The word triduum comes from Latin and translates as three days. In essence, then, the Sacred or Holy Triduum is a three-day liturgical commemoration encompassing Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil; the combination of which comprise the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
To quote from the introduction to Maundy Thursday liturgy: “This is the day that Christ the Lamb of God gave himself into the hands of those who would slay him. This is the day that Christ gathered with his disciples in the upper room. This is the day that Christ took a towel and washed the disciples’ feet, giving us an example that we should do to others as has been done to us. This is the day that Christ gave us this holy feast, that we who eat this bread and drink this cup may here proclaim his Holy Sacrifice and be partakers of his resurrection, and at the last day may reign with him in heaven.”
It is also the day Christ gave us a new commandment, as we read in the Gospel according to St. John (13:34-35): “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This commandment is the source for why we refer to it as Maundy Thursday, because in Latin the word for a commandment is mandatum; and in wending its way over the centuries it iterated itself into maundy. The Mystical Body of Christ, the Church essentially lives out Christ’s commandment to “love one another” liturgically at the Maundy Thursday Eucharist by the washing of the feet of parishioners by the priests.
The Liturgy of Maundy Thursday is particularly compelling because it encompasses so much: the foot washing; the gift of the Eucharist; the sacrament reserved for use on Good Friday; the procession to the Garden; the stripping of the altar; the Watch; the silent exit; all of these “acts” commemorating the biblical events of Christ’s final pre-crucifixion interaction with his apostles. But the reality and spiritual ascetic for us is that we also, through our liturgy, participate with them and Christ in the love and humility of our foot washing; our Eucharist of bread and wine, his body and blood, his real presence; our reserving of the pre-sanctified sacraments for use on Good Friday since this is the day of his death; our procession to the Garden for the watch and prayer; our stripping of the altar and the depth of loss it conveys; our silent departure and the absence of light. Our liturgy transports us to the Upper Room, the Seder meal, the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane. We do not just observe, we take part.
Why is this important and meaningful? Often the preoccupations of daily life distract us from our efforts to grow into closer relationship with God, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. It was once observed that “Christians are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” Christ knew this only too well. He would be betrayed and denied by his closest companions. They would sleep while he prayed in anguish. Yet in the fleeting hours before his Passion he washed their feet; broke bread and shared the cup with them; prayed over them; expressed his love for them and called them his friends. In other words, he forged an enduring and transforming relationship with them. That same relationship is there for us in the liturgies, the holy mysteries, we participate in and celebrate, not only on Maundy Thursday, but through the Sacred Triduum of Good Friday and the Easter Vigil as well. May our relationship with Christ, our Lord and savior, and those around us in our families, parish, communities, country be regenerated, renewed, reconciled, and healed in these most sacred of liturgies, especially in these difficult times.