Three Great Days
The Easter Triduum (from the Latin, "The Three Days"), marks the days of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection and is the most important and holy time of the year for Anglicans.
Referring to these three holy days with one word is to remind us that work of our redemption through Christ's passion, death and resurrection is one act of love and are inextricably connected. There is no resurrection without the cross.
The Three Great Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and The Easter Vigil are actually only one liturgy celebrated over three days. We can think of the Three Great Days as a trilogy. That is why there is no dismissal or blessing at the end of these liturgies as we continue these sacred rites the next day. As in any trilogy you wouldn't want to miss an instalment! If you miss one part, you miss the full richness and meaning of the whole “greatest story ever told”. By joining our parish family in celebrating all three of the Great Days, we can enter into the mysteries of our faith in prayer, music, and liturgy and experience the Easter story like never before.
Love One Another
Maundy Thursday derives its name from the Latin word "mandatum" or commandment. On the night before Jesus died, our Lord gathered with his friends for the Passover Meal and commanded his followers to love one another as the ultimate sign of discipleship (John 13: 34, 35). Jesus demonstrates this love by washing the feet of his friends. On this night we wash each other’s feet as a sign of love and humble service to each other and our neighbour (Book of Alternative Services, pages 304, 305).
Eat This Bread, Drink This Cup
Through the Passover Meal, Jesus instructed his disciples to remember his sacrificial life and death until his coming again in the bread and wine, the Body and Blood of the first Eucharist. This and every Eucharist is a reflection, a re-presentation of our Lord's sacrifice on the cross for our redemption, his risen Presence among us now and a foretaste of his Kingdom.
Praying in the Garden
After the Passover Meal, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. After the conclusion of the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of our Lord's Body makes a small journey to the Altar of Repose, a small altar off to the side of the church. Here people are invited to pray throughout the night in silent vigil in our Lord's presence as his disciples prayed with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. At midnight, prayers are offered, Jesus’ betrayal and arrest is read (Mark 14:43-50) and the Sacrament is removed from the church, symbolic of Jesus being taken away from his disciples.
Stripping of the Altar
The Altar and church are then solemnly stripped of all its beauty as a foreshadowing of our Lord's suffering and the humiliation of his public stripping. The Altar is washed with vinegar and water; symbolic of the coming bitter agony of the cross and the preparation for the burial of his lifeless body. Every light is extinguished and the Tabernacle is emptied and left open; symbolic of the world's loss of its very Saviour. The congregation scatters into the silence of the dark night, reminiscent of his fleeing disciples. Our Liturgy continues on Good Friday.
Our word for the day of Christ's crucifixion, “Good” Friday, most likely comes from the Anglo Saxon word for God. Hence we celebrate "God's Friday" and the name for the day contains within it the mystery and paradox of the cross.
The Gospel reading of Jesus’ torture and execution is enacted by the whole congregation. We find ourselves in the crowd and in the streets of Jerusalem shouting at Jesus, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
We offer Solemn Intercessions for the Church and the world in union with Christ's own offering of himself to the Father (BAS page 309-313).
We carry a crucifix (a cross with the body of Jesus) through the church saying, “This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world. Come let us worship.”
We chant the Reproaches from the Cross. Here our broken humanity, our sins, and the betrayal of our brothers and sisters are made shockingly real for us. We symbolically stand on Golgotha as Jesus looks down from his cross and asks us, "O my people, O my Church, what have I done to you [that] you have prepared a cross for your Saviour?" (BAS page 314). We come forward to venerate the cross of Christ with a kiss, a prayer or silent reverence.
As Christ offered himself upon the cross, he offers himself to his people in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1Corinthians 11:26-28) We leave in solemn silence as the church has now become like Christ’s tomb. We continue the Liturgy the next day to experience the ultimate mystery.
The Great Easter Vigil
On the Great Vigil of Easter, The New Fire is lit, symbolic of Christ's resurrection and from its flame the Pascal Candle is lit. Out of the darkness of death the light of Christ's new life shines forth. From The Pascal Candle, the symbol of the risen Christ, we each light a candle as a sign that we too have risen with Christ (Romans 6:1-14). Soon the church is radiating with the light of the risen Lord. The church is filled with flowers, beauty and joyous hymns. We chant the great resurrection hymn, the Exultet, exclaiming to the world to "rejoice" for death is no more. In Scripture we hear the history of salvation from the beginning of time itself to its fulfillment in Jesus' resurrection. We celebrate and renew our life in Christ by Baptism (or renewing our baptismal vows) and the Holy Eucharist.
The Easter Vigil celebrates the actual Resurrection of Christ and is the Church's most profound and sacred service of the entire year, hence Easter is referred to as the “Feast of Feasts.”
The word Easter comes from an old Germanic word meaning both "radiant” and "east", a reference to the sun rising in the east. The rising sun represents Christ the Light of the World rising from the darkness of the tomb. Easter Sunday is a continuation of the previous evening’s Resurrection festival. Each Sunday of the year is celebrated as a "little Easter".
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Article by Dean Rose.
Permission is granted to use and replicate this or parts of this article with the following ascription;
From an article by Dean Rose, St. Peter’s Church, Oshawa, Diocese of Toronto.