Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Paschal (Easter) Triduum

The Paschal Triduum, also called the Holy Triduum or Easter Triduum, begins the evening of Holy Thursday, and ends the evening of Easter Day. It commemorates the heart of our faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


The Paschal Triduum, often called the Easter Triduum or simply the Triduum, begins during Holy Week, and consists of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. This includes the Great Easter Vigil, the high point of the Triduum. The word Triduum comes from the Latin word meaning "three days." It begins the evening of Maundy Thursday and ends at Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday. Thus the Triduum consists of three full days which begin and end in the evening. The Triduum technically is not part of Lent (at least liturgically), but Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are still reckoned as part of the traditional forty day Lenten fast. The Triduum celebrates the heart of our faith, salvation, and redemption: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, the Triduum commemorates the Institution of the Eucharist (the "sacrament of sacraments"), the passion, crucifixion, death of the Lord, his descent to the dead, and finally his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday morning. Along with the Ascension, these important events make up the Paschal Mystery.

Thus, even though the liturgical year begins chronologically at Advent, it reaches its culmination during the Easter Triduum, particularly at Easter, the "solemnity of solemnities," the "Great Feast." The Catholic Catechism describes the importance of the Triduum:

"Beginning with the Easter Triduum as its source of light, the new age of the Resurrection fills the whole liturgical year with its brilliance. Gradually, on either side of this source, the year is transfigured by the liturgy. It really is a "year of the Lord's favor." The economy of salvation is at work within the framework of time, but since its fulfillment in the Passover of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the culmination of history is anticipated "as a foretaste," and the kingdom of God enters into our time" (1168).


Christians have been commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus since Apostolic times, because his death and resurrection are at the heart of Christian salvation. At least by the second century, Christians celebrated the Great Easter Vigil, an event which began the night of Holy Saturday, continuing until dawn on Easter morning. During this vigil, Christians commemorated salvation history, awaited the return of Jesus, and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus at dawn on Easter Sunday. It was at the vigil that catechumens, after a three year period of catechesis, were baptized and received first communion. The Easter Vigil was the most important day of the liturgical year. Eventually Christians expanded this celebration to a three-day commemoration of Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection, with the Easter Vigil being the high point of the three day commemoration. Nonetheless, over time, as the liturgical year expanded, the Easter Vigil lost its preeminence, although the three days celebrating the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus still held an important place in the Church Year.

Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the Easter Vigil, and the Triduum, have regained their position of prominence in the Western Catholic liturgical calendar. The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar re-established the Triduum as a season following Lent in the Catholic Church

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Since the Triduum is Separate from Lent, is Lent No Longer 40 Days? Does Lent Really End on Holy Thursday?
Technically, according to current Catholic discipline, Lent lasts 44 days, from Ash Wednesday through the morning of Holy Thursday (including Sundays), until the Triduum begins on Holy Thursday evening. Nonetheless, the traditional Lenten fast runs from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, and does not include Sundays, since it is not appropriate to fast on a Sunday, the weekly feast of the resurrection. This fast lasts 40 days.

Nonetheless, this has created some liturgical questions. The addition of the Triduum as a separate season from Lent has obscured the direct connection of Lent to the 40 day fast of Jesus. The question of when Lent ends liturgically is still somewhat confusing, since at the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, during the renewal of Baptismal vows, the priest says: "Now that we have completed our Lenten observance, let us renew the promises we made in baptism..." Many feel that the Holy See will need to clarify the relationship between Lent and the Triduum at some point in the future.

2. So, the Triduum is the Most Important Part of the Church Year? Isn't Christmas More Important?
Christmas, the solemnity celebrating the birth and Incarnation of Jesus, is very important. Christmas and the Triduum are not in competition with one another, and are all a part of the same mystery of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. In fact, Christmas and Jesus' Conception constitute the mysteries of the Incarnation, essential to our salvation. However, in the early Church, Easter was considered the queen of all Christian feasts, the high point of the liturgical year. In fact, Easter seems to be an older feast than Christmas. This does not lessen the importance of Christmas, but the restoration of the Triduum to preeminence is actually a return to the more ancient practice of the Church.

3. Why Does the Church Celebrate the Triduum on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday?
It is long-held Tradition, based on the Biblical texts, that Jesus died on a Friday and rose from the dead on a Sunday, which would place the Last Supper on a Thursday night. Scripture tells us that Jesus rose from the dead "early on the first day of the week" (Mark 16:2, RSV). It was on the same day (the first day of the week) that Jesus met his apostles on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:1). John also confirms that Jesus rose on a Sunday (John 20:1). The early Church Fathers universally held that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, and worshiped on Sunday, "The Lord's Day." The Fathers also testify to the Institution of the Eucharist on a Thursday and a Friday crucifixion of Jesus. Even though Jesus tells us that he was to be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights, in ancient Jewish reckoning, this included partial days. Thus, Jesus was saying that his time in the earth would span three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). Saint Justin Martyr (writing in 150 AD) testifies to both Sunday worship and a Friday crucifixion of Jesus.

The Didache (70-90 AD) also mentions Sunday worship, and fasting on Fridays (likely connected to Jesus' crucifixion that day.

The Apostolic Constitutions (late 4th century) verifies the same chronology. Note that, based on Scripture, this document provides the rationale for the dates of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

Virtually every Church Father who addresses the issue agrees with the traditional dating of a Thursday Last Supper, Friday Crucifixion, and Sunday resurrection. This includes those Church Fathers and writings mentioned above, but also Ignatius (105 AD), Pseudo-Barnabas (120 AD), Clement of Alexandria (195 AD), and many others. This chronology is firmly based on Scripture, and universally verified by Tradition.

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