We’re a few days into Passiontide already, but Holy Week is still not quite here, so this is a good time to share this introduction to Passiontide, Holy Week, the Triduum, and Easter/Pascha.
We’re a few days into Passiontide already, but Holy Week is still not quite here, so this is a good time to share this introduction to Passiontide, Holy Week, the Triduum, and Easter/Pascha.
These days, Easter Vigils are super cool and popular. A lot of churches that hold them end up drawing visitors from other Christian denominations who don’t practice this piece of liturgical tradition. And hey, who can blame anyone, nowhere else can one find such a broad sweep of Scripture readings proclaiming so much of the Gospel history in the Bible in just one worship service. Add in the fire and the candles and the dark-and-light drama and the baptisms and the sudden burst of joyful Alleluias, and you’ve got a memorable liturgical experience almost without trying.
I think it’s safe to say that the great majority of Anglicans in this country are happy to have the Easter Vigil authorized and (to some extent) directed in modern Prayer Books.
HOWEVER, this wonderful recuperation of pre-reformation tradition has come with a price: Holy Saturday. Known as “Easter Even” in the classical prayer books, this was – and technically still is – the official liturgy of Holy Saturday. In anticipation of the Great Vigil of Easter, many people forget about Holy Saturday, to the point where more and more churches are labeling The Triduum as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. This is incorrect! The Triduum, as we saw in fair detail a couple days ago here, ends with the Holy Saturday liturgy. The Vigil is not part of the Triduum. It’s not even part of Holy Week or Lent, it’s the beginning of Easter.
If you’re excited about attending an Easter Vigil tonight, please do what you can to attend, or pray on your own, the Holy Saturday liturgy first. You can do it in like five minutes. Actually, here, I’ll copy the liturgy right here so you can pray it right now!
H O L Y S A T U R D A Y
There is no celebration of the Eucharist on this day.
The Officiant says: Let us pray.
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O God of the living, on this day your Son our Savior descended to the place of the dead: Look with kindness on all of us who wait in hope for liberation from the corruption of sin and death, and give us a share in the glory of the children of God; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
T H E L E S S O N S
After the Gospel, a homily may follow.
My homily is this: Note that the traditional Collect & Lessons are slightly different from the modern. The main emphasis difference between traditional and modern Holy Saturday is the baptismal material, which we now have emphasized in the Easter Vigil instead.
The following is then sung or said.
T H E A N T H E M
Man born of woman has but a short time to live, and is full of misery.
He springs up, and is cut down like a flower; he flees like a shadow,
and never continues the same.
In the midst of life we are in death: of whom do we seek strength, but you, O Lord,
who for our sins are justly displeased?
Yet, O Lord God most holy,
O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the pains of eternal death.
You know, O Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not your ears to our prayer;
but spare us, Lord most holy,
O God most mighty,
O holy and merciful Savior,
most worthy Judge eternal,
do not let us, in this our final hour,
through the pain of death, fall away from you.
The Officiant and People together pray the Lord’s Prayer. The concluding doxology is customarily omitted.
The Officiant concludes: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.
There are a lot of Psalms kicking around this time of year. Today, Good Friday, has quite a few available to us. In the classical Prayer Books this was one of the very few days in the year that got its own set of Psalms for the Daily Office, interrupting the 30-day cycle.
Morning Prayer: 22, 40, 54
Evening Prayer: 69, 88
Looking at the modern liturgy of our 2019 BCP, it’s not quite as heavy-handed on the Office, but the options still give a similar range:
Friday Morning Prayer: 40
Good Friday Service: 22 or 40:1-16 or 69:1-22
Friday Evening Prayer: 102
Saturday Morning Prayer: 88
Holy Saturday Service: 130 or 88 or 31:1-6
Saturday Evening Prayer: 91
You’ll notice that there is a little overlap between the Psalms offered in the primary service and the Psalms offered in the Daily Office, and a lot of overlap with the traditional Prayer Book Psalms. Although the execution and placement has changed, it’s nice to see that the contents of our venerable tradition have not been lost entirely.
If you’re a worship planner for your congregation, you should observe that the primary worship service for Friday and Saturday in the Triduum offer three choices of Psalms… and our lectionary has a three-year cycle. This is not presented as a rule, but it is a logical assumption that we should cycle between those three Psalms year by year. If you want to cast an eye back to general Western tradition, the Gradual Psalm for Good Friday was from Psalm 54 and Psalm 42 for Holy Saturday, neither of which are appointed in our Prayer Book. You could, however, add them to the Daily Office Psalmody on their proper days (the former is already there in the classical Prayer Books anyway).
Furthermore, whether you’re a worship planner or not, something anyone can do is add Psalms to the recitation of the Daily Office on one’s own. Assuming you’re able to know what Psalm the main liturgy at church will use later today, you can fill in the other Psalm options to your recitation of the Office. So if Psalm 69 is featuring at the Good Friday liturgy today, then consider adding Psalm 22 to Morning Prayer; perhaps you can grab Psalm 54 from the classical Prayer Books also, to add to Evening Prayer.
Same deal with Holy Saturday; take a look at the Psalms appointed, and consider how you might use up ones “left out” this year. I mean, hey, it’s the Triduum… there’s no such thing as praying too much on days like these!
An interesting interpretation of the modern liturgies for the Triduum is to consider all three as one single worship service that happens to be broken up across three days. Before I get into the full explanation, this merits breaking down a bit:
So, since this sequence begins tonight, let’s look at how these three services can be understood as a single worship service. I encourage you to take a look at them for reference.
Part One: Maundy Thursday
The Maundy Thursdayservice begins like most any Communion service: with the Holy Week Acclamation, though the Entrance Rite’s usual progression of penitence & praise (that is, the Summary of the Law/Kyrie/Decalogue and the Gloria in excelsis) is replaced with a special address, the fourfold “This is the night…” The Collect & Lessons & Sermon follow, as normal. Things really diverge from the norm after that, though. Instead of the Creed we get the option of the Foot-Washing. It might be a little pretentious to say this, but the priest(s) washing the feet of the congregation is a bit like an enacted Creed, demonstrating the servanthood of Christ in his own ministry. The liturgy continues as usual with the Prayers of the People, through the Holy Communion, after which point the next big shake-up takes place: the Stripping of the Altar. In this ritual (which is not broken down in any great detail in the Prayer Book), the holy table is denuded of its vessels, candles, linen cloth, and anything else upon it, and perhaps also “washed” with palm branches. It’s a symbolic act that points to a few different things – the stripping of Christ before his crucifixion, the abandonment of Christ by his friends, the rejection of God by the world he created. This is emphasized further by the lack of Blessing and Dismissal at the end. Instead, “The Congregation departs in silence.”
But wait, there’s more! The Additional Directions note:
Consecrated elements to be received on Good Friday should be kept in a place apart from the main sanctuary of the church. They may be carried to that place at the end of Communion on Maundy Thursday, prior to the stripping of the Altar. An appropriate hymn or anthem, such as “Now my tongue the mystery telling,” may be sung.
This sets us up for the Good Friday portion of the Triduum liturgy, where the celebration of the Eucharist is specifically not appointed. The altar will remain in its stripped state for the rest of the Triduum liturgy; the bread and wine consecrated on Thursday will have to last for Friday as well. Also, the fact that the Maundy Thursday service doesn’t really “end” kind of indicates that there is more to come. The Stripping of the Altar and the departure of the clergy without a word rather implies that things are not as they should be. Christ is in custody – will we not keep watch just one hour?
Building upon that, there is also a tradition of a Vigil at the Altar of Repose. It is not mentioned or directed in the Prayer Book, mainly because it does not strictly speaking qualify as “common prayer”. Basically, it’s a time of constant prayer throughout the night, giving a liturgical-devotional expression to St. Peter’s waiting outside the gates while Jesus was tried before the High Priest and Herod and Pilate. It also fills in the gap between Part One and Part Two.
Part Two: Good Friday
Where the Maundy Thursday doesn’t really end, the Good Friday liturgy doesn’t really “start” either. Check out the initial rubrics:
On this day the ministers enter in silence.
All then kneel for silent prayer.
The Officiant rises and may say All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way,
People And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
If you ignore the fact that a night and a morning has passed, one could easily see this as “the next scene” of the story where the Maundy Thursday liturgy left off. The Collect & Lessons that follow conform to the normal pattern, as does the sermon, but then come the Solemn Collects. In the historic Prayer Books, Good Friday had three Collects of the Day, which sort of encapsulated the idea that got expanded into the Solemn Collects we have today. What we’ve got here is a repeated sequence of bidding, silence, collect. There are 10 iterations of this pattern, covering prayer for unity of the Church, the Bishops of the Church, the Clergy and People, leaders of government, those who are preparing for Holy Baptism on Easter, deliverance from evil and suffering, for the repentance of heretics and schismatics, the conversion of the Jewish people, the conversion of all peoples, and grace for a holy life in each of us.
Then follows the Devotions before the Cross. This is comprised of a series of Reproaches and Anthems, the former set in the voice of God accusing (“reproaching”) his people for their history of unfaithfulness, and the latter taking up words from the Scriptures to express our faith in Christ’s work of redemption upon the Cross. As I mentioned the other day with regard to the book of Lamentations, this is an opportunity to approach the crucifixion and death of our Lord from a penitential angle one normally perhaps would not consider on one’s own.
After all that, the Confession & Absolution follow, with the Lord’s Prayer, and the distribution of Holy Communion which was reserved from the evening before. But then, instead of the usual thankful Post-Communion Prayer, we get this Collect (which is to be used at the end of the Good Friday service no matter what elements of the service are used or omitted).
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, Cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; peace and rest to the dead; to your holy Church unity and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
If there is one statement that could summarize Good Friday, it is this prayer – “set your passion, Cross, and death between your judgment and our souls“. At least, that’s my opinion.
But still, the liturgy doesn’t really end… the rubrics state “No blessing or dismissal is added.” and “The Ministers and People depart in silence.” The Triduum hasn’t worked itself out completely yet.
Part Three: Holy Saturday
Just like Good Friday, this day’s worship service doesn’t have a proper beginning either. Literally, this is how it starts:
The Officiant says Let us pray.
It’s the Collect of the Day. And it’s followed by the lessons; the Gospel recounts the burial of Jesus. Even the homily is optional. In the context of the Triduum, there isn’t really anything left to be said; Christ has said his piece, been abandoned, arrested, tried, and crucified. In the liturgical re-living of those days, there isn’t really much left to “do” on Saturday, we’re just sort of milling around wondering and waiting for something to happen.
After the homily comes one of the most moving anthems in the Prayer Book, Man born of woman has but a short time to live. It has four stanzas, the first three of which are originally from the Committal in the historic Prayer Book funeral rite. (Our own burial rite also makes use of this anthem.) After the anthem comes the Lord’s Prayer and – finally – the closing sentence, or grace, or blessing, from 2 Corinthians 13:14. This is the traditional verse that concludes the Daily Office, and signifies the end of the the Triduum liturgy, an ending that neither Maundy Thursday nor Good Friday provided.
The Triduum thus has much to commend itself when conceptualized as a single worship service broken up across the three days. It begins in a solemn, but still familiar and normal manner, but then takes a dramatic turn in the Foot-Washing and a sudden downward pitch in the Stripping of the Altar. After a pause, Good Friday brings us back together with Jesus only to hear him crucified in the Gospel, prompting us to turn to serious and considered prayer and to face God’s reproach for our many evils that brought about the Lord’s death. Despite being fed with the reserved Sacrament one more time, we still come to an abrupt and awkward silence in which we plead the Cross of Christ and await an answer… an answer that does not come, for when we regroup on Saturday, Jesus is still dead and in the tomb. All we can do is lament and mourn, though the Scripture readings do hint at what he is doing in his death.
The Triduum, therefore, is a liturgy like no other. Rather than leading us upwards and onwards into the love of God and sending us out into the world rejoicing to do his will, the Triduum leads us downwards into the depths of our sinfulness, all the way to the grave. The Triduum shows us the dead end of earthly life without Christ.
It will take something different, something completely new – a new fire – to bring us back out of the pit where the Triduum leaves us…
One Holy Week tradition that does not get a shout-out in the Prayer Book but has a standard following in some places is the practice of omitting The Peace after the Confession & Absolution in the Communion service. The rubrics of our Prayer Book do not provide for such an omission, so it is a tradition that should only be adopted by the permission of your diocesan Bishop.
Or, if you want to explore this option without breaking the rubrics, keep the verbal exchange of peace (Celebrant The Peace of the Lord be always with you. People And with your spirit.) but halt the further exchange of peace, which the rubric identifies as optional: “Then the Ministers and People may greet one another in the Name of the Lord” (underline added).
The idea behind this practice is that in the Garden of Gethsemane Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Matt. 26:48-49, Mark 14:44-45, Luke 22:47-48). As I wrote to my congregation a couple years ago:
This normal, friendly, even reconciliatory part of the liturgy is such a regular part of the service that its omission can be something of a shock, even a disappointment to some people. The reason for its omission, though, is significant: in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed by Judas with a kiss. Normally a sign of greeting and peace, Judas transformed it that night into a sign of betrayal and the marking of a target for the soldiers to arrest.
Thus, on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week, we also “hold our peace,” as it were. We remember the wicked deception of Judas, and remind ourselves that we, also, all to easily use signs of peace as covers for internal hatred. How easily we lie through our teeth to “get along” while harboring ill will towards our neighbor. Or, how easily we go through the motions of the liturgy while harboring a coldness of heart against our Lord and our God!
It is also worth noting that the exchange or passing of the peace is not an element in traditional Prayer Book worship. Until the liturgical revision of the mid-20th century, it simply was not a part of the liturgy for us. Understanding that it is a modern insertion to our liturgy, between the Comfortable Words and the Offertory, may perhaps give us further cause for consideration as to how our liturgy works, what elements are truly needed and important, and hone our interaction with it.
A couple months ago we looked at the book of Lamentations in the daily office lectionary. There, we noted how the book functions as a sort of appendix to the book of Jeremiah, giving expression to the deep sorrow of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. The book is a series of five Hebrew poems, alphabetic acrostics of varying length and elaborateness, each bewailing the destruction of Jerusalem from a different point of view, be it the third-person perspective of an observer, personifying the city itself, and others. Each chapter is its own poem. Apart from the Hebrew acrostics, other elements show up from time to time: there are call-and-response elements pop up, as if some of these poems were used for a liturgical community lament around the wrecked Temple. The varying of perspective, too, enables one to embody the experience of the city itself, or the Temple itself, looking at the destruction and devastation from several angles.
We also noted that one of the simplest appropriations of this book in a Christ-centered manner is to connect the Old Testament Temple building to the New Testament Temple of Christ’s Body, which was destroyed on that first Good Friday and “rebuilt in three days” as Jesus promised (John 2:21). Now that Holy Week is here, it’s time to return to that christological reading of Lamentations.
Popular evangelical piety today has very little room for lament, much less lament over the death of Christ. Although one of the central tenets of Evangelicalism is crucicentrism – being “cross-centered” – there is comparatively less attention to the actual death of Christ than in the older liturgical tradition. Evangelicals will readily accept the importance of his death, but “liturgically” apply it in a different way. You can see this most clearly in the popular hymnody and contemporary praise songs of modern evangelicalism, where the death of Christ is inextricably linked to his resurrection, and celebrated as a set of events for which we give thanks. What love Christ showed us upon the Cross!
This is not untrue, of course, but it is only one approach to Christ’s death. The wisdom of the liturgical tradition is the ability to consider these Gospel events from multiple perspectives. Palm Sunday highlights our complicity in the death of Christ by juxtaposing the Triumphal Entry and the Crucifixion in one worship service. Maundy Thursday (and to some extent, Good Friday also) highlights the high priestly work of Jesus on the Cross. Elements of the Good Friday service in modern Prayer Books (and pre-reformation tradition), namely the Veneration of the Cross, take a more visceral approach to the death of Christ, considering the means by which Jesus was killed and thus wrought our redemption. The Lamentations, finally, which our Daily Lectionary appoints on Thursday and Friday (and this Customary recommends for Midday Prayer beforehand, too) contribute to the angle of mourning.
Christ has died. This was unjust! As the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon not only symbolized but actualized the presence of God among his people, so too did the physical body of Christ actualize the presence of God in this world. The destruction of the first Temple building was both a cultural trauma and a spiritual loss… so much more is the destruction of the Temple of Christ’s Body! Unlike Jerusalem, Jesus was not guilty of mass apostasy, so the analogy is not perfect; but if you consider the idealized Jerusalem and the divine purpose of the Temple of Solomon, then its destruction is worthily lamentable, just as it is right and proper to weep over the death of Jesus.
It may be the question of some evangelicals unfamiliar with our tradition, at this point, why one should lament the death of Jesus anymore, since the resurrection has already occurred. First, it’s just like Christmas or Easter – Jesus isn’t a baby anymore, and Jesus isn’t walking around Earth anymore, yet we still celebrate his birth and his resurrection. It would be inconsistent and imbalanced not to observe his death as well. Second, for those who go so far as to question all such commemorative holidays, there is the simple biblical example of identificational ritual worship. Specific rites and rituals aside, one of the clearest lessons we see in the Bible about how to worship God is the use of identificational rituals – the communal re-living of past events that shape and form our identity. For the Jews under the Old Covenant that was the Passover, the Giving of the Law, and a number of other events that shaped their history and came to be commemorated. For us that means the Gospel events around the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, as well as the Pentecostal descent of the Holy Spirit. These cornerstones of historical events shape who and what the Church is. To “pick favorites” among them at the neglect of others is to create an imbalanced sense of identity.
And so, if just for parts of one week in the year, we weep with the daughters of Jerusalem, with the Virgin Mary and her friends, over the cruel and unjust death of Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord and our God. And the book of Lamentations helps us do that.
Holy Week is a special time of year; the historic Prayer Books provide different readings for a Communion service on each day of the week, a coverage not enjoyed anywhere else in the calendar. (If you look in the 1979 and 2019 books, you’ll see Easter week is also fully covered, but historically only Monday and Tuesday of that week were provided for.)
The Gospel lessons throughout the week were very simple. On The Sunday Next Before Easter (commonly called Palm Sunday) was read Matthew 26:1-27:56; on Monday was read Mark 14, on Tuesday was read Mark 15, on Wednesday was read Luke 22, on Maundy Thursday was read Luke 23, and on Good Friday was read John 19. In short, the Passion narrative of all four Gospel books were read in sequence throughout the week, leaving the burial in Matthew 27:57. The Epistle or OT lesson to match these Gospels were also great material for the death of Christ: Philippians 2:5-11, Isaiah 63, Isaiah 50:5, Hebrews 9:16, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 on Maundy Thursday, from Hebrews 10 on Friday, and 1 Peter 3:17ff on Saturday.
How anyone thought they could improve on this is beyond me. But change it they have; the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books offer a completely different Holy Week experience. Rather than reflecting upon the death of Christ for the majority of the week, we are now taken on a roller coaster ride through various events near Jesus’ last days.
So, let’s say you want to observe Holy Week to the full; praying both Office each day plus the daily Communion service. What would that look like according to the 2019 Prayer Book, and executed in a traditional fashion?
This doesn’t happen often in the ACNA lectionaries, but you can find interplay between the daily office readings and the communion service readings during Holy Week – I pointed out a couple points of contact already. As I lamented at the beginning, it is my opinion that Holy Week is better served with the traditional approach: the daily communion readings from the trials and passion and death of Christ from Sunday through Friday. We’ve got all year to explore the context of his death; can’t we just “settle in” to this dark moment at the foot of the Cross? The modern set of Collects added in for Monday through Wednesday add a nice touch in that direction, but they aren’t reinforced by the Scripture readings. Still, at least the daily office lessons maintain a decent focus on the death of Christ, so the new daily collects will fit in better there than in the Communion services.
Whateverso, Holy Week is just around the corner, and hopefully this overview will help you get ready.