The Easter Triduum:
The days of the Easter Triduum are the heart of the liturgical year. The Church invites us to share in the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. I invite you to participate in the beautiful liturgies of the Easter Triduum in your parish churches or in our cathedrals. The Triduum begins with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and ends with Evening Prayer (Vespers) on Easter Sunday.
Holy Thursday Mass
of the Lord’s Supper
At this evening Mass, we commemorate the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood. At the Last Supper, Jesus anticipated the sacrifice of His death the next day. He changed the bread and wine into His Body and Blood, giving us the awesome gift of the sacrament of the Eucharist. He gave to the apostles the power to “do this in memory of me,” thus instituting the ministerial priesthood.
At the Holy Thursday Mass, we not only hear the Gospel of the washing of the feet of the apostles by Jesus, this action is also re-enacted in many parishes. In this gesture, Jesus bequeathed His love to us as a new law. This act of humility, which anticipated His supreme sacrifice on Calvary, is an example for us of our call to serve others with the love and humility of Jesus.
At the end of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession to a place of reposition. We are invited to spend some time in adoration before the Eucharist on Holy Thursday night. Some of the faithful visit different churches to pray in adoration on Holy Thursday night. This pious tradition is encouraged on the night of Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane. On the first Holy Thursday night, the disciples fell asleep in the garden, leaving Our Lord alone in His agony. We visit Our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament, not wanting to leave Him alone at this time.
On Good Friday, the Church commemorates the events between Christ’s condemnation to death and His crucifixion. Good Friday is a day of penance, fasting, and prayer. It is a day for us to meditate upon the sufferings of Our Lord, upon the evil and sin that oppresses humanity, and upon the salvation brought about by the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus.
The Church does not celebrate Mass on Good Friday. Instead, we gather in a special service to commemorate Our Lord’s Passion and Death. At this service every year, we hear Saint John’s account of the Passion. At this service, we address to God a long “prayer of the faithful” which includes all the needs of the Church and of the world. We then venerate or adore the cross. The liturgy ends with the reception of Holy Communion consecrated and reserved from the night before.
Besides the Good Friday liturgy, in many places there are other expressions of popular devotions on Good Friday that are approved and encouraged by the Church. Stations of the Cross and penitential processions, for example, help us to interiorize the mystery of the Cross.
Holy Saturday is a day of great silence in which we are invited to wait in prayer, interiorly recollected, for the great event of Our Lord’s Resurrection.
The solemn Easter Vigil begins at nightfall on Holy Saturday. It begins with the blessing of the new fire and the lighting of the paschal candle which symbolizes Christ our light and the light of the world. The great proclamation of the “Exsultet” rings out joyfully, followed by many Scripture readings tracing salvation history, culminating in the singing of joyful alleluias and the Gospel of the Resurrection of Jesus.
At the heart of the Easter Vigil is the celebration of the sacraments of initiation. Those who have journeyed in preparation through the catechumenate receive the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation and then join the community in the reception of the Holy Eucharist.
The Easter Vigil is called “the mother of all vigils.” The proclamation of the Resurrection scatters the darkness of the night. We celebrate the victory of Jesus who conquered sin and death. This is not only a past event. It is a present reality. Christ’s love continues to defeat sin and death. This happens in the life of His Body, the Church, in our lives as His redeemed brothers and sisters.
I encourage all to participate in the liturgies of the Easter Triduum and to relive the great mystery of our salvation through these rites of the Church. May you have a spiritually enriching celebration of Holy Week! May these celebrations deepen our conversion to Christ and our communion with Him in His Body, the Church!
Jay Caponigro, director of Community Engagement at Notre Dame and facilitator for the Faculty Steering Committee with WEI, said, “We need to make sure we are offering rigorous academic courses that are at the standard of Notre Dame and Holy Cross, so if students want to apply to another institution when they leave the program to complete their bachelor’s degree, that they are prepared and have gotten the best academic training they could.”
WEI became a reality when representatives from Bard College in New York, an institution that has achieved tremendous success in prison education, contacted Notre Dame to inquire about the potential interest of expanding to Indiana. Their program, which just honored its 12th class of graduates, recently welcomed Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York as commencement speaker. There he told the men, “I salute you this graduation morning because you have learned not only the lessons of books, library, classroom and professors, but the most sublime lesson of them all: that the essence of life, the core of living, is found within the human person, not without.”
He further emphasized the importance of lifelong learning beginning at an early age, saying, “A solid education is perhaps the most valuable gift we can (and must) provide our young people. Better schools mean less poverty, violence, crime … and prisons!”
Notre Dame and Holy Cross were immediately supportive of the Westville endeavor and, with support from BPI, were able to move forward and create the infrastructure required for a sustainable initiative. The IDOC has also been an essential partner of the program, though since budget cuts in 2011 has been unable to financially support publically funded college degree-granting programs.
Holy Cross President Brother John Paige indicated that the schools were quick to jump on board because the program so aptly fits the mission of the Congregation of Holy Cross. “As our constitutions indicate, we have a preferential option for the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. I see the Westville program as a systematic way that specifically fulfills our mission of education by serving one of the most marginalized groups in our society, namely prisoners, whom the culture often says we should lock up and then throw away the key. This initiative dovetails beautifully with Catholic social teaching and makes for a great partnership with BPI in their pursuit of social justice and also with the state, which has been willing to accommodate our efforts.”
The benefits of this program for both those earning their degree and for society at large have been transformative. Caponigro said, “Of those who have earned degrees through BPI, the recidivism rate, the amount of people who go back into jail, is just 3 percent. That is what we are aiming to do; we want people to understand that they have alternatives and futures if they participate in this program.”
Holy Cross Brother Jesus Alonso, director for educational outreach, further spoke about the program’s life-changing effects. He remarked, “None of the men who have taken part in the Westville program have returned to prison and conduct issues for these men are also significantly decreased. The inmates are happy to have this opportunity to grow in knowledge and those who operate the prisons are pleased to witness this improvement in behavior. It is for these and many other reasons that the leaders of this program are committed to its long term growth.”
Alesha Seroczynski, Ph.D., WEI director of College Operations provided specifics on how she envisions this growth to occur. “We currently have 32 men participating in the program, with two earning their associate’s (degree) this spring. Over the next five years we are hoping to expand our enrollment to fill our dorm of 102 beds. Long term, we are hoping to include as many as 200 men in our program, but even reaching 100 students would make this one of the top college prison programs in the nation.”
This program has provided many men with a new start and the ability to make positive improvements to their life. To summarize the fundamental importance of WEI, Caponigro emphasized, “The mission of Holy Cross and Notre Dame is to educate the heart and mind. In Westville, we want to bring that same spirit to the table. We do this by showing that we are truly about helping these men realize their fullest potential as children of God.”