The Sacred Triduum begins with Holy Thursday (Thursday of the Lord’s Supper), the day Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood while he celebrated the Passover Meal with the Apostles and established the NEW Passover (see Luke 22:14-23). Traditionally, this is the day that the Chrism Mass is held, but due to large dioceses these days, it’s difficult for most clergy to travel to the Chrism Mass and then back to their parishes in the same day. The Institution of the Holy Eucharist (now the 5th Luminous Mystery) is the major event we commemorate on this great day. From this day forward, we have Jesus present in the Church – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
During this Holy Mass, we also reenact the washing of the Apostles feet. This action by Jesus in John 13 is an act of humility and points to the humiliation that he would receive on the cross. He is displaying heroism as the servant-king for the Apostles. The washing of the Apostles feet more than likely mirrors the washing of Aaron and his son’s feet by Moses in the Book of Exodus, as they become the first of the Levitical Priests. If this is the case, foot-washing can been seen as a sign of priestly ordination. The apostles receive a “part” in Jesus where the Levitical priests received a “portion” of God alone.
Liturgically, Peter J. Elliot, says in his book, Liturgical Question Box, “the washing of the feet of the twelve “men” is specified in the Roman Missal, clearly to represent the twelve apostles.” If permission is granted to include women, Elliot says, then it should be a group of both sexes. Having a group of twelve women is an ideological statement of feminism and ideology never belongs in the sacred liturgy.
On Good Friday, we commemorate the day our LORD sacrificed himself in the perfect sacrifice for our redemption. As the lambs are slaughtered in the Temple so Jesus is slaughtered on the cross. He is the New Lamb of God. As it has been since the most ancient days of the church, the Holy Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday. The only sacraments that are permitted on this day are Penance (Reconciliation) and Anointing of the Sick. During the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, we hear the readings (Cycle A, B, C) from Isaiah 52:13—53:12, Psalm 31, Hebrews 4:14-16 5:7-9 and the Gospel of St. John 18:1—19:42.
After a short homily or time in prayer, the Liturgy of the Word ends with “The Solemn Intercessions” – For the Holy Church, For the Pope, For all orders and degrees of the faithful, For the unity of Christians, For the Jewish People, For those who do not believe in Christ, For those who do not believe in God, For those in public office, and For those in tribulation.
After the Solemn Intercessions, there is Adoration of the Holy Cross. The priest(s), deacons and other ministers process with a cross which has been covered with a purple veil (purple is the color for royalty and more than likely the color of the garment the Roman soldiers put on Jesus [King of the Jews]). As the cross is brought forth and held before the altar, the priest (assisted by the Deacon or other ministers) uncovers a little of the cross each time by saying – “Behold the wood of the Cross” (Ecce lignum Crucis) and all respond with the words – “Come let us adore” (Venite, adoremus). Only one cross should be used for adoration. There have been times (I have experienced this myself) where multiple smaller crosses have been used because of a large gathering. As the book, Liturgical Question Box states, “this is liturgical minimalism – a reduced sign carried out in the easiest way. The goal here is probably to save time. But a Pastor should make it clear to his people that the Good Friday ceremonies will take time, because the Passion and Death of our Savior took time. That is why the Church recommends the afternoon celebration commencing at 3 p.m. We offer our time out of gratitude and love for the One who entered time and died and rose for us in our flesh.”
After the Adoration of the Cross, a altar cloth is spread on the altar as is a corporal and the Missal put in place. The Blessed Sacrament is brought from its place of keeping (from the conclusion of Holy Thursday Mass to this point, the Holy Eucharist is not kept in the Tabernacle). The Our Father is either sang or recited. After this, Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful during the celebration of the Lord’s Passion. Since the Holy Mass is not celebrated on this day, more hosts should be consecrated during the Mass on Holy Thursday. Once Communion has ended and the prayer over the people is recited – all depart in silence. Jesus Christ is dead.