At no other time of year do Catholic churches’ liturgical settings change as rapidly as during the Triduum, when the daily focus evolves from the Lord’s Supper, to his crucifixion, to the anticipation of his rising.
“The environment should show the movement from death to life, from darkness to light, from sin to grace, which is so much the focus of these liturgies. With all of this in mind, the environments for these days require careful preparation, timing, adequate resources, and many hands!” notes the Sourcebook for Sundays and Seasons from Liturgical Training Publications.
The sourcebook describes the liturgical atmosphere for Holy Thursday as “festive but simple,” with basic floral and candle arrangements in both the sanctuary and place of reposition. Musically, the Mass begins with instruments and bells, but gradually becomes more solemn — and by the time of the procession with the Blessed Sacrament, the “Pange Lingua” sung during this segment may well be an a capella version.
On Good Friday, “the focus is on the cross and proclamation of the Passion. Very little is needed for the environment,” the sourcebook states, stressing that the key liturgical consideration is to have a large cross in a suitable spot for veneration. The sourcebook adds that musical emphasis should be “on a capella singing or simple accompaniments, if needed.”
Saturday’s Easter Vigil is an elaborate celebration that commences with the lighting of a fire outdoors and continues with a Mass incorporating numerous readings and the Rites of Initiation. The Vatican’s General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, No. 21, notes that since this celebration honors the night Christ rose from the dead, it ranks as “the mother of all vigils.” The Mass begins with unaccompanied singing, and instruments are gradually added during the Liturgy of the Word.
Vestments used during the Triduum illustrate the sharp contrast from day to day: The vestments are white on Holy Thursday, red on Good Friday and purple on Holy Saturday.
And yet, even with all these distinct characteristics, “the Triduum is really one feast … opening up the mystery of the dying and rising of Christ,” said Ginny Miller, associate diocesan director of liturgy.
In order to illustrate continuity, there is no entrance procession or song at the Good Friday or Holy Saturday liturgies, and no dismissal or concluding song on Holy Thursday or Good Friday. Miller noted that some music can be repeated, such as the same Communion song on all three days.
Miller said the Triduum serves as “a wonderful time to combine all your music ministries,” especially between worship sites that share a formal affiliation. For instance, a single Triduum choir has been formed for the Holy Thursday Mass on April 5 at St. Mary Church in Bath as well as the Good Friday service on April 6 at St. Gabriel Church in Hammondsport.
She said many churches also offer such observances as evening and morning prayer, as well as ecumenical services, during this all-important three-day period.
“The Easter Triduum of the passion and resurrection of Christ is the culmination of the entire liturgical year,” states No. 18 of the church’s general norms.