All of us have preferences about how worship should be structured or
"what seems to work for us." For some, a lively praise band gets
their blood moving, while others lose themselves listening to a
beautiful organ recital. Sometimes, we want to sit quietly and just
receive what is offered, while other times we want to be active
participants in worship. Some are energized by new and novel
approaches to worship, and others prefer time-honored styles.
beyond our personal preferences, worship has a part to play in
helping us discern who God is and in shaping our relationship with
Him. We humans have the tendency to think in either/or terms
something is either this or that but we also know that God is
both/and. We believe that Jesus Christ was both fully human and
fully God; we believe that there are three persons in the Trinity
Father, Son and Holy Spirit but we also believe that God is
unified and that the three persons are one. We believe that God is
immanent, that is, actively working in our world, and that He is
also transcendent, above and beyond all that we can imagine. We want
worship to help us know who God is, yet often our worship is only
able to bring attention to one side of these attributes, and we miss
In Easter, this is especially problematic. We have good/evil,
light/dark, life/death, captivity/freedom, worship/denial and a host
of other dichotomies that really are not ends of a spectrum as much
as they are elements of God's whole cloth of salvation for His
How do we experience the full breadth of that whole cloth in
worship without overemphasizing the depths of Good Friday or the
heights of Easter morning? Well, I am admittedly biased, but I
believe the Episcopal Church has honed its worship over the
centuries to capture the both/and of the Easter season.
The Triduum Sacrum (Three Sacred Days) consists of historic
liturgies that focus worshippers' attention on the final three days
of Jesus earthly life and are considered by many to be the high holy
days for Christians. It has been said that throughout the rest of
the year, a Christian's duty is to go out from worship to make
Christ known in the world. The time of the Triduum calls Christians
to retreat from the world for three days of continuous worship, from
which the faithful depart to take care of worldly matters only to
return to take up the work of worship again the next day. Once begun
on Maundy Thursday, the liturgies continue in succession without a
benediction to close until the Easter victory is celebrated. Thus
the Passion and Resurrection are observed as a whole, with each part
and each liturgy dependent upon the next. The central events of
Christianity are commemorated during the Triduum. In this sense,
the Triduum is one worship service spread over three days.
The Triduum begins with Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before
Easter, with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the washing of
feet. The service remembers Jesus' breaking of bread and blessing of
wine with his disciples in the upper room the night before his
crucifixion. There, he knelt before each of them and in an act of
humble service, washed their feet a custom in his day that the
least among them washed the feet of others and charged them, in
this act, to serve others. The word "Maundy" comes from a Latin word
meaning "command" and references the Gospel story appointed for the
day. Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one
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As Maundy Thursday worship draws to a close, the altar area is
stripped of its appointments and left barren to symbolize the tomb
that awaits the body of the crucified Jesus on Good Friday.
Worshippers leave in silence, without blessing or dismissal, to
return on Good Friday to continue in worship.
As Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, so will
we go to the Altar of Repose, our holy garden (set up in the
chapel), to stay in the presence for just one hour in an
attitude of prayer. The congregation has the opportunity to sign
up as part of teams of two for hourlong watches throughout the
night, 8 p.m. Thursday until noon Friday, in the chapel.
The emphasis of the Good Friday liturgy is the cross
on which our Savior died. The Passion Gospel is read, which retells
the scriptural story of Jesus' betrayal, trial and crucifixion.
Ancient prayers are said which are known as the Solemn Collects. The
Holy Communion is not celebrated on this day, nor again until after
the Great Vigil of Easter late on Holy Saturday. However, Communion
is received from the Sacrament reserved for that purpose on Maundy
Thursday. All the blessed Sacrament is consumed on Good Friday.
Christ has died and the symbols of His presence, the bread and the
wine, are gone from our midst.
Holy Saturday marks a day of mourning for the church, but not
mourning without hope for we know that resurrection comes from the
In the evening of Holy Saturday, the faithful gather for the
Great Vigil of Easter. In a darkened church, fire is kindled,
symbolic of the light of the risen Christ coming into the world. A
large candle is lighted from that fire and carried in procession to
the altar as people's candles are lighted from it and the light of
Christ spreads among the gathered worshippers as it has spread
around the world. An ancient hymn, the "Exultet" (Rejoice), is sung,
Scriptures are read, and psalms and prayers are sung as the people
keep vigil, awaiting the proclamation of the resurrection.
Catechumens those who've been preparing for Holy Baptism during
Lent are baptized and welcomed into the household of God, the
church, and suddenly all that has transpired over the three sacred
days comes to fruition. "Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is
risen indeed. Alleluia!" the people shout. Bells ring, people sing,
and the altar, resplendent in its Easter dιcor, lilies and vesture,
The faithful have gathered for three days to break bread, bless
the cup, wash feet, remember the cross, mourn the death of their
Lord and Master, and finally to rejoice that as was promised, "He is
not dead, but has risen," and so we, too, know the promise and the
hope that eternal life is, indeed, ours in Christ Jesus. Alleluia.
[By the Rev. MARK EVANS]
Note: Portions of the above from
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Dallas, Texas, and St.
John's Episcopal Church, Clearwater, Fla.