Celebrating the Triduum in a Parish with Multiple Churches
How to bring churches together for a unified liturgy
The Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar (UNLYC) that form part of the preface material to the Roman Missal give a clear indication of the liturgical pastoral significance of the Paschal Triduum.
“Since Christ accomplished his work of human redemption and of the perfect glorification of God principally through his Paschal Mystery, in which by dying he has destroyed our death, and by rising restored our life, the sacred Paschal Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord shines forth as the high point of the entire liturgical year. Therefore the pre-eminence that Sunday has in the week, the solemnity of Easter has in the liturgical year” (UNLYC, No. 18).
The Paschal Mystery celebrated in the Triduum is the very same mystery the sacred liturgy celebrates in all of its forms year-round. Yet, the Triduum, with roots deep within our liturgical history and ritually reformed for the present time over the last century, marks this saving mystery with a unique expression of solemnity over the three days of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, beginning on Holy Thursday evening (cf. UNLYC, No. 19). The Easter Vigil, which St. Augustine describes as the “mother of all holy vigils,” is at its center (UNLYC, Nos. 19, 21).
If all of the Triduum is to be truly the “highpoint of the entire liturgical year” and the solemnity of Easter truly enjoys a fitting pre-eminence in the liturgical year, then its annual observance requires, on the part of pastors and liturgical ministers, informed preparation and guided planning every year. This is especially true and necessary when multiple churches and their communities increasingly come together for a single celebration of the Triduum.
The Roman Missal (RM) itself, promoting the Triduum as the highpoint of the liturgical year, leans in the direction of multiple churches coming together for a combined or single celebration for the benefit of the liturgical pastoral importance of the Triduum. “It is desirable that small communities, associations, and special groups of various kinds join together in these churches to carry out the sacred celebrations in a more noble manner” (RM, The Sacred Paschal Triduum, No. 3). In other words, it is not required or necessary to conduct the Triduum in every church where Mass is celebrated. In fact, as the Roman Missal suggests for good reason, multiple churches coming together is more the norm.
It seems best when a parish has multiple churches, the church to be chosen should be able to accommodate the largest number of people and provide for all the ritual expectations of the Triduum. Some of these expectations include the Holy Thursday transfer of the Blessed Sacrament to a suitably distinct place and the Easter Vigil baptism of the elect in the view of all. The transfer of the Blessed Sacrament could even be to one of the other churches, but only if the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord takes place in that church on the next day (cf. RM, Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, No. 44).
It should be noted that the Roman Missal
and the Circular Letter Concerning the
Preparation and Celebration of the Easter
Feasts (CL) recommend that in places where
the priest has responsibility of several smaller
parishes, the Triduum should be carried out
in the principal parish.
— Celebration of the Triduum in
Parish Clusters/Pastoral Regions,
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
The baptism of the elect should be seen by all and, and if possible, take place at the baptismal font. Otherwise, it takes place in the sanctuary (cf. RM, The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night, No. 37). On the other hand, the Liturgy of the Hours, especially the office of readings and morning prayer, as well as the Way of the Cross, could take place in the other churches. However, it does make sense that the preparation of the elect on Holy Saturday morning takes place in the church where the Easter Vigil will be celebrated.
The Triduum requires a large number of well-instructed liturgical ministers — music ministers, greeters and ushers, servers, readers and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. These ministers should come from the communities that assemble on Sunday in the different churches. It is important that the liturgical ministers — in addition to their need for solid instruction — know that they are more than representative of differing groups, rather they assist in forming the single liturgical community for the one Triduum. Likewise, those to have their feet washed on Holy Thursday, if this is observed, should be people that equally come from the multiple churches.
One of the ritual factors that is a concern when several churches come together for the Triduum is the practical need for additional blessed paschal candles. A paschal candle will be needed in the celebration of Mass during Easter time, baptisms and funerals in the other churches. The Secretariat of Divine Worship of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops addresses this question of multiple paschal candles in case of multiple churches coming together for the Easter Vigil:
“The Roman Missal, not envisioning the pastoral situation of mission churches or cluster parishes, specifies that only one paschal candle is used. To accommodate the particular circumstances, the Secretariat of Divine Worship might suggest that the candles from the mission churches or other parish churches could be present at the Easter Vigil, having been prepared in advance, and blessed alongside the main candle (perhaps having deacons or other representatives holding them). In keeping with the rubrics, for the lighting and procession only one candle should be lit (the principal one, or the one which will remain in that particular church). As the other candles in the congregation are lit, the other paschal candles could be lit and held (but not high, in order to maintain the prominence of the one principal candle) by someone at their place in the assembly. Once all the candles are extinguished after the singing of the Exsultet, the other paschal candles are put aside. On Easter Sunday morning, those candles could be taken to each of the missions and carried, lit, in the entrance procession at the first Mass at each church and put in place in the sanctuary” (Eighteen Questions on the Paschal Triduum).
In a similar way, several vessels of water, one for each of the churches, could be prepared, so that after the blessing of the baptismal water the Easter water could be taken to each of the churches for Mass on Easter Sunday.
Typically, each of the church communities provides for the catechumens/elect to be baptized, confirmed and receive Communion for the first time at the church of the Easter Vigil. Since only baptisms take place at the Easter Vigil, the reception of baptized Christians into the full communion of the Catholic Church — which is not tied to a liturgical occasion — could take place in the respective church communities of the candidates during Easter time.
Liturgical Pastoral Significance
The principle for a parish bringing together many churches for a single celebration of the sacred Paschal Triduum makes objectively good sense. However, grasping the principle and implementing it are two very different realities. Ash Wednesday, in most cases, is too late for a parish to carry out such an experience for several churches at the conclusion of Lent. If “the sacred Paschal Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord [is to shine] forth as the high point of the entire liturgical year,” mentioned near the beginning of this article, then pastoral planning and liturgical preparation is year-round, which includes catechesis on the nature of the Liturgy and of the Church: our principal community is the Body of Christ who worships the Father.
Instruction for the needed liturgical ministers and preparation of the liturgical music repertoire requires informed extended coordination and planning. Most of all, it demands that every Sunday celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ in the multiple churches be well celebrated. In this way, its solemn celebration with a single parish observance of the Triduum achieves its liturgical pastoral significance for all.
FATHER GERALD DENNIS GILL is the rector of the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and the director of the Office for Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Insight from the Roman Missal
Father Gerald Dennis Gill notes that the Roman Missal introduces the sacred Paschal Triduum with two rubrics that become an immediate guide and encouragement for different communities to celebrate these holy days as one.
The first emphasizes the requirement for sufficient and instructed liturgical ministers for the rites, as well as the special importance of singing on everyone’s part of the proper texts associated with the days of the Triduum (cf. Roman Missal, The Sacred Paschal Triduum, No. 2).
The second rubric states that the celebrations of the Triduum are to be carried out “only in those churches in which they can be performed with dignity, that is, with a good attendance of the faithful, an appropriate number of ministers, and the means to sing at least some of the parts” (RM, The Sacred Paschal Triduum, No. 3).