Time Out of Time: The Triduum

Sister Ana Cloughly, OSB reflects on Holy Week

April 14, 2022

It is Holy Week. Our Lenten liturgical and personal observances are ending. We reached Palm (or Passion) Sunday and have begun the most fervent week of the Church’s year. In the words of Peter, “It is good for us to be here” (Luke 9:33), but where exactly is here?

Anamnesis is a Greek word which means reminiscence. During Holy Week, we not only reminisce, but also remember in such a way that we are connected to moments through time and space in the real presence of God. Understanding anamnesis has helped my appreciation of the Triduum.

Some theological background first. Most of our ritual prayer has two important components, proclamation of scriptures and a ritual meal.

When the scriptures are proclaimed, we believe they are alive and active in the lives of those who hear them. “So will my word be which goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”  (Isaiah 55:11)

When we gather for the ritual meal, the one that Jesus shared with his disciples the night before he was crucified, we are present in that one meal. This moment of sharing is not limited by the passage of time or geographical location. We call this a mystery, not as a way of ignoring the obvious question but rather because the theology is complicated.  To be honest, at the end of my formal studies, I still can’t explain it.  God’s real presence in all of time and creation is something I feel with a knowing I can’t explain. 

Now to the Triduum, the three days from Holy Thursday evening to Easter Sunday evening. Note that in ancient times the Hebrews counted days starting with the evening, “Evening came, and morning followed” (Genesis 1:23).

The Triduum ritual starts on Holy Thursday and does not end until the evening of Easter Sunday. It is a single ritual moment. Knowing that the Triduum is a single ritual of encountering God, my community and all those who have participated in these actions through history engages my whole being. 

On the evening of Holy Thursday, we remember the last supper as told in the Gospel of Saint John and we follow Jesus’ example of washing the feet (or hands) of others. We share the holy meal and then take the Body and Blood of Christ to a place of repose. In the monastery, we set up a sacred space where sisters and guests can sit with Jesus in the garden as he prays and struggles to have enough courage to surrender to what he knows will happen to him.

On the afternoon of Good Friday, the moment moves into remembering Jesus’ interactions with Herod and Pontus Pilate and his suffering at the hands of Roman soldiers. We also remember that he was deserted by his disciples and witnessed the pain on his mother’s face as she stayed as close to him as possible through his crucifixion and death. Here is where we touch the cross and acknowledge our weakness that contributes to the suffering of the world. We express our trust in God even in the face of death.

Throughout the day of Holy Saturday, we feel the emptiness of Jesus’ death. We remember how unjust it was, wrought with betrayal, perjury, abandonment. We recall the scenes of powerful people having their way yet again. We let ourselves feel how senseless it all is.

But on the evening of Holy Saturday, amid darkness, sin, and death, we begin our Easter vigil. We gather around a fire in our cloister garden, joining with countless people around the world and throughout history. We tell the timeless stories of salvation history found in scripture. We light our paschal candle and celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death. Joyously, we proclaim the Exaltat, “This is the night.” This is the night God’s love changed the world. My world. Your world. Our world. In our joy we share with one another a sign of peace. 

Easter Sunday morning is filled with palpable joy. He is alive! We join with all the angels and saints, holy ones, and everyone who seeks God as best they can. We hold aloft the light of the world. We are plunged into the waters of baptism where we are buried with Christ and raised with him in a covenant of love.

It is right here when anamnesis makes sense to me. Immersed in the waters of baptism we are one with all creation in the struggle of daily earthly life while, at the same “time,” we are a resurrection people.

The Triduum is the pinnacle of the Church’s liturgical calendar. In the Greek, “liturgy” means “the public work for the people.” In these three days, we have one public ritual/work for the people. It begins with the horrors of humankind’s inhumanity to one another and creation. It ends proclaiming to all the world that sin and death are not the end of our common story. He, the Christ, is alive!


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