Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Triduum

     Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday constitute the Triduum of the Christian liturgical year. On these three days we commemorate:

  1. Holy Thursday: The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus, and His Examination by Herod and Pilate;
  2. Good Friday: The Passion, Crucifixion, and Interment of Jesus;
  3. Holy Saturday: The Vigil of His Disciples.

     On these three days, Mass is not celebrated. Rather, church altars are bared, their Tabernacles emptied and Presence lamps extinguished, and Christians worldwide contemplate the momentous proceedings that presaged the central event in the history of Mankind: the Resurrection of Christ.

     I hardly need to recount the Gospel story of those days. It’s familiar to anyone raised in a Western country. Suffice it to say that today we enter upon the heart of Christianity: the narrative which, if you accept the Gospels’ account of it, marks you as a Christian.

     The Triduum is a difficult interval for me. Though it might seem paradoxical, it compels me to revisit the years I spent away from God: to muse over those of my faults and personality quirks that led me to leave faith behind, and also over the series of events and private experiences that caused me to return to it.

     Though it will strike many as bizarre, the following snippet from a great novel has much application:

     ‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’
     Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said.
     ‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.’

     Surely you recognize the novel I’ve quoted above. It’s one of the most important achievements of Twentieth Century fiction. I’ve cited the bit above because of the import of its contrapositive.

     For those who don’t remember their tenth-grade geometry, here’s a refresher:

  • Positive Implicative: If A is true, then B is true..
  • Its Contrapositive: If B is false, then A is false.

     That’s the pattern. Here’s the specific case I have in mind:

  • Positive Implicative: If he has blasphemed, he will surely confess to it rather than face torture and death.
  • Its Contrapositive: The threat of torture and death did not elicit a confession; therefore he did not blaspheme.

     According to the Gospels, Jesus didn’t give in to Herod or Pilate when threatened with torture and death. For those who didn’t witness any of his miracles, and for those born many centuries after his Ascension, this is the clincher. That he suffered his Passion unresistingly confirms his sincerity – his seriousness about the New Covenant. His Resurrection confirms that he wasn’t merely a man, nor some sort of superhero, but rather the Son of God, above all Earthly authorities, just as Simon Peter said.

     Of course, it’s possible to dismiss all of that as mere fantasy, as most atheists and agnostics do. There’s also an intermediate position: persons who subscribe to the Christian ethos but dismiss Christianity’s theological claims. To be ethically Christian but not theologically so, one must dismiss the Resurrection, and at least “reserve judgment” on the Passion.

     No matter what position one takes, the factual assertions can neither be proved nor disproved by any temporal agency. That’s the nature of a religious proposition. But for a very few persons – all of them alive when Christ walked the earth in human flesh – those propositions were supported by the evidence of their senses – and those persons all accepted torture and death rather than recant their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Redeemer of Mankind.

     For the rest of us, it’s a somewhat more abstract trial: a matter of faith, or the refusal thereof.

     I’m a person of rather firm habits. Earlier this morning I drove to church to attend Mass...and chuckled at myself when I saw the bare altar and empty tabernacle, and realized what I’d done. It was a reminder of the grip the patterns of life can exert upon one.

     Here’s another of the patterns of life: the progression of the liturgical year. Easter – Resurrection Sunday, to some – comes every year, somewhere between March 22 and April 25. The Church observes it on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. The rest of the Lenten season, from Ash Wednesday to the Triduum, is set thereby.

     Every year we celebrate the same cycle: the Incarnation, the Nativity, Jesus’s time among men, his entry into Jerusalem, his betrayal, Passion, Resurrection, and finally his Ascension, when he departed at last from mortal flesh. The rhythm is a compelling one. It reinforces our memories of the story we have chosen to accept as truth – Gospel truth. If we who believe ponder the events of the Triduum, including our individual reasons for accepting it as historical fact, it refreshes our faith. But what does the Triduum mean to him who doesn’t yet believe, but who feels a stirring in the cellar of his mind, a whispered suggestion that there might be something beyond the satisfactions and trials of temporal existence?

     Perhaps now is a good time for him to ponder, as well.

     May God bless and keep you all.

     CORRECTION: Mass is celebrated on Holy Thursday evening, in commemoration of the Last Supper. Apologies.


doubletrouble said...

Uhhh, Fran, "Hoc Est Enim Corpus Meum" is still heard in the Church tonight, but not tomorrow.

Linda Fox said...

I have to disagree with you about 1984 being a well-known novel. It USED to be - in the 60's, 70's, even into the 80's, it was generally taught in high schools in the USA.

No more - the English departments used other dystopian novels, many of them. The kids like the novels, relate to the bleak stories.

I have a hypothesis about 1984 - it's too real, too close to reality. As a result, it has to be suppressed. In a time of tight school budgets, there is no logical reason why such a wide-available, and - frankly - cheap novel would not be preferred to the more modern - and expensive - novels that replaced it.

Except one reason - the readers might come to understand the tyranny of a Socialist, benevolent overlord, and begin to question their own overlords.

Anonymous said...

"The Triduum is a difficult interval for me. Though it might seem paradoxical, it compels me to revisit the years I spent away from God: to muse over those of my faults and personality quirks that led me to leave faith behind, and also over the series of events and private experiences that caused me to return to it."
Yes. Additionally, Holy Week always makes me comtemplative about my current life and the ways I have failed (and always will in some form) to reflect Jesus in my life. But always, always, always is the wonder that He would lay down His life for mine. That is a thought always knocking around but during Holy Week takes center stage.