The Triduum isn’t a dramatic reenactment

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.

As part of your preparation for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, be sure to read or reread the “Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts” (Paschale Solemnitatis), issued by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship in 1988.

In that letter, the three days is called “the triduum of the crucified, buried, and risen” (#38) and the “Easter Triduum” (#27). This is important because the celebration of Holy Thursday and Good Friday are already Easter celebrations! On any day of the Triduum, we do not pretend that Christ has not died or that Christ is not risen. The Triduum is not a historical drama or a “leap back into time.” Rather, we remember what Christ has done for us and still continues to do for us now, which leads us always to the future hope promised in the kingdom.

This is especially important on Holy Thursday at the foot washing. Although it may be quite moving, do not perform the foot washing during the Gospel reading. Doing so makes it too much of a re-enactment instead of a ritual that signifies our participation in Christ’s mission. Also do not assign 12 persons to be those whose feet are washed. Nowhere do the rubrics say to use exactly 12 people, as though they are the 12 apostles. In addition, historical costumes of any kind are not appropriate.


  1. This essay raises a really good point.

    Kenneth Stevenson identified the dramatic reenactment impulse in the liturgies of Holy Week as the expression of a “rememorative piety” which was brought to the Triduum during the middle ages. It’s still with us.

    The reform, of course, was aiming to reach a more ancient synthesis: a celebration of the enduring realities set in motion by Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The liturgy is the vehicle of engagement with the eternal “now” of the paschal event, which does not stay in the past, but lives in us today. To celebrate this does require us to remember the events of the Passion, but the accent is not on watching the drama of the past, but on living its meaning in the present.

    Thank you for calling our attention to the difference, Diana.

  2. If I may add that, in addition to the dimensions of re-presentation/re-memorative piety, there’s also the eschatological dimension of foretaste, by the Body of Christ on whom the Holy Spirit has been outpoured, of the wedding banquet of the Lamb in the consummation/perfection of all things. Another reason why our liturgies are not intended to reenact or replicate one of these things alone: not just the Last Supper, not just Calvary, not just Emmaus, et cet.

    1. Thanks for this helpful addition, Karl. That’s exactly right. They are eschatological celebrations as well as celebrations of the action of God in the present time.

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