Triduum as theater

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

The three days—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday—are called the Triduum in liturgical circles and can be understood as an epic drama in three acts.

The first act, staged tomorrow, includes the foot washing, the institution of Holy Communion and then the betrayal.

The second act, Good Friday, is of course the trial before Pilate, the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.

The concluding act features the resurrection of Jesus and the varied responses of Jesus' disciples to the news that is risen.

For me, liturgical churches have a great insight about how to do these three days.  Instead of long sermons talking about the meaning of this great story, they actually do the story as if it a play in a theater.  They treat as a literary drama with a narrative arc.  They don't talk about the foot washing as much as reenacting it.  On Good Friday, some churches process the cross around the nave as the lights and candles are gradually extinguished after the reading of each of the last seven words from the cross, and the congregation leaves the worship space in darkness.  If all of this is done dramatically and well, the worship on Easter Sunday morning doesn't really need a sermon.  The unveiling of the cross, processing of the Paschal candle, the music and the gospel reading bring the whole three act play to a life renewing climax, especially if there is a baptism during Easter worship.

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