The Heart of the Christian Year
Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, as Jesus enters Jerusalem and is welcomed as king. Soon, his confrontation with the religious elite will bring about his betrayal and arrest on Thursday evening, his trial and crucifixion on Friday, and his conquering of death on Easter Sunday.
The heart of Holy Week is the Holy Triduum: the great three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday which culminates with the Great Vigil of Easter that evening. These are days to save and to savor, to set aside. These are days for prayer, silence, and reflection. These are days to gather with your brothers and sisters in Christ for worship.
Over the Holy Triduum, the Church comes together to pray our most beautiful prayers, hear our most meaningful Scriptures, and offer some of our finest music. These are the three days that have changed the world, central to our salvation: his dying on the cross for our sins, and his victory over death and darkness in the Resurrection.
Whether you are young or old, whether you have kept a “good Lent” or have “blown it,” we invite you to attend our Triduum liturgies. Read through this schedule and the descriptions of our services. Plan to take part in our services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Above all, come on Saturday night for the Great Vigil and first Eucharist of Easter. These are three days that have changed the world, and continue to change the lives of Christians who commemorate them.
On Thursday evening, the Church enters the Holy Triduum together. After listening to the Word of God, we witness the celebrant taking up a basin and towel and washing the feet of those who serve as acolytes.
We remember that Jesus himself gave us this image of servant ministry. This is what the Church is supposed to look like, feel like, and act like.
The liturgy this evening has no ending.
Following the Eucharist, the blessed Sacrament is processed to the Altar of Repose in the Chapel of our Savior. Thus begins “the Watch”: the chapel becomes the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus agonized on the eve of his death. Parishioners gather throughout the night to spend time in the presence of the Savior, to watch and pray.
We gather quietly on Good Friday to listen to God’s Word, featuring the Passion narrative from St. John’s Gospel. We pray at length for all the world’s needs.
Then, another once-a-year event: a cross is held up in the midst of the congregation and we bless the Lord for the means by which he has rescued us from sin and death: “Behold the wood of the cross, on which was hung the worlds salvation!” The organ remains silent this day, but at the evening liturgy we sing to God’s glory a capella.
The Book of Common Prayer describes Good Friday as one of two days on the Church calendar when all Christians who can fast should fast. (The other is Ash Wednesday.) If you’ve never fasted before, give a 24 hour fast a try: from sundown on Maundy Thursday to sundown on Good Friday.
Holy Saturday (Liturgy at 12:00 p.m.)
The simple and short Liturgy of Holy Saturday is offered in the Chapel of our Savior. The day is spent in prayer and quiet, like God’s rest at the end of creation. Some will choose to continue their fast through Friday night and through the day on Saturday. This day is Christ’s repose in the tomb.
Hungry now, and full of anticipation, the Church gathers in darkness and lights a new fire, remembering that it is only by the light of Christ that death and darkness is defeated. The paschalcandle is lighted and the first half of the liturgy takes place by candlelight.
We then listen to some of the most powerful scriptures in our Bible: creation, the flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, psalms of promise and rejoicing. Then, we reaffirm our baptismal vows, renouncing evil and professing our faith in Christ. These are the moments between death and life, between sin and forgiveness: in hope we take hold of Jesus and his resurrection.
This night is our Pascha, our Passover. The lights go on as we proclaim, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” Bells are rung as we celebrate the victory of light over darkness, love over sin, life over death. Following the first Eucharist of Easter, a bountiful reception awaits worshipers in the Parish Hall. The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.
We’re back at the altar Sunday morning at 8:00 and 10:30 a.m., with receptions following, and the kids’ Easter Egg Hunt on the playground at 12:00 p.m. Through the previous three days of the Triduum, Christ has made the whole creation new.
Celebration is the only fitting response, a celebration that will continue through the 50 days of Easter season.
We hope you will join us at St. John’s.
The foregoing text was adapted from The Three Days to Save ©1991, 2009 Archdiocese of Chicago, www.LTP.org. Original text written by Gabe Huck. Used with permission. All rights reserved.