The Easter Triduum celebrations of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday are some of the most beautiful liturgies in the modern Roman Rite. After 40 long days of Lent preparing ourselves, the big dance is here. Not only Christ’s rising that we celebrate at Easter, but we relive the culmination of his ministry. It is truly a blessed time.
For years, I made it a point to liturgically live these days. First, while not technically a part of the Triduum, the Chrism Mass. In Austin, it is typically celebrated on the Tuesday of Holy Week. The sacred oils, including the titular Sacred Chrism, are blessed by the Bishop for use in baptisms, confirmations, ordinations and anointings of the sick throughout the next year. Additionally, as the Mass is traditionally associated with the morning of Holy Thursday (during that evening’s Mass we recall the institution of the priesthood), the priests of the diocese renew their priestly vows. Along with ordinations, witnessing 100 or so priests rededicate themselves to their ministry is inspiring.
The Liturgies of the Hours during the Triduum are particularly moving, with the Second Reading of the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday being the culmination for me. I can’t imagine the joy of monks who are able to absorb themselves fully into this prayer of the Church.
The evening of Holy Thursday is beautiful with the washing of the feet and the remembrance of the institution of the Eucharist. The solemn procession and adoration of the Eucharist recalling Christ and the apostles praying in the Garden is moving. At the University Catholic Center, where I’ve spent the most of my Easter Triduums, the basement is transformed to an amazing chapel of repose. Descending the stairs into a dark space, stuffy and hot from the candles and others in prayer, you can’t help but travel yourself to the time of the early Christians who had to gather in a similar way in the Catacombs to celebrate their faith.
Then, of course, the culmination of all liturgies—the Easter Vigil. As that’s not occurring until tonight, I won’t get into long detail about this liturgy, but it is truly beautiful. I coordinated the liturgy at the UCC for years and it has always had a special place in my heart.
Since becoming a dad, things change a bit. Olivia’s first Triduum, we could do a fair amount with her, but now that she’s 19 months old, it is a whole new ballgame. While I think these liturgies are beautiful, anything over an hour is simply tourture for a toddler, apparently. It’s very easy for us to know if the homily is longer-than-standard or if there was something special (e.g. RCIA rite, baptism, etc) during Mass because Olivia starts to completely lose it either during the end of the Eucharistic rite, during communion or the post-communion prayer/announcement period. So, it’s fair to say that our thoughts would not be with the beautiful liturgies if we were to take Olivia. Not to mention, the timing, this year, simply won’t work out. Olivia naps from 1-2 p.m., generally, and it is not a wise subject who refuses to heed to her sleep demands. She is in bed by 8 p.m. after her nightly routine. The evening Masses are too late and the Noonish Good Friday service won’t work since either we have to leave a few minutes into the service for her nap or have to leave anyhow when she loses it from over-tiredness.
So, what do you do?
- Remember that your vocation has led you to this and be glad that you have this “problem”.
- Explore the “other” services offered at your parish or one nearby. St. Ignatius has Morning Prayer each morning. On Holy Thursday, while not technically yet the Triduum, we piled the girls in the car to head across town to pray in this way. It wasn’t a complete success, but connected us with the parish community, gave Olivia another chance of being in the church and observing how to act, and, perhaps most importantly, gave us a real way to mark that this day is different. On Good Friday, our intention was to attend the 3:30 p.m. Stations of the Cross and Youth Mimed Passion at St. Ignatius. As with many things in parenthood, things didn’t work out quite as planned. We didn’t get out the door as early as we planned, traffic was worse than we were betting and we ended up arriving far too late.
- Own your role as pastor of your domestic church. The global church is made up of dioceses. A diocese can be made up of deaneries (vicariates forane), which are made up of parishes. Each parish is made up of families, each of which is their own “domestic church” (see Lumen Gentium, #11 or JPII’s Familiaris Consortio, among others). If you’re single, you have a pretty concise flock to manage. If you’re married sans kids, each member of the couple is responsible for bringing both themself and their spouse to God. If you’re married with little ones under foot, as the husband and wife, you are responsible for making the faith alive daily in your home.
- Act out your own Stations of the Cross, perhaps with fewer stations in a simple matter that your toddler may grasp. Whether or not they understand, it’s not a bad exercise for us to reflect on the most basic building blocks of these elements of faith.
- Lead a Liturgy of the Word in the same style as reading for naptime or bedtime. Use a children’s bible or some other religious picture book. Make your own with pictures off of Google Images or Creative Commons. Use the liturgical dialog (“The Lord be with you!”, “A reading from the Gospel according…”)
- Veil your own crucifix at home. Explain, in someway, that Jesus isn’t here and we’re waiting for him. With Olivia, Jesus went mimis (Spanish slang for sleep) on Good Friday. Not only do we defer the whole explaining death to a 19-month old, but we begin to introduce the “sleep of death” biblical language. Two birds, one stone.
- Empty your home holy water font and refill it with holy water blessed at the Easter Vigil. We have a little font near the front door that we haven’t consistently used. I would like to develop that habit and Olivia really enjoys blessing herself with the holy water.
- Adapt the Blessing of the First Meal of Easter from the Book of Blessings. Use sacramentals to set this apart from the usual “prayer before meals”—holy water, incense, special table setting, etc. Maybe she’ll notice, maybe not, but this is all about building a Catholic culture when the liturgical tradition is burdensome.
- Lastly, don’t keep her away too long. She will be able to sit through more and more as she gets older. Reassess each year. Add more of the parish liturgical life into your family’s each year, but keep your home traditions. It’ll give your kids a base of what to do when they have kids.
I never thought fatherhood would be easy, but I didn’t think about how different somethings would actually be. Sunday Mass and the liturgical seasons have always been a source of comfort and rejuvenation for me. The Mass hasn’t changed, but trying to pray while keeping two kids quiet enough to allow everyone around us to pray too has changed my experience of it. Vanessa and I make a point of giving each other the opportunities to either go solo or with only one of the kids (which, even after only two months of having two, is really much easier), but it isn’t every Sunday and it can’t be every special liturgy of the year.
As we fall into the Great Silence, when the whole world waits in confusion, sadness and expectation, remember that babies still cried and toddlers still threw fits even during the original Holy Saturday.
[Originally posted on Brandon’s personal website, The Journeyman.]
How do you celebrate the Triduum with little ones?