The Easter Triduum…Entering the Mystery

by Angela Lambert




During Holy Week we celebrate and reverence Christ’s Paschal Mystery – His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection.  To enter more deeply into this mystery the Church walks in the footsteps of Christ and the Apostles through special liturgies rich with extraordinary practices that recall and connect us in a unique way to the events beginning at the Last Supper and culminating in finding the empty tomb.  These liturgies are called the “Easter Triduum.”  The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) describe it in this way:

The summit of the Liturgical Year is the Easter Triduum—from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday.  Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. The single celebration of the Triduum marks the end of the Lenten season, and leads to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil. The liturgical services that take place during the Triduum are: 1. Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday) 2. Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion 3. Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord.


What do we mean by Paschal Mystery?  It recalls the sacrifice of the Israelites during the last plague in Egypt.  God told Moses to instruct the Israelites to sacrifice an unblemished lamb, spread its blood on the door posts, then cook the meat and eat it.  Then, when the angel of death came to take the firstborn son of every Egyptian it would Pass-over the homes marked with the blood of the lamb.  Every year at that time the Israelites would recall this event and enter into it through celebrating the Passover.  This was the meal Jesus celebrated at His Last Supper and to which He gave new meaning.

Whereas we ratify contracts today through signatures and notaries, in Old Testament times agreements were formalized in covenants and ratified with blood.  At the Last Supper Jesus instituted the New Covenant ratified in His own blood.  He chose the Passover sacrifice, which celebrated freedom from slavery in Egypt and death by Pharaoh, to reveal the fullness of the covenant through Him, which would free us from slavery to sin and eternal death.  The blood which would be poured out to ratify this agreement would be His own and the sacrificial lamb, finite in its ability to atone for sin, would be replaced with His own perfect sacrifice of infinite value.

Bishop Barron reflected on this mystery using a painting entitled Angus Dei by Zurbaran saying:zurbaran agnus dei

“Holy Week, our time of Passover preparation, calls us to meditate on our unblemished Paschal lamb. This is not to be confused with the cuddly lambs that greet us in the store aisles when we do our Easter basket shopping. The truth of what awaits the Paschal lamb is harsh. Our Lord himself must have seen many similar lambs, awaiting their moment of sacrifice in the temple. As I mentioned in a previous review of Dr. Brant Pitre’s book, “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist,” we see a description of thousands of unblemished lambs sacrificed in the temple; an event that is hard to imagine, if one gives permission to the imagination to wonder about the harsh sights, sounds and smells. A moderate amount of blood has a distinct smell that is hard to forget, so much blood must have been overwhelming. The bloody sacrifice of thousands of lambs conjures a scene that even Quentin Tarantino would have difficulty recreating.

But what about the “Agnus Dei”? This lamb is different. He is here to remind us of the one sacrifice that is necessary for mankind. The sacrifice that is to pay a debt that he does not owe for we, who owe a debt we cannot pay. Zurbarán has captured this calm moment, of the unblemished lamb, legs bound and prepared for sacrifice. All we must do is follow the story that we know is to come. As Pitre said in his book, “That’s what happens to Passover lambs. They don’t make it out alive.” [p. 164]…”


At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday we contemplate the actions and words of Christ when He instituted the New Covenant.   Christ changed the bread and wine into His own Body and Blood that we too might eat of the Paschal Lamb and receive the gift of freedom from God.

Eucharist and cross

“Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” Luke 22:19-20


To change bread and wine into His Real Presence, without a change in appearance, required a supernatural act.  As a result, Christ also instituted the priesthood on that holy night.  Jesus commanded the apostles to “do this in remembrance of Me.” Christ’s words, as the Logos, the divine Word of God, differ from ours.  Whereas my words may or may not have an impact, Christ effects what He says.  In Genesis 1, God said “Let there be light” and there was, along with everything else He created.  When Christ says “do this”, He empowered His apostles to repeat the same miracle.  Christ is the eternal priest who offers His one sacrifice to the Father over and over again for us.  He does this through His priests whom He has consecrated and enabled through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  In preparation for this office, Jesus began the evening by demonstrating the nature of power in His kingdom.  He washed the feet of the disciples.  Washing the feet of infants is adorable, they’re sweet and pudgy.  The feet of teenagers however become smelly and the feet of grown men who wear sandals, well…

Greatness in Christ’s kingdom is marked by humility, sacrifice, and service.  Below I’ll list the events of each day during the Triduum along with sacred art to illustrate some of the events.  Take time to contemplate some of them and consider how to more closely be yoked to Christ.


Holy Thursday: Celebrates the night of the Lord’s Supper

  • Jesus washing the feet of Peter and the apostles


Jesus washes Peter's feet


  • Passover celebration where Christ institutes the Eucharist and establishes the priesthoodLast Supper






  • Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

agony in the garden

  • Jesus’ betrayal by Judas


  • Jesus is arrested and put on trial before the Sanhedrin

Jesus' trial

Good Friday: Called “Good” because Jesus merits our redemption through His suffering and death.

Day of Fasting and Abstinence – No meat, only eat one regular meal or two small meals Veneration of the Cross


  • Jesus appears before Pilate

Jesus and Pilate

  • Jesus is scourged

Jesus scourging





  • The Carrying of the Cross

carrying cross

  • The Crucifixion

Jesus crucifixion

  • Christ’s death and burial

sorrowful mother

Holy Saturday:

  • Jesus in the tomb
  • Time of emptiness and waiting

The Easter Vigil:  Most ancient practice in the Church – began Saturday evening and ended at daybreak Easter Sunday  “Mother of all vigils”

It consists of four general parts:

1. The Service of Light

In a suitable place outside the Church, a “blazing fire” ( rogus ardens) is to be prepared so that the people may gather around it and experience the flames dispelling the darkness and lighting up the night. Thus do the beauty of the fire, its warmth and its light, draw the liturgical assembly together. EV no.8


The Paschal Candle, which will be used to light the baptismal candles throughout the year is also lit from this fire and placed by the sanctuary during Easter.

paschal candle

2. The Liturgy of the Word

This consists of nine readings which give an overview of God’s work of salvation – from His creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God, their fall to sin, then God’s efforts to restore us through covenants and promises which came to fulfillment in  Christ.


7 readings from the Old Testament  • Story of Creation (Genesis 1 and 2) •  Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22) • The crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14 and 15) • The prophet Isaiah proclaiming God’s love (Isaiah 54) • Isaiah’s exhortation to seek God (Isaiah 55) • A passage from Baruch about the glory of God (Baruch 3 and 4) • A prophecy of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36) 2 readings from the New Testament. • Saint Paul on being baptized into Jesus Christ (Rom 6) • The Gospel of Luke about the empty tomb discovered on Easter morning (Luke 24:121).

3. Christian Initiation

Catechumens (adults who have not been baptized) and candidates (adults baptized in a non-Catholic Christian faith) receive the sacraments of initiation and are received into the fullness of the Catholic Church.  Candidates receive Confirmation and Catechumens receive both Baptism and Confirmation.

4. Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The reception of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Crucified and Risen Lord

Christ is Risen!

peter and john

Octave of Easter: Easter Sunday to the following Sunday (now Divine Mercy Sunday); each day celebrated with special solemnity

Easter Season: lasts from Easter Sunday to Pentecost (50 days)

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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2 thoughts on “The Easter Triduum…Entering the Mystery

  1. Pingback: He Shared In Our Suffering, And Carries Our Cross…Gospel Meditation for Palm Sunday | Take Time For Him

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