The Triduum


The most solemn and joyful celebration of the Christian calendar is the period from Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday.  Worship services on these days or evenings are traditionally considered to be parts of an unbroken liturgical event called the Triduum (Latin for “Three Days”).  In the earliest days of the Christian church, the event we commemorate in the Triduum were celebrated in one day and night’s continuous worship service called the Pascha (from the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word for “Passover”).


The first part of the Triduum begins on the evening of Holy Thursday (also called Maundy Thursday), during which Christians recall the events that took place the night Jesus was betrayed.  The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke concentrate on the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:20-30; Mark 14:17-26; and Luke 22:14-35).  The gospel of John focuses instead on the Lord’s final teachings to His disciples, dramatically punctuated by His washing of their feet (John 13-17).  The word “maundy” is derived from the Latin phrase mandatum novum, meaning “new commandment.”   It refers to the Lord’s words to His apostles as recorded in John 13:34:  A new command I give you:  love one another.
Some congregations re-enact the foot-washing ritual on this evening.  However, the true climax of Maundy Thursday worship is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  This night is the “anniversary” of the sacrament and therefore a memorable event, even in churches that celebrate Holy Communion every Sunday.  After the sacrament has ended, the stripping of the altar takes place.  The ministers and several assistants remove all vessels, crosses, books, candles, linens, paraments, banners, and other decorations from the altar and chancel area.  This ancient ritual is a powerful and dramatic re-enactment of the Lord’s humiliation at the hands of the Roman soldiers.  As the altar is being stripped, Psalm 22 or Psalm 88, portions of the Old Testament containing clear prophecies of Christ’s suffering, is chanted or sung.  The altar, left bare or adorned only with black paraments, is transformed from the communion table of Maundy Thursday into the tomb slab of Good Friday.