“Triduum” is Latin for “three days,” and it refers to the final sequence of days this week: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Together they tell, remember, and reenact the final days of Jesus’ pre-resurrection life.
Thursday was the Last Supper, his arrest, and abandonment by his disciples. That’s why we have a mostly-normal Communion service that ends with the shock of stripping the altar and leaving in silence without any benediction or blessing or dismissal. That’s also to highlight the fact that the story isn’t over yet: Jesus’ trials continued overnight and into the next day, leading up to his condemnation, crucifixion, and death.
Jesus’ last day (Good Friday) is characterized by a much more solemn worship service than usual. The prayers include periods of silence, and Communion is not celebrated. Instead, some consecrated bread and wine is reserved on Thursday to be received today. The tradition of not consecrating any more bread and wine on Good Friday and Saturday is best understood in the context of historic Western Christianity: normally throughout the year priests celebrate daily mass – celebrating each day the death and resurrection of Christ. But on these two days that patterns stops. Because for two brief days, as we’re walking through Holy Week and the Triduum and approaching Easter, we follow Christ to his death. Once the reserved bread and wine are consumed on Friday, his sacramental presence on earth is completely gone. This is a dramatic recapturing of his death!
Holy Saturday, then, is a short and quiet worship service meditating on the repose of Jesus in the tomb – his sabbath rest, if you will. Like the first disciples, it is a time of quiet uncertainty, but unlike them it’s a time of waiting, since we already know the whole story, and that he will rise again.
Then on Saturday night is the tradition of the Great Vigil of Easter. This is arguably the most sublime and beautiful worship service in the entire tradition of the Church. It begins in darkness with the light of Christ being symbolically re-lit on a special candle. It continues with a series of readings from the Old Testament, tracing the story of God’s salvation for the human race throughout history, finally culminating in the moment all this has been building up to: the joyful celebration of the resurrection of Jesus! Traditionally, this has also been a time for baptisms, or at least the renewing of our baptismal vows.
God be with you this holy and blessed weekend, through to Resurrection Sunday, and unto the ages of ages.