The word “triduum” comes from a Latin root which means “in the space of three days”, and the Church’s observance of the Easter Triduum is one single celebration that lasts for three days.
The Old Testament records several occasions of three-day prayer or ritual ceremonies, and Jesus picks up on this concept when he refers to the three days Jonah spent in the belly of the whale. Then he enlarges the image into the example of the three days when his own body would remain in the tomb.
The Triduum is rooted in what theologians call the paschal mystery. Expressed most simply, the paschal mystery tells the story of Jesus “passing over”, from death on the cross, to the New Life of the Risen Lord.
Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, theologian and author, writes: “No outlook or image of life can pretend to be mature without grappling with the timeless, haunting questions of suffering and death. In Christian spirituality, Christ is central. And central to Christ is his death and rising to new life so as to send us a new Spirit.”
It needs to be emphasized that, although the Triduum is, first, about Jesus’ suffering, death and Resurrection, it is also a kind of recipe or blueprint for what the paschal mystery offers in the life of every Christian. In his book entitled The Holy Longing
, Fr. Rolheiser describes in very practical terms, how the paschal mystery is a process of transformation which begins in suffering and dying (to self), and moves on to the reception of new life. The paschal mystery is the mystery of how, after undergoing some kind of death, we receive new life and a new spirit.
John’s Gospel gives us the foundation of this process in Jesus’ own words: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest” (John 12:24). Even the most elementary experience of gardening illustrates the truth of this principle. Plant a kernel of corn, leave it a few days in the warm, damp earth and it appears to rot! It is certainly no longer something you would want to eat. But miracle of miracles; leave it to grow for a few months in nature’s sunshine and rain, and that single seed will yield several cobs containing thousands of kernels! And this image conveys the same truth about the fuller life which experiences of pain and suffering can offer to us. And notice this (in the example Jesus gives us): the very seed that is “dying”, is what holds and releases the new life.
In John’s gospel Jesus gives us another image of how this “works”: “I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child, she forgets the suffering in her joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:20,21).
So celebrating the Triduum is very personal for everyone who is baptized. Likely you have “done something” to mark the forty days of Lent; of course you will want to celebrate in joy and happiness, the Fifty Days of Easter. The experience that links them together is at the heart of the Triduum. Whenever you are unable to actually attend the liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, you can observe the spirit of this sacred time personally, at home.
These days should not be just days of "business as usual." A way to mark this is on Good Friday when Fast and Abstinence is not the Lenten fast of discipline and repentance. Rather it is our preparing; it’s a “hungering” in anticipation of what lies just ahead. Eating is not uppermost in one’s mind the day or two before a wedding; nor is banqueting much thought of on the days before a funeral. Festive meals are not our primary interest then. But we will feast when the occasion comes! That will be Easter – and not one day only – but weeks of weeks. Because Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!