Triduum at Home

Bishop Hugh Gilbert OSB suggests how to make the Holy Triduum at home a spiritual experience:


The Easter Triduum is almost upon us. This year’s celebrations will be like none else. I thought it might help just to make some suggestions as to how we might live and pray our way through this.

To give a perspective, I’d just like to say this: the Triduum is more than just its highlights, its celebrations. It’s a whole. It’s one thing. It’s our Passover. It’s our Passover with Jesus. Jesus, says St John, knew “that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father.” It’s one movement of suffering and dying, rising and ascending. One trajectory, one journey, one great arc, one bow in the sky, one act of redemption. The Triduum is one sacred time; or one sacred space, with its own ecosphere. Triduum means “a period of three days”. One might think Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday amount to four! But we are counting like Jews here, with the day beginning in the evening, and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday as a curtain-raiser, as the eve or vigil. So four becomes three.

To some practical suggestions:

  1. Sit down and make a list. Make a list of all the people you want to have with you in these holy days. People you wish you were with, people dear to you, people perhaps you are not fully at peace with, enemies even, people you want the grace of Easter to touch, people you feel an urge to pray for. We are all, as it were, going up to Jerusalem, but we don’t go alone or one by one. Jesus did not go alone. It might focus us to write down all those we want to have in our thoughts and prayers; the friends, family, colleagues, connections we want to bring before the Lord, those suffering at the present time, not least. This is what the liturgy does in the Intercessions of Good Friday.

2. Get into the story: the Passion and what follows. It has a power of its own. Go to the Gospels. For myself, if I’m looking for a Holy Week devotion, I can’t find anything better. Each Gospel has its own angle, but they are all talking of one thing, telling a story in common. Again, it’s a unity. There’s a sequence and a geography, a movement through episodes and places. The Eucharist, the Agony, the Arrest, the Jewish trial, the Roman trial, the via crucis, crucifixion, death and burial. The Upper Room, Gethsemane, Caiaphas’ palace, the Roman Procurator’s Praetorium, Golgotha, the tomb in the garden. These are the original “stations”. We can go through them, step by step, adding to the usual five sorrowful mysteries, saying the Rosary over whatever moves us. And it’s good to pause precisely there, where we are touched. What’s the incident, what’s the saying of Jesus that most makes us love him, feel grateful to him? Linger there. For me, Jesus’ arrest has always “arrested” me. Ill-met by moonlight, the sudden intrusion among the olive trees, torches in the dark, Judas, the squaddies and NCOs. It’s the moment Jesus loses his physical freedom, refuses violence, and the obedience of Gethsemane turns practical. It reminds me of how, in police states, the dissidents would hear the dreaded knock at midnight and would be taken surreptitiously away. Jesus shares this experience of so many in recent years. Or we can stay with a particular character, Mary or Peter or whoever, and walk the story with them, or write ourselves into it, play a part. Again the Liturgy sets us going, reading the story twice, on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

  1. Two of the Gospels mention that, at the end of the Last Supper, just before they set out for Gethsemane, Jesus and the disciples “sang a hymn”. We don’t often think of Jesus singing. What kind of voice did he have? Was he a tenor, a baritone, a bass? And what did they sing? They would have sung what for centuries Jews have sung at the end of the Passover meal: a group of Psalms called the Hallel. These are Psalms 113 to 118. (That’s how the feature in most Bibles; in the other – liturgical – numbering, they are 112 to 117.) The first one begins, “Praise, O servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord”; the last one is 118 (117). A friend is saying these six Psalms each day this week – it doesn’t take long. It’s worth finding them and reading them prayerfully, reading them with Jesus, thinking of him singing them in Hebrew en route to Gethsemane. The Psalms can take us inside him, as it were. And the last of them is the great Psalm of Resurrection in the Christian liturgy – we hear it at the Easter Vigil and through Eastertide. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad.” “The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone.” “The Lord’s right hand has triumphed, his right hand raised me up. The Lord’s right hand has triumphed.”
  2. Another suggestion: just take one reading each day, and use it for lectio divina.
  3. Here’s another. We’re visual, tactile animals. If you have a crucifix or an icon look at it or hold it or kiss it. One can access paintings of almost any episode in the Passion and beyond; spend time with one. Or draw yourself. Or listen to a piece of music inspired by the Passion. Think of Bach, but there are not just the classics to tune into.
  4. A last thought is: If you have children, get them to do things. Make scenes, or act them, do a little Oberammergau at home, or build an Easter garden. Make a cross to put in the window on Good Friday.

“Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ ‘Go to so-and-so in the city’, he replied, ‘and say to him, “The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples”’”. This is the year Jesus will keep the Passover in our house.

And do have a good meal on Easter Sunday!


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
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