We Catholic Christians have now entered the holiest time of the Church’s Liturgical year — Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday — also known as the Triduum (the Three Days of prayer leading to the celebration of Easter Sunday).
Each of these days brings with it special services and traditions.
Mass is celebrated as usual, but right after the homily (sermon), a re-enactment of the Washing of the Feet (John 13:1-17) is held.
Some parishes choose a set number of people (twelve, representing the Apostles). Those selected can be young people (candidates for Confirmation, for example), church leaders, or others. Sometimes, it’s the priest who does the washing; other times, volunteers get their feet washed, then return the favor to the person in line behind them.
This Liturgy recognizes Jesus’ institution of the rite of Holy Communion at His Last Supper. During the Consecration part of the Mass, the priest blesses sufficient Communion wafers for the next day’s service (I’ll explain why in a minute!). Those consecrated hosts are transferred in a solemn procession to a special place away from the main part of the church.
Commemorating the day Jesus died, this is the only day of the year when no Masses are offered.
The service begins in quiet. The priest enters, lies face down before the altar, then rises. The Passion according to John is read. Or sung. It’s followed by prayers for a multitude of intentions — the Pope, leaders of countries, those who don’t believe in Christ or in God, etc.
A cross is brought in, which the congregation venerates. In some churches, it’s customary to kiss the wood or the feet of Jesus; in others, a simple bow or genuflect suffices. This takes places to the accompaniment of a solemn song — “Were you there?” is a favorite. Remember those Communion wafers from the day before? They’re returned to the church and distributed to those attending.
This is the Easter Vigil. While no Mass is offered this day, much rejoicing, pomp, and ceremony accompany this evening’s Mass (which suffices as a Sunday liturgy). Traditionally, it begins in complete darkness. The priest enters bearing the Pascal Candle, from which the candles of the congregation are lit.
The reading of Scripture, singing of psalms, recitation of prayers, and renewing of Baptismal promises take place. This is the day new members are fully initiated into the church.
Space prohibits me from elaborating on the other rituals surrounding Easter, but I hope now it isn’t a complete mystery!
(I’ll be taking a few days off to celebrate the holy days. Happy Easter — Happy Spring!!)