The Paschal Triduum, also called the Holy Triduum or Easter Triduum, begins the evening of Holy Thursday, and ends the evening of Easter Day. It commemorates the heart of the gospel message: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Paschal Triduum, often called the Easter Triduum or simply the Triduum, begins during Holy Week, and is made up of the holidays Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. This includes the Easter Vigil, the focal point of the Triduum.
The word Triduum comes from the Latin word meaning "three days." It begins the evening of Maundy Thursday and ends at evening prayer on Easter Sunday. Thus, the Triduum consists of three full 24-hour days which begin and end in the evening. The Triduum technically is not part of Lent (at least in the modern Catholic liturgical calendar), but Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are still considered as part of the traditional forty day Lenten fast.
The Triduum celebrates the heart of Christian faith, salvation, and redemption: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, the Triduum commemorates the Institution of the Eucharist (the "sacrament of sacraments"), the passion, crucifixion, death of the Lord, his descent to the dead, and finally his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. Along with the Ascension, these important events make up the Paschal Mystery.
So, even though the liturgical year begins chronologically at Advent, it reaches its culmination during the Easter Triduum, particularly at Easter, the "solemnity of solemnities," the "Great Feast." The Catholic Catechism describes the importance of the Triduum:
Beginning with the Easter Triduum as its source of light, the new age of the Resurrection fills the whole liturgical year with its brilliance. Gradually, on either side of this source, the year is transfigured by the liturgy. It really is a "year of the Lord's favor." The economy of salvation is at work within the framework of time, but since its fulfillment in the Passover of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the culmination of history is anticipated "as a foretaste," and the kingdom of God enters into our time (1168).
Christians have been commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus since Apostolic times, because his death and resurrection are at the heart of Christian salvation. At least by the second century, Christians celebrated the Great Easter Vigil, an event which began the night of Holy Saturday, continuing until dawn on Easter morning. During this vigil, Christians commemorated salvation history, awaited the return of Jesus, and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus at dawn on Easter Sunday. It was at the vigil that catechumens, after a three year period of catechesis, were baptized and received first communion. The Easter Vigil was the most important day of the liturgical year.
Eventually Christians expanded this celebration to a three-day commemoration of Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection, with the Easter Vigil being the high point of the three day commemoration. Nonetheless, over time, as the liturgical year expanded, the Easter Vigil lost its preeminence, although the three days celebrating the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus still held an important place in the Church Year. Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the Easter Vigil, and the Triduum, have regained their position of prominence in the Western Catholic liturgical calendar. The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar re-established the Triduum as a season following Lent in the Catholic Church (but see FAQ #1 below). Many Protestant churches do not recognize the Triduum as a liturgical season, and observe Lent until the Easter Vigil begins.
Christ Washing Peter's Feet (Ford Maddox Brown)
Jesus on the Cross With Mary (D. Bennett)
Tomb with Cross (D. Bennett)
Christ on the Cross With Mary Magdalene (Signorelli)
Christ Carrying the Cross (El Greco)
Deposition from the Cross (Fiorentino)
Lamentation at the Tomb (Van der Weyden)
Jesus in the Tomb (Jean-Jacques Henner)
Icon of the Resurrection (Obermeyer)
He is Risen! The First Easter (Arthur Hughes)
The Morning of the Resurrection (Burne-Jones)
Resurrection (Albrecht Altdorfer)
More Liturgical Artwork
See Individual Pages Listed Above
Technically, according to current Catholic discipline, Lent lasts 44 days, from Ash Wednesday through the morning of Holy Thursday (including Sundays), until the Triduum begins on Holy Thursday evening. Nonetheless, the traditional Lenten fast runs from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, and does not include Sundays, since it is not appropriate to fast on a Sunday, the weekly feast of the resurrection. This fast lasts 40 days.
Nonetheless, this has created some liturgical questions. The addition of the Triduum as a separate season from Lent has obscured the direct connection of Lent to the 40 day fast of Jesus. The question of when Lent ends liturgically is still somewhat confusing, since at the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, during the renewal of Baptismal vows, the priest says: "Now that we have completed our Lenten observance, let us renew the promises we made in baptism..." Many feel that the Holy See will need to clarify the relationship between Lent and the Triduum at some point in the future.
Christmas, the solemnity celebrating the birth and Incarnation of Jesus, is very important. Christmas and the Triduum are not in competition with one another, and are all a part of the same mystery of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. In fact, Christmas and Jesus' Conception constitute the mysteries of the Incarnation, essential to our salvation. However, in the early Church, Easter was considered the queen of all Christian feasts, the high point of the liturgical year. In fact, Easter seems to be an older feast than Christmas. This does not lessen the importance of Christmas, but the restoration of the Triduum to preeminence is actually a return to the more ancient practice of the Church.