The Sacred Triduum is the solemn celebration of the Paschal Mystery, the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus followed by his resurrection and glorification. The Triduum is celebrated over three days: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. The events that took place over these most holy days are remembered at a number of major pilgrimage sites in Jerusalem.
The following is a short explanation of events and places associated with the Triduum and suggested activities for individuals and families.
The Last Supper
The Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the night when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, instituted the Eucharist, and gave his Last Supper discourses (John 13:31-17:26), his final words of instruction before his death. These events are remembered at two sites on Mount Zion: the Coenaculum, a two-story structure built by the crusaders in the 12th century and later converted to a Moslem mosque, and the Franciscan Cenacle, only a short distance away, built in 1936.
Holy Week suggestions: Foot washing is about service, something Jesus did for his disciples, his closest associates. This is an ideal time to
perform an act of service for someone close to us, a family member or friend, who would appreciate our help. When Jesus gave us his body and blood, he said, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19), and we honor his memory when we receive Communion regularly, beginning with all three days of the Triduum, and then every Sunday throughout the year. Jesus established the priesthood when he asked his disciples to reenact the Last Supper. Holy Thursday is an important day to pray for priests, that they be good and holy men who serve with exceptional faith, generosity, zeal and humility.
Agony in the garden
After the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples left the Upper Room, descended Mount Zion, crossed the Kidron Valley and arrived at Gethsemane and an olive grove located at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. Jesus prayed on a rock, and his agony was so great that his sweat became like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Jesus asked his disciples to pray with him, and when he found them sleeping he said in disappointment, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40).
These events are commemorated at the Church of All Nations, one of the most magnificent churches in the entire Holy Land, built from 1919 to 1924. It is called “All Nations” because so many different countries contributed money to the building fund. The most sacred site is the Rock of Agony in front of the main altar, the place traditionally regarded as the place where Jesus prayed.
Holy Week suggestions: Jesus wanted his disciples to pray for at least one hour, and his request serves as the biblical basis for making a “holy hour.” Accept Jesus’ invitation yourself. Set aside an entire hour for solitary prayer, either on a single day like Holy Thursday, or three separate hours on each of the three days of the Triduum. Then, promise yourself to make a holy hour every week throughout the year, possibly before the Blessed Sacrament at eucharistic adoration, in a quiet garden or in some other secluded place.
Judas and the Temple guard
Only a stone’s throw away is the place where Judas Iscariot kissed Jesus and the soldiers apprehended him. The church that commemorates this tragic event is the Grotto of the Betrayal and Arrest at the northernmost end of the Kidron Valley.
Jesus’ trial and Peter’s denial
After Jesus was bound, he was led away, back across the Kidron Valley, back up Mount Zion, to the palace of Caiaphas, just below and to the east of the Upper Room. It was in Caiaphas’ chambers that Jesus was placed on trial before the high priest and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council, while outside in the courtyard Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus was held overnight in a prison cell beneath the palace. These events are remembered at the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, the church of the cock crow, built on the foundations of Caiaphas’ palace and dedicated in 1931.
Holy Week suggestions: The Temple guard abused their power. Pray for police and soldiers that they will use their authority in a responsible manner. Jesus’ trial was a sham. Pray for judges, lawyers and juries, that they will uphold truth and justice in court proceedings. Jesus was incarcerated overnight. Pray for those who are held in prisons and jails, and if we know someone who is an inmate, we could visit, call or write.
Jesus and Pilate
Next, Jesus was led before Pilate, who interrogated him and ordered that he be flogged. The scourging at the pillar and the crowning of thorns are remembered at the Chapel of the Flagellation. Next, Pilate presented Jesus to the crowd, saying, “Behold, your king!” (John 19:14), sometimes rendered, “Behold, the man!” honored at the Ecce Homo Basilica. Finally, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified, observed at the Church of the Condemnation.
The Via Dolorosa, The Way of Sorrow
The Roman soldiers then gave Jesus his cross which he carried through the streets of Jerusalem (John 19:17). There are nine different events or “stations,” Stations of the Cross, which commemorate his laborious journey: his three falls; his encounters with his mother Mary, Veronica, and the women of Jerusalem; and the help that he received from Simon of Cyrene.
Holy Week suggestions: Make the Stations of the Cross, either at church or by yourself. Help someone who has fallen on hard times. Assist someone who is carrying a particularly heavy load. Come to the aid of someone who is mistreated.
The holiest place in all of Christendom is the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the place of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The basilica that presently stands over Calvary was built by the crusaders in the 12th century. The original church was built at the direction of Queen St. Helena and her son, the emperor Constantine, in the late 320s and early 330s, but it was set on fire in 614 by the Persians and later destroyed by the caliph Hakim the Mad in 1009.
The most sacred places in the crusader church are the Chapel of the Franks on the outside south wall, which commemorates where Jesus was stripped of his garments; Latin Calvary or the Chapel of the Nailing inside the church on the southeast corner on the second level, where Jesus was nailed to the cross; Greek Calvary or the Chapel of the Crucifixion, immediately above the rock of Calvary, where Jesus was crucified; downstairs in the front entryway is the Stone Unction, a traditional place to venerate the anointing of Jesus’ body; and on the far west end of the basilica is the Tomb of Christ, where Jesus was buried and then rose from the dead.
Holy Week suggestions: Celebrate the Passion of the Lord by attending the special liturgy at church on Good Friday. Read one of the four Passion narratives and meditate on Jesus’s suffering and death. Say the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. Pray in front of a crucifix. Abstain from meat on Good Friday, and observe a strict fast day. Watch the movie “The Passion of the Christ” or another epic film on the life of Christ like “Jesus of Nazareth,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told” or “King of Kings.” Make plans to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land someday to venerate these sacred sites and deepen your faith in Jesus, our redeemer and savior.
Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.