Monday, March 21, 2016

The Pascal Triduum and Easter Sunday 2016

Growing up Catholic I was always lead to believe that Easter was our most important holiday, and for us Easter meant Easter Sunday.  After all, that’s when the Easter Bunny left us treats.  As I grew into adulthood, however, with an ever growing understanding into the depth and breadth of our faith, I learned that Easter Sunday wasn’t our most important Liturgical celebration.  Instead that distinction falls on the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening… the conclusion of our Pascal Triduum.


Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Colossians 3:1-4, OR 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
John 20:1-9

While the readings for Easter Sunday are important, they are also just a very small piece of the story of our relationship with God.  It's like eating only one hors d'oeuvre at a banquet... it gives you a foretaste of the great food to come, but could hardly be considered nutritious or filling.  Unpacking the readings for this Sunday, like we do every week in our regular Adult Faith Formation sessions, gives me the same problem.  I can't really give you a sense of the importance of these readings without grounding them in the stories that precede them. 

This Sunday’s beautiful Gospel from John about how the tomb was found empty means nothing if not for our first reading from Acts of the Apostles, where Peter is explaining to Cornelius (a Roman Centurion) about who this Jesus fellow is.  But even that is not enough context to substantiate the wonder that is Easter.  At the very least, you need to allow yourself the opportunity... the retreat... the blessing of all Holy Week has to offer.  The Liturgies of Holy Week, the Paschal Triduum, are like a full three course meal.

The first course:  Holy Thursday and the Mass of the Lord's Supper, with the story of the Passover from Exodus, Paul's story of the institution of the Eucharist, and John's glorious Gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his Apostles. 

Our second course:  Good Friday, where the prophet Isaiah tells us both the glory and the tragedy that faces God's servant, where Paul extols to the Romans how Jesus was a high priest who also understood weakness, and John's deeply moving story of Jesus' passion and death. 

Then comes our main course:  The Easter Vigil, where in darkness we re-tell the tale of our becoming a people of God, from Genesis, through Exodus, through the Isaiah and the other prophets, and through St. Paul.  By the time we're through with all these readings our Gospel of the Resurrection now has enough context to reveal it's radiance.  Easter Sunday, if you so wish, then becomes a nice aperitif, a delightful pallet cleanser for the amazing stories yet to come during the entire season of Easter.

So for this Easter, don't come just for one hors d'oeuvre on Easter Sunday.  Instead, come to the Feast that is Holy Week.  Only by knowing the whole story will you see why we believe when we find the tomb is empty.

Final thoughts:
When I think of Mass on Easter Sunday I am reminded of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:11):  “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.”  We live in a multi-generational Church, which is, of course, representative of our lives.  Yet so much of our Catholic practice is rooted in an adult context.  When we share our faith with children, we need to take a simpler approach, to allow them to experience Christ where they are.  But as we grow mentally and physically we also need to grow in our relationship with God...  Grow to see the depth and richness of our faith and our traditions.  We need to allow ourselves to grow out of our understanding of Easter as just this one Sunday.  The true richness of Easter lies in the real feast that is in the full three-course celebration of the Triduum, culminating with the Easter Vigil. 

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