When does Lent end? The official end of Lent is on Holy Thursday. Once the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper begins, we start what we call the Sacred Triduum, the Sacred Three Days, our High Holy Days. Interestingly enough, when our Holy Thursday service ends, there is no last blessing, no dismissal, and no concluding hymn. That is because the service doesn’t really end. Just “Part One” ends.
Part Two takes place on Good Friday. And on Friday, there is no opening hymn. We simply start up where we left off on Thursday.
Part Three, of course, is the Easter Vigil service on Saturday evening and Easter Morning Mass. Everyone is cordially invited to participate on line in all three parts of the Sacred Three Days.
1) On Holy Thursday, the church’s colors change from the penitential Lenten purple to the festive color of white. We begin our three days celebrating the gift of the Mass. At the first Mass, the Last Supper, Jesus gave us the Eucharist, his body and blood for our food and drink. So this Thursday is the night we celebrate our holy communion with the Lord and with one another.
At that first Mass, Jesus also gave us his great commandment. Earlier we were told to love our neighbor and we loved our selves. At the Last Supper Jesus raises the bar. He tells us, “to love oneanother as I have loved you.” How can we possible do this? Only with his help. So he gives us his body and blood so we have his love living within us.
To demonstrate love, Jesus washed the Apostles feet.
Ordinarily we would wash feet on our Holy Thursday Liturgy. But not this year for obvious reasons. We will just reflect upon ways we can serve one another.
2) On Good Friday, the color is red. No, we don’t wear black in sorrow. We wear red, the color of blood. We need blood for life. Good Friday reminds us that Christ shed his blood that we may have life, life here free from sin, life everlasting in heaven. I like to make the connection with Valentine’s Day. On that day, the color of most cards and gifts expressing love is red. Red on Good Friday reminds us that Christ died out of love for us, that God is the source of all real love. And love is life-giving.
If Lent ends on Holy Thursday, why is Good Friday a day of fast and abstinence? Isn’t fasting a penance? The fast on Ash Wednesday is indeed a penitential fast. It is a fast to show sorrow for our sins. It is a fast to discipline our wills. But the fast of Good Friday is called a “Paschal Fast”. It is observed, the Ordo tells us, on Good Friday “and, where possible, on Holy Saturday,” until the Easter Vigil. It is not meant as a penance. It is a fast in expectation, a fast that “looks forward to the big event”.
On Thanksgiving we might fast from lunch so we can really enjoy the special dinner. A child on Christmas Eve, waiting for Santa, is so excited that he or she is not thinking about food. This is sort of a “fast” of expectation. (Not eating before a track meet, or before graduation, or the morning of a wedding… These are fasts of expectation.)
A paschal fast is for those expecting something. It is a fast for those who are preparing for baptism and joining the church. And it is a fast for all of us preparing our hearts to celebrate the biggest feast of the year.
3) On Holy Saturday evening and on Easter Sunday Morning the color is gold or festive white. This is the most solemn feast in our Church year.
It is the time when ordinarily our new adult members are baptized and join our family of faith. This year that is postponed. It is the day when we all renew our baptismal promises. It is the day we celebrate in a most special way what we celebrate at each Mass – that Christ has died, yes, but that Christ is risen and lives among us. And that Christ will come again.
Death has lost its power.
Our sins are forgiven.
We belong to God.
You are welcome to join us here at the retreat center chapel on Holy Thursday at 7:30 PM, on Good Friday at 3:00 PM, on Holy Saturday evening at 7:30 PM, and on Easter morning at 9:30 AM.
Come to the celebration! Come to the feast!
May you have a very Sacred Triduum, and a very beautiful life.