Symbols help us fully express our Christian faith
by Renae Bauer
published Spring 2014
It is said that Triduum is to the year what Sunday is to the week.
What is Triduum, you ask? It is the holiest time of the Christian calendar. It is one continuous feast that starts Holy Thursday evening and concludes with evening prayer on Easter. And what a feast it is.
"Triduum is the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, the dying and rising of the Lord," says Sister Ann Rehrauer, who, along with fellow liturgist Sister Urban Schumacher, recently discussed the symbols we see, smell, hear and touch during this most sacred celebration of the year.
This is the Mass of the Lord's Supper so the color white (symbolizing joy and victory) adorns the environment. As feet are washed and Eucharist is shared, we celebrate two messages from Jesus Christ: Serve others as I have served you, and break bread in memory of me. "And they're related," says Sister Ann. Both embody service and unity in His name.
The Sisters mark Christ's mandate in a unique way: the oldest Sister dries the feet of the other Sisters.
"Sister Carlotta (Ullmer's) role for years now has been to wipe the feet of the Sisters," says Sister Urban. "Father pours the water but she wipes the feet." Sister Ann adds: "Which is a wonderful symbol. Normally, you expect the youngest should be serving and yet all her life that service never stops."
Holy Thursday also marks the reception of Holy Oils (Oil of the Sick, Oil of Catechumens, and Holy Chrism) which are blessed each year by the local Bishop during Chrism Mass and are received by each local parish to use in the coming year.
Because the three holy days together mark one feast, Holy Thursday ends in silence without the dismissal rite. Likewise, Good Friday Service begins in silence. "This shows the connection (from one to the next) because each one focuses on a different aspect of the Paschal Mystery," says Sister Ann.
Red -- the color of fire and blood -- is present as we mark the Lord's Passion and death. Holy water fonts are empty, symbolizing that the Living Water of Jesus Christ is coming but not yet with us.
We hear John's Gospel, which is different in tone than the other three. Says Sister Urban: "It is said that John was closest to the events," to which Sister Ann adds, "This Gospel is different because Jesus is in charge, not the helpless victim. He steps forward and claims his role." Victory is nearby at every step.
Our intercessions exemplify the Church's call to pray on behalf of others, so we offer 10 prayers -- for the Church, the Pope, the faithful, catechumens, the unity of all Christians, the Jewish people, those who don't believe in Jesus, those who don't believe in God, public officials, and those who are suffering.
Then we move to the Adoration of the Cross. As we kiss, bow or kneel before it, "You're saying to Jesus, 'Thank you, I adore you, and I'm trying to have a better understanding of what the suffering and the crucifixion means,' " says Sister Urban. "When I go up to that wooden cross, I bow and recall the great gift of crucifixion, the Paschal Mystery."
Because we hear of Jesus' death during this service, we do not celebrate the full Liturgy of the Eucharist but rather participate in a simple communion service. Again, we exit in silence, awaiting the continuation of our liturgy at the Easter Vigil.
Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil
Christ is entombed so we mark the day with quiet waiting, like the disciples did. As we gather for the Easter Vigil, darkness pervades the sky and the church interior. With great joy and anticipation, the news of Christ's resurrection bursts forth with the lighting of the Paschal candle. Jesus is not dead. He defeats death and is risen. White, our color for joy, is everywhere -- in our vestments, our dress, our candles, our flowers.
"The Paschal Candle is the symbol of Christ and from that the other candles (held by the congregants) are lit so that lights spreads," says Sister Urban. We then hear the Easter Proclamation (Exultet). "It's calling on all creation to rejoice because of this pivotal experience in all of history. Nothing will ever be the same because of Christ," says Sister Ann.
Liturgy of the Word
Like no other liturgy in our Church, seven readings from the Old Testament are proclaimed. Each one helps us recall we are God's people: the story of Creation, Abraham's sacrifice, Exodus through the Red Sea, the New Zion, God's invitation to grace, importance of wisdom, and God's promise of a new heart and spirit.
"The pivotal Old Testament reading is Exodus," says Sister Ann. It tells "the victory of passing through the water … that God saves Israel, and, of course, that God saves us," says Sister Ann.
The Liturgy of the Word concludes with two readings from the New Testament. The Epistle proclaims our freedom from sin and our life in God, and the Gospel of Matthew recounts how Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to Christ's tomb and encounter an angel who proclaims Christ is risen.
Joyful bells help us celebrate the Good News, and the word "Alleluia" returns to our liturgy after a 40-day absence.
Rites of Initiation
This portion of the liturgy begins with the Litany of Saints, our remembering of brothers and sisters in faith who point us to Jesus. The litany is followed by blessing of water which has returned to our environment and is integral in the Rites of Initiation (baptizing catechumens into the Christian community, and confirming candidates and catechumens), and the renewal of baptismal promises. "Even if we have no (catechumens) to baptize we still renew our baptismal promises and have the sprinkling of water," says Sister Ann.
Celebration of the Lord's Supper
The last portion of our Easter Vigil is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Like every Eucharist and every aspect of our Christian life we have marked these past 40 days , this is not a re-enactment, says Sister Ann. "It is to 're'member, to bring back together. With every Eucharist, Christ doesn't die again but the veil of time opens through these symbols and we are there at that one event. These symbols allow us to be present to what happened."
This Sunday is the greatest of all Sundays and it marks the beginning of the most important time in our liturgical year. For the next 50 days we celebrate the Lord's resurrection, his victory over death, our salvation through faith. All readings are from the New Testament.
The meaning of the Easter season is reflected in its Old English name, with the root word "East." We look East to find the rising sun. In the sun we find joy and hope. After our period of darkness we celebrate true life in the one true light, Jesus Christ.
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