The Paschal Triduum (pronounced PAS-kull TRID-yoo-um) begins on the evening of Holy Thursday when the Church celebrates the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. After Mass, the Church is stripped of its decorations as a sign of mourning. No candles burn and the Blessed Sacrament is not reposed in the main tabernacle, but in another small chapel.
Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstaining from meat. Families should try to observe a quiet day of simplicity. There is no Mass; at 3:00 pm, the Church offers the “Celebration of the Lord’s Passion.” It’s also a good day to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Holy Saturday is good day to dye eggs, do spring cleaning, and prepare for your family’s Easter celebrations. (And get to that confession if you didn’t do it already.)
The Easter Vigil begins after sunset on Holy Saturday. In the Jewish tradition, the day begins and ends at sundown. In the Catholic tradition, feast day celebrations are allowed to overlap during the sundown to midnight period.
This service, the longest and most beautiful liturgy in the calendar, marks the official beginning of the Feast of Easter. It starts with the lighting of a fire and the preparation of the new year’s Paschal Candle. Both are blessed and the Paschal Candle is lit from the fire.
The Paschal candle represents Christ, the Light of the World. The term “Paschal” comes from the Hebrew word for Passover; it refers to the mystery of Christ’s salvation. The candle is also sometimes referred to as the “Easter candle” or the “Christ candle.”
During the blessing, five grains of incense inserted into the pure beeswax candle in the form of a cross. This is to recall the aromatic spices with which His Sacred Body was prepared for the tomb, and of the five wounds in His hands, feet, and side. The priest also inscribes the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet into the wax.
In the darkened sanctuary, the flame from the Paschal Candle is passed, like the light of Christ, person to person, candle to candle from the back of the church to the front as the priest and attendants process the Pascal Candle to the front.
One year when I was a teen in the choir, I got to see the whole thing from the choir loft in the back. A trumpet played a stirring fanfare as the candle light progressed forward and the church lights were turned on from back to front. Very goosebumpy!
The Paschal Candle will be lighted each day during Mass throughout the Paschal season, which lasts from Easter Sunday until Ascension Thursday. During Ascension Thursday’s Mass, it will be extinguished right before the reading of the Gospel.
The Paschal Candle is on display all year. It is lit and placed near the baptismal font during baptisms and near the casket during funerals. The flame represents Christ and signifies the hope of the resurrection into which Christians are baptized.
During the Easter Vigil, the whole of salvation history is proclaimed in the many readings. Also, any converts in the parish who are ready will be baptized (if they need it), confirmed, and receive their First Holy Eucharist during the Vigil service.
The Vigil satisfies the Easter Sunday Mass obligation, but it is really long and goes late, so there are also Masses on Sunday proper. Some places do dawn Easter services too. I went to one of those and it was amazing.
However you choose to honor Christ’s sacrifice and celebrate His victory over sin and death, I wish you and your family all the graces and blessings God has to offer!