A few years ago, my experience of Triduum was markedly disorienting. The beautiful symbols and rituals of the liturgies felt empty, hollow. I’ll never forget walking out the church doors after the Easter Vigil asking myself, “What was that? What in the world just happened?” Walking home I felt confused and disillusioned, and I began to wonder, “Are you sure Jesus is risen?” because nothing that I had just experienced seemed to indicate that this was the case.
During the past couple weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about this experience quite a bit as I’ve contemplated what it will be like to be at home by myself this year for Triduum. This is the pinnacle of our liturgical year! Our year. Can you really even celebrate it alone? Liturgy is the work of the people, and it involves participation. Can that really happen through a livestream? Should I just figure out something different to do instead?
As we are ready to enter into Triduum tomorrow, I haven’t really found answers to these questions that I’ve been asking. I still don’t know with certainty how I will celebrate, and I have no idea what the experience will be like. I have realized, though, that most of my questions have been focused on experience. And I realize now that there is a far more significant question worth contemplating: What is Triduum really about in the first place?
Through every Mass we enter into and celebrate the Paschal Mystery, but in the Triduum we take the time to do so in a more profound way. We start with the Lord’s Supper, with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. We go with him to the garden, watching and waiting with him at the altar of repose. We journey with him through the Passion, as Jesus is betrayed by a friend, condemned, beaten, mocked, and crucified. We watch as he dies on the cross and is laid in the tomb. And then we wait. We wait until darkness gives way to the light of the new fire. We listen to the retelling of salvation history, building into a crescendo that proclaims: Jesus has been raised from the dead! We welcome the Elect into the Church through the waters of Baptism and the outpouring of the Spirit in Confirmation. We renew our own baptismal promises before coming to the altar where we are nourished and fed by the incredible gift of the Eucharist. And we are sent back into the world to share the Good News that on this holiest of nights, Jesus has overcome death, giving us the hope of salvation and eternal life!
This year our experience of Triduum will be unlike any other. It is easy to focus on what we will miss. But what is Triduum – what is the Paschal Mystery – really about in the first place? I believe that the answer to this can be summed up in one word. Love.
Jesus became human to not only tell us, but also to show us just how deeply, madly, passionately God loves each and every one of us. He showed us that love is not about ourselves; it is about others. It is not about what we get; it is about what we give. Love invites us to sacrifice our own wants, and sometimes our own needs, out of care for another. When Jesus took up his cross and gave his life, he showed us that the fullest expression of love is found in a willingness to give everything.
In these days when we are asked to stay at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, I have very much missed gathering in community. It simply is not the same when this is done through a screen. I hunger for Eucharist in a way that I never have before. I struggle with questions about how much I really do need something at that particular time, or if it can actually wait a while so I can minimize making trips outside my home. I hope that in the times when I struggle with these things, wishing that “this cup may pass me by,” (cf. Mt 26:39) God will grant me whatever grace I need to make choices out of love for others.
These days of Triduum may very well bring a sense of pain or loss since they will be so drastically different from any other year. But I am also confident that they will be filled with unexpected grace because God has not abandoned us. Although we, the Church, may be scattered in our own homes, Jesus is present there with us. And come Sunday, even if we find ourselves confused, disillusioned, or disoriented, we can indeed proclaim that Jesus Christ is risen!