The holy season of Lent ends this week with perhaps the
most significant collection of days in the liturgical year, the Great Three
Days also known as the Triduum: beginning on the evening of Maundy
Thursday, continuing through Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and
leading into the Great Vigil of Easter on Easter Eve and the Sunday of the
Resurrection (Easter Day).
The dramatic triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on
Palm Sunday quickly changes, as we know. All four Gospels record the triumphal
entry but differ slightly with the descriptions of the first half of Holy Week,
namely the days known as Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday. For
these days, the Gospel of John records the anointing of Jesus at Bethany and a
foreshadowing of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial, while the Gospel of
Matthew retells Judas arranging the betrayal of Jesus with the high priests.
Another longstanding tradition of the Church during Holy
Week is the Chrism Mass, when all the priests of the diocese gather to reaffirm
their ordination vows, restate their allegiance to their bishop and receive
from the bishop the blessed oils to be used in their parish ministries that
year. Two separate oils are blessed and distributed: the oils for the Anointing
of the Sick, and the chrism (perfumed oil) that is used for
the anointing in Baptism. The Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee celebrates
this Chrism Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Holy Tuesday each year.
The liturgy for Maundy Thursday is sometimes known as the
Maundy Thursday Ceremonies, as this liturgy contains a number of elements that
again trace the life events of Jesus: the footwashing, the celebration of the
Eucharist and the stripping of the altar.
On the night before he was crucified, Jesus celebrated
the Last Supper with the apostles at which he washed their feet and instituted
the Eucharist (“This do in remembrance of me”) by blessing, breaking and
serving bread and wine. After the supper, Jesus went out into the Garden of
Gethsemane to pray (“Father, let this cup pass from me”), where he was then
arrested and taken to be judged by Pontius Pilate. The scourging and mocking of
Jesus is commemorated by the stripping of the altar.
The liturgy for Good Friday also contains a number of
specific elements commemorating the Crucifixion: the reading of the Passion
Gospel, the solemn collects, the veneration of the cross and the singing of hymns
and anthems specifically extolling the cross. This liturgy is stark and
completely unadorned, framed by silent processions at the beginning and the
The Triduum ends gloriously and
triumphantly with the Great Vigil of Easter and the Easter Day celebrations. At
the Easter Vigil the new fire is kindled (the regeneration of life in the
tomb); the Paschal Candle (symbol of our baptisms) is lighted; the Exsultet,
the greatest prayer of the Church, is chanted; and the first Eucharist of
Easter is celebrated. The celebrations of the Resurrection continue on Easter
Day with triumphant hymns and the reading of the Gospel account of the women
discovering the empty tomb and encountering the Risen Lord.