The Paschal Mystery in Three Acts

This week, during the Sacred Triduum, the Church invites you to participate in the very mysteries that merited salvation for you and for all.

by Rev. Jeff Loseke

This week, during the Sacred Triduum, the Church invites you to participate in the very mysteries that merited salvation for you and for all.  “Triduum” literally means “three 800px-Triduum_Pascal_St_Léger_d'Orvault_02.jpgdays” and commemorates the events of the Paschal Mystery from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday.  The Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, which recalls Jesus’ Last Supper with His Apostles.  The Gospels remind us that on this night, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, washed His Apostles’ feet, and went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper we do the same: the Eucharist is celebrated as usual, the Priest washes the feet of twelve parishioners, and the Blessed Sacrament is taken to a side altar for adoration throughout the night.

Holy Thursday’s Mass has no formal conclusion… it simply ends.  The liturgy commemorating the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday has no formal beginning… it simply picks up where Thursday’s Mass left off.  The altar has been stripped, and the tabernacle stands empty: Jesus has been arrested and has been taken away to die on the Cross.  The Passion from John’s Gospel is proclaimed and the faithful have the opportunity to venerate the Cross, paying homage to the Tree of Life on which was hung their Savior.  Afterwards, Holy Communion is distributed.  Since no Mass is permitted on Good Friday, there must be enough hosts in reserve from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper from the day before.  This liturgy has no formal conclusion either.  Everyone departs in silence, leaving us with an eerie sense of emptiness.

Finally, the Easter Vigil begins in the darkness where Good Friday left off.  A fire is lit, and the Easter Candle emerges, scattering the darkness of death with its Resurrected light.  This candle represents Jesus Himself risen from the grave!  The whole Church is reborn on this night.  The Liturgy of the Word consists of many readings, retracing the promise of salvation up until the coming of the Messiah.  The Gloria and Alleluia are reintroduced to the congregation by the Priest, and the waters of Baptism are blessed.  Those being baptized and/or confirmed are brought into full union with the Church, and every believer reaffirms his or her own baptismal promises.  The Eucharist is celebrated, and the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle again.  This liturgy concludes what was begun on Thursday night, and the final blessing is imparted at long last.  These are liturgies not to be missed.  If you regularly attend them, you know of what I speak.  If you have not been to them before, then I invite you to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” in these, the Church’s most beautiful and moving rites.


The Reverend Jeffery S. Loseke is a Priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha and is currently the pastor of  St. Charlccn_father-les Borromeo Parish in Gretna, Nebraska.  Ordained in 2000, Fr. Loseke holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome and is working to complete his doctoral degree (Ed.D.) in interdisciplinary leadership through Creighton University in Omaha.  In addition to parish ministry, Fr. Loseke has served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, taught high school theology and college-level philosophy, and has been a presenter for various missions, retreats, and diocesan formation days across the country.


Art: Triduum Pascal St. Leger d’Orvault (Wikimedia Commons)

The Gift of Sacrifice

This is God’s gift to us. The opportunity to unite our sufferings, our frustrations, our inconveniences, to His in Love. Throughout our lives as Children of God, we are offered an infinite number of “rungs” which to climb upon the ladder of the Cross. When taken in love, the result is beautiful, both in Heaven and on earth.

“Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

We speak often of the gift of redemption that Christ offers us via His death on the cross. But through His Passion and death, He gives us another gift as well. One that we often overlook. He offersSabatini_santi crucifixion us an opportunity to experience first-hand that “greater love” of which He speaks. Not through His sacrifice. But through our own.

Of all the imaginable plans for redemption that one could have conceived, it seems the one God chose is most peculiar. After all, His only Son didn’t come into the public realm until His 30th year, he surrounded Himself with devoted friends, walked with them, talked with them, and confided in them over the course of three years, only to allow leaders of the day to mock Him, scourge Him, strip Him of His dignity, nail Him to a cross in a most humiliating way and leave Him to hang for three hours until he breathed his last.

What about that makes sense? As a Protestant, I must admit I didn’t ask very many questions. I just accepted that He died, so I didn’t have to.

But after spending some time contemplating the cross, I began to think I wasn’t seeing the whole picture. I began asking. Thankfully, our Faith offers answers. And they are more profound and beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

My greatest question had to do with His manner of death. We understand that Christ redeemed us from the absolute misery and degradation of sin. But why in this way – through a humiliatingly public and  torturous death which reached its climax atop a mountain, upon a crude and rugged cross?

Why did Christ have to make redemption such a profound and gruesome process?

Most likely His goal was to give us an example to follow:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

With those six little words, “even as I have loved you,” Christ gives us everything.

By virtue of His cross, Christ re-opened the gates of heaven. Gates that had been closed for thousands of years as a consequence of the first sin. He demonstrated for us the power of that cross. And He calls us to follow his example:

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25),

This is that narrow gate about which we hear so often (Matthew 7:13).

Love is not a a pile of sentimental poems or a confetti of rose petals streaming from the heavens.

In reality, love looks a lot like suffering. It can be painful. It can be heart wrenching.

Indeed, love is a sacrifice.

A sacrifice first wrought by Christ, who came to show us The Way.

According to Pope Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week,

He has truly gone right to the end, to the very limit and even beyond that limit. He has accomplished the utter fullness of love – he has given himself.

First Christ defined love.

And then He asked us to practice it.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 36-39).

For God, love = sacrifice.

And what is a sacrifice, but suffering, wrapped in a beautiful package and offered as pure gift?

Through our participation in the Body of Christ, we have the opportunity to unite our suffering with His, as we truly are One Body – this is not mere concept and symbolism. Rather, the very gift of Self that Christ has given us is the grace that helps us to love as He has loved. As Paul explains, through our participation in The Body, we have the privilege of participating in redemption:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church….(Colossians 1:24)

Paul  bids us to offer ourselves as well, to worship God through our own participation in this new concept of sacrifice that Jesus has introduced by the cross:

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present you bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.(Romans 12:1).

Benedict XVI expounds on this concept of sacrifice:

…it means the offering of one’s whole existence that must be penetrated by the word and must become a gift to God. Paul, who places so much emphasis on the impossibility of justification on the basis of one’s own morality, is doubtless presupposing that this new form of Christian worship, in which Christians themselves are the “living and holy sacrifice”, is possible only through sharing in the incarnate love of Jesus Christ, a love that conquers all our insufficiency through the power of his holiness…

…the greatness of Christ’s love is revealed precisely in the fact that he takes us up into himself in all our wretchedness, into his living and holy sacrifice, so that we truly become “his body.”

Later, he concludes,

In living out the Gospel and in suffering for it, the Church, under the guidance of the apostolic preaching has learned to understand the mystery of the Cross more and more, even though ultimately it is a mystery that defies analysis in terms of our rational formulae. The darkness and irrationality of sin and the holiness of God, too dazzling for our eyes, come together in the Cross, transcending our power of understanding. And yet in the message of the New Testament, and in the proof of that message in the lives of the saints, the great mystery has become radiant light.

This is God’s gift to us. The opportunity to unite our sufferings, our frustrations, our inconveniences, to His in Love. For the good of ourselves; for the good of the body of Christ, that is, the Church.

Throughout our lives as Children of God, we are offered an infinite number of “rungs” upon which to climb as we progress up the ladder of the Cross. When we ascend in love, the result is beautiful, both in Heaven and on earth.

When you look at a crucifix today, thank God for the gift of sacrifice.

And ask for the grace to answer His call.

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