I remember a time when there was no Triduum. There was Lent, which started on Ash Wednesday and went all the way through Holy Saturday. And then there was Easter Sunday, when I once again got to eat chocolate and watch my favorite TV show, things I had given up for Lent. Sure, Triduum existed on the calendar and in the ritual books, but it was not part of my Catholic upbringing. I never heard of the Easter Vigil until I was in college.
When I started out in ministry in the late 1970s, the Triduum, and especially the Easter Vigil, was still unknown or unfamiliar to many Catholics. I’m as Catholic as the next person so I understood why other Catholics didn’t get it about how important the Triduum is. I didn’t get it either for a long time. However, as a young adult, I got “converted” through an immersion experience in the liturgies and spiritual discipline of the Three Days. And I just knew with every bone in my body that if I could create that same kind of immersion experience for other Catholics, they, too, would be converted.
And I was wrong.
All Triduum, All the Time
The thing I didn’t understand back then is that the Triduum is not about the three days. It is about the 365 days. I still believe in the power of powerful liturgy, but a concentrated liturgical experience, all by itself, will seldom have the transformative effect that consistent pastoral spiritual formation, week after week, day after day, will have. That is to say, liturgy is meant to work slowly, over a lifetime.
No matter how “great” I made the Triduum each year, very few people had significant, life-changing experiences. It got to be a bit of a vicious circle in which I would plan ever-grander liturgies in the hope of breaking through what seemed to me to be indifferent and apathetic attitudes about the great Paschal mystery.If we are ever going to celebrate truly participative liturgy, a critical mass of people in the parish have to develop a critical stake in what happens in the Triduum. Click To Tweet
The way liturgy planning happens in many parishes is the way I do Christmas shopping. Sometime about ten days before Christmas, it dawns on me that I need to buy some stuff. But I don’t have any time on the day it dawns on me, so I tell myself I’ve still got plenty of time. And then, somehow, I always seem to find myself in the mall on Christmas Eve, offering up my credit card to the gods of commerce as though it were the sacrifice of the first-born.
Okay, maybe your liturgical planning in your parish isn’t quite that dramatic, but can we agree that a lot of liturgical planning is last minute and episodic?
- By last minute, I mean planning for the higher seasons seems to lurch from feast to feast with a slight sense of dread that there isn’t enough time to make new banners or rehearse all the ministers.
- By episodic, I mean that one feast or season is not necessarily connected to the times of the liturgical year that precede and follow it.
In this kind of liturgical planning, the Triduum becomes just one more “episode” or event that needs to be planned. Or worse, it becomes three distinct and separate events without even so much as a “To be continued” screen shot at the end of each day.
How to get everyone to participate in the Triduum
If we are ever going to celebrate truly participative liturgy, a critical mass of people in the parish have to develop a critical stake in what happens in the Triduum. They have to believe that what happens in the Triduum matters so deeply that their lives will be converted to making Triduum happen. Getting a critical mass of people to that point is not difficult in theory, but, in practice, it takes years of work and patience. However, there really is no alternative.
Parishes can put years of work into episodically-planned Triduums that are, of themselves, grand spectacles but have no lasting impact.
Or they can put years of work into slowly building a critical mass of people who are deeply invested in change — the type of change that comes from deeper conversion to faith.
In a future post, we will look at how to plan music for the Triduum in a way that influences parish worship every Sunday.
See also these related articles:
- We are made holy
- Love, plain and simple
- Let us cling to the Vine
- Shepherd to whom?
- You are witnesses
- Resurrection does not erase suffering
- Involve everyone in worship: Singing our way to the Triduum — Part 4
- Involve everyone in worship: Triduum-centered liturgy every Sunday — Part 3
- Involve everyone in worship: Planning for a great Triduum — Part 2
- Christ is not absent from the world