How to unite the Triduum (in the minds of your parishioners)

Each Tuesday for the next several weeks, Pray Tell blog will share insight
by Diana Macalintal on preparing for Triduum.
Each of these posts come from
and originally appeared in GIA Quarterly: A Liturgical Music Journal.

If you haven’t already, now is the time to prepare for the Triduum. For the next several weeks, let’s look at a few major liturgical elements you’ll want to prepare your ministers and assembly for so that your Triduum can be even better than it was last year.

Plan to communicate that the Triduum is one celebration—one event, Christ’s paschal mystery—spanning three days. When we treat each day of the Triduum as separate days and disjointed liturgical moments, we miss helping our assemblies experience the fullness of Christ’s love for us. Some may even simply choose their favorite day to go to and miss the rest of the story!

You can catechize that the Triduum is one event by preparing one integrated worship aid that includes all the music and text needed from Holy Thursday all the way to the end of Easter Sunday. Even if a person attends only one of the days, the worship aid lets them know they may be missing out on something bigger.

Also, be sure the pastor is the presider at the principle liturgy of each of the days. His ritual leadership for these most important liturgies of the year reflects the unity of the parish and creates a sense of one progressive liturgical event building over the three days.


  1. No parish I’ve been at for Triduum (pre-, during, or post-seminary) has ever followed the advice in your last paragraph. I realize that many parishes will by default (because the pastor is the only priest available to them), but I’ve always been at either multiple priest parishes or campus ministry settings. Would you insist on this consistency for other liturgical ministries, or is there something special about the presider? To me, this seems to put too much importance in the individuality of the presider.

    1. I’ve also served only in multiple-priest communities, and only a few times with one particular pastor did I experience the main Triduum liturgies with him presiding at all of them. In most other parishes, the idea was to “rotate” the priests through the three days–one year the pastor does the Vigil, the next year, the associate gets to do it, etc. What I discovered with the pastor presiding at the three/four main liturgies of the Triduum was a sense of unity of the community under the care of the pastor. I don’t necessarily see it as putting too much importance on the individuality of the presider but rather putting greater weight on the office of pastor and that person’s unique responsibility to the community. Often I get the sense that when we rotate the presidential roles of the main liturgies of the Triduum, it becomes a bit of a “sign up” activity or “we all get a turn” mentality. But especially if a community under its pastor has shepherded catechumens to the font over the last year or more, the office of pastor symbolizes what that parish has done in the Spirit’s work of giving birth to new Christians.

      I don’t see the same need in terms of other liturgical ministers roles. However, going off on a related point here, I’ve never understood why parishes divvy up the days among their various music groups. Why aren’t all the music ministers working together to be one choir at each of the main liturgies of the Triduum? Unless space doesn’t allow it, one choir made up of all the music ministry groups seems a better way to emphasize the unity of the liturgies of the Triduum and, more importantly, the unity of the members of the body of Christ.

      1. I’ve known parish musicians who are unwilling to prepare music for (or show up to) all three of the liturgies of the Triduum, which seems unfortunate. I do agree that it makes sense to have musical continuity between the liturgies.

  2. Interestingly, my experience is just the opposite: always the same presider. Except in when I was at Notre Dame/St. Mary’s of Notre Dame. But I realize I’ve probably been in the “sweet spot” of priest-to-community ratio. I know in my parents’ rural cluster, a deacon is often call on to assist on Good Friday.

    I do think preachers could easily rotate for the 3 celebrations to limit the workload, more so than presiders.

    I’d love to hear what other communities do. Diana’s piece is a good start, and I feel we do a good job, but I’d love to hear other ideas. For example:
    –In our advertising/bulletin, we purposely say “Part 1… Part 2… Part 3…” In the worship aid on Thursday and Friday it specifically says “Our celebration continues tomorrow…” or the like.
    –We make sure the lighting in the church is consistent at the end of one liturgy with the beginning of the next.
    –We used to skip the bells during the Gloria on Holy Thursday, but they came back to connect the Thursday and Saturday.
    –We try to connect a few other liturgical ministers across the 3 liturgies; for example, the person proclaiming the General Intercessions is the same person at all 3 liturgies. (We’re a marginally bilingual parish, and so it helps that we have a few young adults who we can call on for bilingual celebrations.)

    1. Diana’s point is surely a very simple one: if we really believe that the Triduum is a single celebration spread over three days, then that single celebration demands a single presider.

      Incidentally, this is one reason why the US version of the Roman Missal includes a rubric particular to that territory (not yet found elsewhere):

      This [Good Friday] liturgy by its very nature may not, however, be celebrated in the absence of a Priest.

      — the point being that increasingly parishes were deputing the presiding on Good Friday to a deacon on the grounds that this was not a Mass but a Liturgy of the Word + Communion, thus liberating the priest to preside at a second Good Friday liturgy somewhere else. The US Bishops clearly espouse the view that this liturgy is Part II of a tripartite celebration and so needs a priest to preside at it.

  3. Point out to the congregation that there is no formal “conclusion” to the Holy Thursday liturgy at the transfer of the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose; no formal start to Good Friday liturgy, but silence – no greeting, no sign of the cross, and it also ends in silence; and no formal start to the Easter Vigil – straight into the Blessing of the Fire, without greeting or sign of the cross. The continuity in the liturgy is clear.
    It does not seem necessary to me to have the same individual presider for each of the three days, if the team works together on each day. “The laity is an order (anointed by Chrism), or priest, prophet, and king” (Nicholas Denysenko) – they are an essential part of the team with those specifically ordained and appointed.

      1. The Good Friday liturgy (GF 31) also claims that its final Prayer over the People serves as a dismissal (dimissio – same as in the Ordo Missae). It goes on to note what happens “after the celebration” (GF 33), by which it does not refer to a conclusion 24+ hours thence. This is in keeping with the language of the Triduum rubrics (and of Paschalis solemnitatis) which refer to the “celebrations” of the Triduum in the plural.

        One might also consider liturgical color. Whereas extraordinary form liturgies call for color changes mid-rite (demarcating, e.g., the Easter “vigil” from the “Mass” proper), I can’t recall offhand an ordinary form rite that allows this. Unitary celebrations now have a single color throughout. And yet the Triduum does not.

        None of this is offered to oppose highlighting the theological point that the Triduum liturgies collectively celebrate an indivisible Paschal Mystery. Quite the contrary, that is to be encouraged and we have seen some good advice in that vein. But one should be careful not to overload that theological coherence, enforcing “demands” of practical unity where the Church has never enunciated them for its legally distinct celebrations. In other words, promote unifying practices but allow for variant approaches to what is not prescribed.

      2. Aaron

        I think that’s reasonable. I also wonder what are the anticipated tangible fruits of the emphasis on the one-liturgy-with-three-parts approach beyond what the ritual books require and how would we know if it has a proximate causal relationship to them. (This is not an argument against that approach; it’s adding a dimension to the consideration of it.)

      3. I think one tangible fruit may be that more people are attending Holy Thursday and the Vigil, rather than just Good Friday, where the numbers are historically larger. Those parishes where they have likened the three liturgies to three parts of a book, and if you start with Part II then you miss both the beginning and the dénouement appear to have had some success with this approach. Of course, it all depends on whether your celebration of those three Parts is life-giving and imaginative or stultifying and tedious.

      4. Paul

        I agree, though one wonders how much is due to the shift in time that preceded the conciliar-specific reforms. (One curious measure of how the 1962-is-not-good-enough fringe of traditionalism is spinning off into its own world is the frequency with which I encounter laments in that fringe for the loss of Paschal Matins due the re-placement by the Vigil – back a decade and a half ago, there was just about one English-language bog with that took a gimlet eye at all 20th century liturgical/sacramental reform, including frequent communion; now, as Catholic Resistance(TM) grinds and thus fragments into various sub-flavors, I see this more) without people noting how perfunctory the ostensibly elaborate morning Vigil could be when most of those in attendance were ministers in some form and parochial school choir children, with everyone waiting for the end of the Lenten fast at noon, which put the kids in a state of suspended animation after the Vigil ended mid-morning. At least as my parents generations noted and I’ve seen echoes in commentary elsewhere.)

        As I’ve alluded to before, as someone who was in the choral and other liturgical ministry trenches for most of 30 years, I (still) don’t miss the Triduum liturgies on local ground. After sampling around locally for logistically sane options since I left the trenches several years ago, I will no longer activate the dissonance-calming self-management system into participation into local Vigils with underwhelming or banal music or musical performance (but am open when if and when I see a shift in leadership that may be promising)*. I treasure Easter Sunday morning Mass – even with ministerial forces being tired by then, there’s less to muck up.

        I wish more parishes would include their Holy Week liturgical programs on their websites in advance of Holy Week. Something that is more common outside Catholic practice, as it were.

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