Triduum or ‘The Three Days': Millions of Western Christians celebrate Good Friday and Holy Saturday in many ways

In Ołtarzew, Poland, a Catholic deacon blesses Easter baskets in the traditional Święconka ritual on Holy Saturday. He uses a new broom to scatter holy water. Photo by Błażej Benisz, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

In Ołtarzew, Poland, a Catholic deacon blesses Easter baskets in the traditional Święconka ritual on Holy Saturday. He uses a new broom to scatter holy water. Photo by Błażej Benisz, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

THURSDAY-SATURDAY, MARCH 28-30: Some Christian churches describe these ancient “three days” as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Others describe the time period following Catholic tradition—as the U.S. Catholic bishops put it: “The summit of the Liturgical Year is the Easter Triduum—from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. The single celebration of the Triduum marks the end of the Lenten season, and leads to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil.

TRIDUUM RESOURCES:
LUTHERAN, PRESBYTERIAN,
METHODIST, CATHOLIC

Most mainline Christian denominations publish helpful holiday ideas, worship resources and even guides for family activities. Here are a few examples:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America provides a resource guide called The Three Days, explaining: “Recent decades have witnessed the revival of the ancient liturgies of the Three Days—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter.” The ELCA offers a separate page of Easter resources.

The Presbyterian Church USA also provides online Triduum and Easter ideas. The denomination advises church leaders: “There should be a sense of continuity uniting the services of Holy Week, from Passion/Palm Sunday to the Resurrection of the Lord. The services of the Triduum—or Three Days—in particular … are really intended to be one whole event that stretches across three days.”

The United Methodist Church lists links to a wide range of pages on Lent, Holy Week and Easter: The materials include prayers and liturgies, plus ideas for families and small groups.

The Episcopal Church online resource page goes in a different direction, offering videos as well as a new Holy Week photo-sharing page.

For Roman Catholic congregations, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops publishes a “liturgical resources” page, adapted to distinctive Catholic traditions.

Although mainline denominations across the U.S. use differing names, liturgies and worship schedules to mark these days, it’s also true that there is a unity in Christian teaching: Marking these three days is a long-standing spiritual obligation. By moving through a series of day-by-day reflections, men and women deepen their experience of Easter.

HOLY SATURDAY, THE LESSER-KNOWN HOLIDAY

One in four Americans is Catholic, which also means that the majority of American Christians follow Protestant traditions in Holy Week—and that means Holy Saturday often becomes just a day of hurried preparation for family Easter celebrations. While Holy Saturday is the lesser-known holiday in the Triduum across the U.S.—many families do celebrate this day between Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. One of the most vivid—and extremely popular—traditions for Holy Saturday is Święconka, a Polish-Catholic custom that, in English, is “The Blessing of the Easter Baskets.”

REFLECT ON THE TRIDUUM IN AMERICAN LIFE: For an inspiring overview of the Triduum in American life—we recommend the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt’s moving column on the meaning of these three days. Dr. Pratt not only summarizes the meaning of each day—he goes on to draws vivid parallels from recent news events. This is a column you’ll likely want to share with friends.

FROM THE SUBLIME TO—A 192-YEAR-OLD HOT CROSSED BUN

Traditional Hot Crossed Buns for Holy Week. Photo by Lausanne Morgan, released via Wikimedia Commons.

Traditional Hot Crossed Buns for Holy Week. (THESE are fresh samples—not like the famous British bun!) Photo by Lausanne Morgan, released via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to stirring liturgies and colorful customs like Easter baskets, Holy Week reaches its crescendo with strange news stories, each year. From the Philippines, we will see news stories and vivid photographs of street processions—including Catholic young men who deliberately bloody themselves to simulate Jesus’s pain. This year, Cuban Catholics have new permissions to openly mark these holidays, following Vatican efforts to open up Cuba’s long-standing restrictions on religion. There are countless other regional traditions—including a BBC tradition in the UK to open the broadcast day on one BBC channel with a traditional Good Friday hymn.

The strangest story in 2013 comes from Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper: A reporter tracked down a family preserving a 192-year-old hot crossed bun made by an ancestor in London. (Read the whole story at the Mail website.) The story says, in part: “Nancy Titman, 94, keeps the 192-year-old bun in a box and, although undoubtedly past its sell-by-date, still shows no traces of mould. The fruity bun, which has even retained its smell, was made by Nancy’s great, great, great grandfather, William Skinner, who owned a bakery in London. It was made in the same year as Napolean died, George IV was crowned king, poet John Keats passed away and John Constable painted his famous Hay Wain picture. “It’s a relic which has been passed down through our family and we get it out every Good Friday,” said Nancy.

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