By Rick Berube
CSS Associate Chaplain
In preparing for the celebration of Easter, Christendom’s central and most defining event, the liturgy of Holy Week invites us into some special seasonal reflections referred to as “The Triduum.”
The Triduum (Three Days) closes our 40-day Lenten journey, leading to Easter, the most defining event of Christianity. During these special days, the Church invites us into contemplation, spiritual strengthening, and renewal. This year, the Triduum begins with evening mass on Thursday, March 29, and ends with the celebration of Easter Vigil on the evening of Holy Saturday as we prepare for the Resurrection feast of Easter Sunday on April 1.
The oldest of Holy Week celebrations is Maundy Thursday. The word "Maundy" comes from the Latin mandatum, which means "commandment," and refers to the last supper with his disciples when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, washed his disciples' feet and said "I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another" (John 13:34). We remember and honour on this day the Spirit of God that dwells in us -- that inner prompting (often subtle and concealed) that move us to respond in a new way to all the twists and turns that our lives present to us.
On Good Friday we reflect on how, as a fully human brother, Christ anticipated, struggled with, and accepted his passion and crucifixion. It is a day of fasting, and the liturgy often takes place at 3 p.m., commemorating Jesus' death on the cross. It can be an important "desert period" for us, one when we recall our often quick and flawed reactions to life's many setbacks and disappointments.
Suffering and failure can open us up to God's Grace and Mystery. We are invited to nail all of these to a cross, and to open ourselves up to the possibility of that inner light pushing through. That surrender sets us free and allows us a positive, compassionate, and loving capacity to respond courageously in the midst of the ongoing turbulence of life.
Holy Saturday is also a day of reflection, of waiting in anticipation while the body of Jesus lay in a tomb (he sojourned in the realm of the dead) on the Sabbath day. We can think of this as the interval during which our own transformation might take place. It is after nightfall on Saturday evening (or before dawn on Easter Sunday) that the ceremonies of Easter Vigil take place.
I need to remind myself at times that the death and resurrection of Christ are events that are set in an historical context. They are happenings which actually took place when Jesus was 33 years old, just short of two thousand years ago. The final reconciliation, the transformation, the redemption of humankind actually took place at that time in history.
All of us human persons living in the past or in the present are drawn back into the unifying embrace and mercy of the Creator through those events. This is a baffling and mysterious prospect for sure. A scandal to some, sheer foolishness to others as St. Paul said (Corinthians 1:23), but our spiritual restoration has already come to pass. We live in it every day. It is all a "fait accompli." A done deal.
Some may see this as a presumptuous and confusing assertion in the context of religious teachings that sometimes promote exclusivity, a stern moralism, and the notion of a fallen nature deserving of suffering and punishment -- the idea that we must earn God's Grace and Mercy. Yet, before taking his corporal leave from them, Christ's final instruction to his disciples was an enticing, joyful, and triumphant one: to go to all the nations and "proclaim the Good News" (Mark 16). It was not to inspire fear and guilt, nor to threaten and chastise, but to reveal and celebrate God's presence among us and His unconditional Mercy.
As human beings, our internal wiring is saturated with reactive impulses in the face of life's capricious twists and turns. Fear, hurt, anger, and depression are normal reactions to much that is thrown at us. Yet from the innermost centre of our being and for brief instants before we simply drift into our instinctual reactions, a fleeting moment of opportunity and a choice presents itself. It is a chance to respond from the soul rather than simply react instinctively. We have it in us to make sympathetic, loving, and merciful decisions, similar to those modelled by Christ throughout his ministry and his final days of agony.
The Holy Week liturgy offers us a brief interlude, a chance to take a step off the path and sit a while to reflect on how we might respond in a new way to all that forms our life. We believe that through the Pascal mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, our human existence has been brought to fulfillment, and we can now be free from our many concerns and foibles -- from suffering and bondage, from estrangement, and even from death. We need only to open ourselves up to the possibility of Grace and Mercy.
Indeed, even through our pain and suffering, God’s Grace and Mercy are made manifest.