The Holy Triduum Defined
Holy Week is referred to as such on account of the three days that cap off the week and their significance in Christian understanding. These three days, which directly follow what is commonly called Spy Wednesday, represent the Paschal Triduum. During this concise season within the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar, the faithful observe “the most exalted liturgical celebration of the year.”
The Triduum consists of evening Mass on Holy Thursday – where Christ’s Last Supper (the institution of the Holy Eucharist) is especially commemorated; Good Friday – on which the Crucifixion and Death of Christ are highlighted and during which the faithful fast; and Holy Saturday, which is marked by its silence during which we are invited to contemplate Christ in the tomb. The Holy Triduum officially comes to a close, “concluding with Vespers on Easter Sunday…”1
The manifestations of the liturgy during the Triduum serve as a sacred memorial of Christ’s salvific deeds: the institution of the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders (the priesthood), His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
The Paschal Triduum ties in the significance of Christ in His dual role of fulfilling Jewish prophecies found in the Old Testament and in tradition and of laying down the groundwork for Christianity. “Paschal” has its roots in Pasch, what we more frequently hail as the Jewish feast of Passover. It is this feast that Jesus and the Twelve celebrate at the Last Supper, which modern Christians celebrate on Holy Thursday. In Catholic consciousness, the Paschal mystery is associated with Easter specifically. It is understood to be the mystery of the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ.
The Triduum is the forerunner and climactic transition into Easter, the greatest feast celebrated in the Catholic liturgy. It is of the utmost significance because it marks the history-altering event of the Resurrection, by which Christ shows His dominion over sin and death.
An earlier version of this explainer article originally appeared on Patheos.
Rev. Peter J. Stravinskas, ed., Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Dictionary (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1993), 474.