minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the category “triduum”

Good Friday





The scenes from the Good Friday found in the famous book of hours, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, show a progression of events from the Crucifixion to the entombment of Christ. In a similar way the Stations of the Cross, a lenten devotion, takes us on a spiritual pilgrimage along the journey of Christ from his being condemned to the entombment. It is understood that from noon to 3:00 Christ suffered on the Cross, and then He died. During this time, silence, contemplation, reflection, or devotions like the Stations should bring us all to a place of stillness as we consider the profound implication of God dying.

I suppose to many people today there may not be much meaning in the gospel, especially the gory and brutal segment concerning the Crucifixion. People have spent too much time inventing ways to avoid the problem of things like sin, shame and guilt. Some to the point that they don’t even believe in such ideas anymore, making allowance and exception for their actions, though they often don’t make the same exceptions for the actions of others. G.K.Chesterton stated that the easiest way to avoid the problem of sin was to simply say that there is no sin, and this may be the way of the world today. Responsibility means letting others deal with the consequences of my actions and accountability has become a series of pointing fingers at the next guy. Not that things were really different during the time of Christ. After all things like blame and corruption started right from the garden. They have been there from the start and will be there til the end. But here in the story of Christ, and especially in this retelling of the Passion, we come face to face with the consequences of our actions and watch as another takes our blame. And as God is bent low, crushed and broken, and the last breath escapes from the Incarnation, I am left there as a bystander with the gift of forgiveness staring back at me with eyes fading.

Lux In Tenebris Lucet

The Easter Vigil Mass

Tonight is when Catholics celebrate the Easter Vigil. It is probably the longest mass, sometimes lasting three or more hours, but without a doubt is the most beautiful of celebrations as the imagery of darkness and light, of creation, baptism, resurrection, are all contained in this vigil of vigils.

The service begins in darkness. Fire is made and from this the Paschal Candle is lit. This candle is used through out the Easter season and will be present throughout the year for special services such as baptisms and funerals. From the Paschal Candle the flame will be passed onto the rest of the congregation, who holding candles will pass this light on to those next to them, eventually illuminating the celebration with the light that from one candle has spread to all. Several passages from the Hebrew Scriptures are then read as the Liturgy of the Word begins. The focus is on rebirth with the symbol of spirit and water. The Creation, the Flood, and scriptures are read, until the lights go on and the Gloria is sung for the first time (except on Maundy Thursday) since the beginning of Lent. The stone of Christs tomb has been rolled away.

The Empty Tomb. Fragment from a Psalter.

The mass continues as the baptismal font is blessed with the Paschal Candle, and those who have been preparing to come into the church are baptized and anointed with oil, after which the celebration of the Eucharist is held and those who have just been baptized receive that most Blessed Sacrament.

It is without a doubt my favourite mass of the year, so rich in symbolism and beauty. But there is another reason why I particularly enjoy this mass which comes from a story in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The story comes from Genesis 15 when God makes a covenant with that father of the Hebrew faith, Abraham. Out in the darkness, having prepared a sacrifice, Abraham waits for God. I can imagine the night, black and star scattered, where the lonely Abraham awaits the Lord. Then in the darkness appears a light, “a smoking furnace and lamp of fire”, passing through the sacrifice. And the Most High God, makes a covenant with Abraham.

The story has always awed me, because there is a certain fearful mystery that surrounds it. Haunting, powerful, and holy. It is the darkness of a lonely desert where you can look up into the pure heavens, as if peering over the edge of a cliff into a black sea with no bottom. But then light approaches, chasing away the darkness and bringing peace. The shadows are cast aside, as holy light is revealed.

John 1:4-5

 In ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum :

et lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebræ eam non comprehenderunt.

 In him was life: and the life was the light of men. 

 And the light shines in darkness: and the darkness did not comprehend it.

At the first Easter Vigil I attended, it was this most of all which I came away with. An answer to this mysterious tale from the book of Genesis and what it means for me.


From the Gospel according to John-chapters 18-19,

and images from the Petites Houres of John of Berry-14th century Book of Hours:

hen Jesus had said these things, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where there was a garden, into which he entered with his disciples.  And Judas also, who betrayed him, knew the place: because Jesus had often resorted thither together with his disciples.  Judas therefore having received a band of soldiers and servants from the chief priests and the Pharisees, comes thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.  Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth and said to them: Whom do you seek?

Arrest in the Garden

They answered him: Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus says to them: I am he. And Judas also, who betrayed him, stood with them.  As soon therefore as he had said to them: I am he; they went backward and fell to the ground.  Again therefore he asked them: Whom do you seek? And they said: Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus answered: I have told you that I am he. If therefore you seek me, let these go their way,  that the word might be fulfilled which he said: Of them whom you have given me, I have not lost any one.  Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. And the name of you servant was Malchus.  Jesus therefore said to Peter: Put up your sword into the scabbard. The chalice which my father has given me, shall I not drink it?  Then the band and the tribune and the servants of the Jews took Jesus and bound him.

Before Caiphas

And they led him away to Annas first, for he was father-in-law to Caiphas, who was the high priest of that year.  Now Caiphas was he who had given the counsel to the Jews: That it was expedient that one man should die for the people.

And Simon Peter followed Jesus: and so did another disciple. And that disciple was known to the high priest and went in with Jesus into the court of the high priest.  But Peter stood at the door without. The other disciple therefore, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the portress and brought in Peter.  The maid therefore that was portress says to Peter: Are you not also one of this man’s disciple? He says I am not.  Now the servants and ministers stood at a fire of coals, because it was cold, and warmed themselves. And with them was Peter also, standing and warming himself.

The high priest therefore asked Jesus of his disciples and of his doctrine.  Jesus answered him: I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple, whither all the Jews resort: and in secret I have spoken nothing. Why do you ask me? Ask them who have heard what I have spoken unto them. Behold they know what things I have said.  And when he had said these things, one of the servants standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying: Do you answer the high priest so?  Jesus answered him: If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why do you strike me?  And Annas sent him bound to Caiphas the high priest.


And Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said therefore to him: Are you not also one of his disciples? He denied it and said: I am not.  One of the servants of the high priest (a kinsman to him whose ear Peter cut off) said to him: Did not I see you in the garden with him?  Again therefore Peter denied: and immediately the cock crew.

Then they led Jesus from Caiphas to the governor’s hall. And it was morning: and they went not into the hall, that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the pasch.  Pilate therefore went out to them, and said: What accusation bring you against this man?  They answered and said to him: If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up to you.  Pilate therefore said to them: Take him you, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said to him: It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.  That the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he said, signifying what death he should die.  Pilate therefore went into the hall again and called Jesus and said to him: Are you the king of the Jews?  Jesus answered: Do you say this thing of yourself, or have others told it you of me?  Pilate answered: Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you up to me. What have you done?  Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence.  Pilate therefore said to him: Are you a king then? Jesus answered: You say that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth hears my voice.  Pilate said to him: What is truth? And when he said this, he went out again to the Jews and says to them: I find no cause in him.  But you have a custom that I should release one unto you at the Pasch. Will you, therefore, that I release unto you the king of the Jews?  Then cried they all again, saying: Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.


hen therefore Pilate took Jesus and scourged him.  And the soldiers platting a crown of thorns, put it upon his head: and they put on him a purple garment.  And they came to him and said: Hail, king of the Jews. And they gave him blows.  Pilate therefore went forth again and says to them: Behold, I bring him forth unto you, that you may know that I find no cause in him.  (Jesus therefore came forth, bearing the crown of thorns and the purple garment.) And he says to them: Behold the Man.  When the chief priests, therefore, and the servants had seen him, they cried out, saying: Crucify him, Crucify him. Pilate says to them: Take him you, and crucify him: for I find no cause in him.

The Jews answered him: We have a law; and according to the law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.  When Pilate therefore had heard this saying, he feared the more.  And he entered into the hall again; and he said to Jesus: Whence are you? But Jesus gave him no answer.  Pilate therefore said to him: Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to crucify you, and I have power to release you?  Jesus answered: You should not have any power against me, unless it were given you from above. Therefore, he that has delivered me to you has the greater sin.  And from henceforth Pilate sought to release him. But the Jews cried out, saying: If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. For whosoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.

Now when Pilate had heard these words, he brought Jesus forth and sat down in the judgment seat, in the place that is called Lithostrotos, and in Hebrew Gabbatha.  And it was the parasceve of the pasch, about the sixth hour: and he says to the Jews: Behold your king.  But they cried out: Away with him: Away with him: Crucify him. Pilate says to them: shall I crucify your king? The chief priests answered: We have no king but Caesar.  Then therefore he delivered him to them to be crucified. And they took Jesus and led him forth.

Jesus Carries the Cross

And bearing his own cross, he went forth to the place which is called Calvary, but in Hebrew Golgotha.  Where they crucified him, and with him two others, one on each side, and Jesus in the midst.  And Pilate wrote a title also: and he put it upon the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.  This title therefore many of the Jews did read: because the place where Jesus was crucified was near to the city. And it was written in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin.  Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate: Write not: The King of the Jews. But that he said: I am the King of the Jews.  Pilate answered: What I have written, I have written.  The soldiers therefore, when they had crucified him, took his garments, (and they made four parts, to every soldier a part) and also his coat. Now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.  They said then one to another: Let us not cut it but let us cast lots for it, whose it shall be; that the scripture might be fulfilled, saying: They have parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture they have cast lots. And the soldiers indeed did these things.

The Crucifixion

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen.  When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he says to his mother: Woman, behold your son.  After that, he says to the disciple: Behold your mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.  Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst.  Now there was a vessel set there, full of vinegar. And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to his mouth.  Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated. And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost.

Jesus taken down from the Cross

Then the Jews (because it was the parasceve), that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day (for that was a great sabbath day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken: and that they might be taken away.  The soldiers therefore came: and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him.  But after they had come to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.  But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side: and immediately there came out blood and water.  And he that saw it has given testimony: and his testimony is true. And he knows that he says true: that you also may believe.  For these things were done that the scripture might be fulfilled: You shall not break a bone of him.  And again another scripture says: They shall look on him whom they pierced.

And after these things, Joseph of Arimathea (because he was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews), besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus. And Pilate gave leave. He came therefore and took away the body of Jesus.  And Nicodemus also came (he who at the first came to Jesus by night), bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.  They took therefore the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths, with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.  Now there was in the place where he was crucified a garden: and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein no man yet had been laid.  There, therefore, because of the parasceve of the Jews, they laid Jesus: because the sepulchre was near at hand.

Jesus placed in the Tomb

Mandatum Novum

The Last Supper from the Bedford Hours - 15th century

The Feast of Holy Thursday begin the Easter Triduum, which will last until evening on Easter. These are the most important days in the liturgical year, focussing on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. The first day (Holy Thursday) holds several significant stories from the Gospels, which are incorporated in the celebration. Primarily it commemorates the institution of the Eucharist by Christ at the Last Supper, which I would guess most people are familiar with. It is probably one of the most popular and iconic scenes from the christian faith next to the Crucifixion and the Nativity.

A lesser known practice during the Feast has to do with another part of the story which takes place on the same night. This is the washing of the disciples feet. In the Gospel of John we read that after supper washed the disciples feet, teaching that the greatest must be a servant to all. If Jesus, being their Master and Teacher, has taken on the role of a servant, so must they. And here an amazing thing happens. Jesus gives a new commandment:

John 13:34-35    A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.

John 13:34 “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos….

The latin for  the word commandment is mandatum and this is where Holy Thursday’s alternate name of Maundy Thursday is thought to come from. As such the pedilavarum or washing of feet is practiced on this day on Holy or Maundy Thursday by priest and pope alike.

In the picture above, which is from the Bedford Hours, you can see the Last Supper as the main scene and on the right three smaller scenes, showing the correlation to the Eucharist/Communion, the washing of the disciples feet and  at the bottom; Judas betraying the Lord with a kiss.

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