclamation of the passion, homily, intercessions. The intercessions are in an elaborate form. The cross is then carried solemnly into the assembly and is venerated by all. The rite concludes with the simplest of communion services and the liturgy ends as it began—in silence.
Hungry now and excited, the church gathers in the darkness for the Easter Vigil. Beginning outside, the Easter Fire is blessed; the candle is lit from the new fire with the words: “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” The deacon will accept the candle from priest presider and a procession will begin.
As we enter the church, the deacon holds high the Easter candle, and three times exclaims: “Christ our Light,” and we respond: “Thanks be to God!” We all receive light from the Easter candle, and stand while the priest proclaims the Exultet.
The song is true to its name: it exults! It is a victory song, a wedding song of God and humanity, earth and heaven. It is theology in its purest form, the song the church longs to sing. From the naming and acclamation of the night’s deeds it is clear that the church understands this night to be sacramental.
We listen to some of the most powerful scriptures in the Bible and we go to the font and bless the waters. Catechumens are received into full communion with the Church. These are the moments when death and life meet, when we reject evil and give our promises to God. Together we go to the table and celebrate the Easter Eucharist. Easter Sunday begins and we are ready for Fifty Days of rejoicing.
At Easter, we sing with the psalmist: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad!” Our call for the next 50 days of Easter is to spread Christ’s joy to all we meet. This does not mean we are happy every second of every day. It does not mean we ignore the suffering in the world. Easter joy is strong enough to carry us, with the deep conviction that hope always wins. Love always wins. Death does not have the final say. Through Christ, the Easter victory is ours, always.
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