Triduum Reflections I

This past week I celebrated the Triduum for the 35th time as an ordained minister. And I'm pleased to tell you that I think I'm finally getting the hang of it!

For the first five years of ministry as a presbyter, I was in a parish with four full time priests which meant that presiding at Triduum liturgies was divided among us. In 1978 I went to Notre Dame for a graduate program in liturgical studies and worked as chaplain at Morrissey Manor, a men's residence hall on campus. Many students did not leave campus for Easter so we decided to celebrate the Triduum at Morrissey. This was the first time I presided and preached at all three liturgies and I realized then that this was certainly what the Triduum expects and needs: one presider for the one feast that spreads itself over three days. Do we not describe the Triduum as one feast that begins with the entrance song at the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Thursday and ends with the blessing and dismissal at the Easter Vigil. (I would still hold out for the Triduum not concluding before Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday - but I'll address that in a subsequent post.)

Being the sole presider at Morrissey for four years, I returned to a campus assignment in Boston where once again, presidency at the Triduum was a shared ministry (between myself and the pastor of the campus parish). It would be another nine years before I found myself in a pastoral situation (Concord) where there was no choice to be made because I was the only priest in the parish community. For 15 years now I have had this experience and my delight in it far outweighs any burden it creates. I also believe that it benefits the assembly when one presider serves to link the major moments of Triduum as one.

The question of "splitting up the Triduum" with regard to presiders is being resolved by default as more and more rare are the parishes with more than one priest assigned. (Remember: in my first parish assignment there were three other priests assigned full time to that community.) Still, the question of preaching at the Triduum will remain as the number of deacons increases. While the homilies at the three liturgies need not be explicitly connected, clear threads of continuity would be surprising only by their absence and certainly contribute to the assembly's understanding and appreciation of the whole Paschal feast. For this reason I have not invited a deacon to preach at one or more of the Triduum liturgies, although I know this happens in many parishes where deacons are assigned.

It would be interesting to hear from readers outside my own parish whose experience of Triduum presiding and preaching is the same or other than what I have described as my own practice. (Perhaps this post will tease into the combox some of my ordained readers who have so far remained uncharacteristically silent.)

More reflections to follow during this week...



  1. http://www.nancygriffin.blogspot.com/ is happy to contact you.

    Thanks you so much for this blog which was recently introduced to me. I was told of it by a great priest friend of mine, a litugist, pastor and all around very clever man. I shall encourage him to comment directly to you.

    Happy Easter from Toronto Canda

  2. [I hope it's OK that I continue making comments across the ecumenical borderlands. I am a lay leader at the Epis. Cathedral downtown.]

    Your discussion of "splitting up" the presidency of the Triduum is an interesting topic, especially in light of what we did at the Cathedral (Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Paul in downtown Boston) this year. We start off in an interesting situation. We are the Cathedral, after all, and folks come to worship with the bishops there on the high and holies, which for most Episcopalians during Holy Week means Good Friday midday and Easter Sunday morning. Besides being the seat of the bishops, we are also called to experiment liturgically and venture across the bleeding edge of liturgy so the rest of the diocese can see how things may be done. We also have four congregations based at the Cathedral: a small motley crew of a congregation that treats the Cathedral as our home parish (my congregation), an emerging church community called The Crossing which is growing by leaps and bounds among young people, the common cathedral ministry of ecclesia ministries (outdoor church for the homeless and others), and the Boston Episcopal Chinese Ministry. So this is what Holy Week, including the Triduum, looked like this year:

    Tuesday, midday diocesan service presided over by a bishop, for clergy and healing ministers (in years past intended for renewal of ordination vows), with blessing of oils and distribution to congregations throughout the diocese, annointing of the hands of healing ministers, blessing of the bishops by the assembly. Followed by lunch and a workshop on CORI reform.

    Wednesday, evening Tenebrae prepared by The Crossing

    Maundy Thursday, midday Eux with Bishop presiding. Then in the evening an agape meal with foot washing for all four Cathedral congregations together. No bishops present. (My favorite service and one I'm instrumental in facilitating. Next year I intend to invite the bishops to attend but not preside.)

    Good Friday, midday service with meditations by all four Cathedral clergy (Dean, Canon, Cox Fellow, and retired Bishop), presided over by Bishop Shaw. Three full hours, including premiere of new setting of Passion acc. to John by our composer in residence.

    Holy Saturday, a Soulful Vigil, with music drawn from hip-hop, soul, gospel, reggaeton, etc., rapped readings, and with the Eux prayers from the Hip Hop prayerbook. Feet were tapping and hips were swaying among the lilies. Presiders were the priest from the Cathedral's emerging church community and a priest from Lowell where there's a lively Spanish-speaking and hip-hop supportive community.

    Easter Sunday was very traditional, with one of the bishops presiding.

    So we had a really mixed bag. Getting a flow going from Thursday through Friday and Saturday depended on individual effort and wasn't supported by much continuity in anything -- style, presider, or anything else. I think it's great that we can have such variety (something for everyone, as I announced on Palm Sunday), but there's something lost as well. Seeing how many roles we play, I don't think this is avoidable. Ah, well! Happy Easter!

  3. Nancy: thanks for your kind words!

    Piskie: you know you are ALWAYS welcome here, as well as your Piskie comments! :-)

    The cathedral situation you describe certainly presents challenges but I wonder if some effort might be made towards a joint celebration. I know, that's easy to say from my homogeneous parish in the suburbs!

  4. The Thursday agape is a joint celebration of the four communities, but it's the only one. It's hard because of the varying needs of the congregations. Many of the older Chinese worshipers don't speak English, and some of the common cathedral members have various difficulties, including for some the need to not enter a building or to diverge from the liturgical routines which are familiar to them.

    Jumping back a few seasons, on Christmas morning, the regular Cathedral congregation and common cathedral have a joint service with the Bishop. The liturgy of the word is done in two places simultaneously -- inside the Cathedral for us, outside on the Common for common cathedral. Those of us inside then come out and join the folks outside for the liturgy of the Eucharist. I love that service, and many have said how much it means to them. I know a lot of the guys in common cathedral now, so it's two bunches of folks I know. And I've started the tradition of following up the dismissal with distribution of candy canes to all and sundry.

    As to the Triduum being one liturgy in three parts, I haven't encountered that among Pisky clergy. Maybe I'll raise that as a question for next year, but I have a feeling our particular circumstances will block it from flying. Ah, well. I have plenty of other fish to fry.


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