Triduum: Celebrating the Mystery of Easter

Nathan Jennings came to Seminary of the Southwest in 2005, returning to his hometown.  Currently, Nathan serves as the J. Milton Richardson Associate Professor of Liturgics and Anglican Studies.  Nathan's academic interests include liturgical theology, dogmatic theology, ascetical theology, and theological hermeneutics.

This year will be the third year that we, as a community, will be celebrating the “Triduum” together. In the past, we have expected students to attend their field parishes for formation in the Triduum. We decided to give it a go for a few years here at Seminary of the Southwest, to see if the Triduum might not become for us an important part of our own formative traditions.

But what is the “Triduum,” anyway? It is not a word found in our Prayer Book. It is Latin for “The Three Days.” These “Three Days” refer to the three focal days of Holy Week surrounding Christ’s Last Supper, betrayal, death, burial and resurrection. It comprises four services over three days. The four services are: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the Great Vigil of Easter. These take place from Thursday evening before Easter Sunday through Saturday night (or, in some places the Great Vigil occurs just before sunrise on Easter Sunday itself).

All of the names of these services appear in our Book of Common Prayer, but not the over-arching name “Triduum.” Many Episcopalians choose to use this phrase to describe these special services because of something very important about how our Prayer Book has designed them to be played out.

The Holy Eucharist is the service most contemporary Episcopalians are familiar with as their regular form of Sunday worship. The usual Sunday Holy Eucharist begins and ends with an “opening acclamation,” and closes with the “dismissal.” An opening acclamation might be: Priest: Bless the Lord who forgives all our Sins, People: His mercy endures forever. A dismissal might be: Minister: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, People: Thanks be to God. Sometimes hymns will come before and after these, but these two liturgical actions, acclamation and dismissal, tend to mark for Episcopalians the beginning and ending of the liturgy.

There is a curious thing, deliberately planned, in the Triduum services. Maundy Thursday begins “in the usual manner” with an opening acclamation. It usually ends with what is called the “Stripping of the Altar.” There is no dismissal, no blessing, no closing hymn, no clear ending. All depart in silence. Neither the Good Friday Service nor the Holy Saturday Service has either acclamation or dismissal. Finally, the Great Vigil of Easter starts in silence, and after it takes its long, winding course, it finally ends with the great Easter dismissal. These four services are linked together between one opening acclamation and one closing dismissal. They represent a kind of continuous service, celebrating and manifesting the Paschal Mystery of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, morphing in focus through four different services over the course of three days. Hence this name for the experience of these four services as one extended meditation on our Lord: the Triduum.

We look forward to celebrating these holy solemnities with you.