Three movements of the ‘Great Symphony’

Mar 30, 2023
Good Friday Veneration of the Cross at St. James Cathedral in downtown Orlando, April 2019. (ANDREA NAVARRO | FC)

Symphonies are comprised of various “movements,” and while occasionally one might listen to a movement separated from the entire symphony, it isn’t meant to be this way. Each movement works together and in tension with every other movement to create the full experience of the symphonic piece.

And so it is with the “Great Symphony” of the Triduum, the most sacred and transformative liturgical experiences of our Catholic faith. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the celebration of Easter, beginning with the Easter Vigil, are not simply three different days with their own peculiar liturgical rituals, but rather they form one great symphony, with each “movement” conveying its own tone, texture, and depth of Christ’s love, as we join in experiencing the Paschal Mystery, the life-giving passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord.

As a faith community, the deeply moving liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter are fascinating, potent, remarkable, as well as challenging — but alas, still experienced by only a small fraction of those who share in weekly Eucharist. Much like a powerful symphony, to join in these liturgies requires us to step outside our normal expectations (or lack thereof) for prayer and worship, to be immersed in the great events that bring us new life in Christ.

We gather not so much to remember who Jesus was and what He accomplished for the salvation of the world, but to live who He was and what He did in real time, our time and to be transformed, as He was, for the life of our world.

Let’s briefly explore the tone and texture of the three great movements in the symphony of Christ’s saving passion, death and Resurrection.

The evening Mass on Holy Thursday, the only one permitted for the day, is a beautiful, solemn, yet joyful celebration, as we enter the experience of Jesus “on the night before He died.” We sit at the table as He offers His Body and Blood; we witness the washing of feet, the humbling act of service He invites us to offer others; we honor the beginning of the priesthood; and we enter the garden in a vigil of waiting with the Lord as the road to Calvary appears on the horizon. On Good Friday, we remember the death of Jesus. The cross becomes our ground zero. Mass is not celebrated on this day, but we gather as a community, primarily in the mid-afternoon, to experience a reading of the Passion narrative from St. John, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion consecrated at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

On Holy Saturday, the Church meditates on the suffering and death of Jesus, and then, after sunset as darkness descends upon the world, the Church gathers to celebrate the Easter Vigil.

The Easter Vigil has four parts: The Service of Light; the (extended) Liturgy of the Word; the Liturgy of Baptism; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the Liturgy of Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist, the Catechumens are initiated fully into new life in Christ, their long journey to the font of life now complete. Easter Sunday is a continuation of what was celebrated at the Vigil, the Resurrection of Christ and three movements of the ‘Great Symphony’ God’s triumph over death! Catholics renew our own Baptismal promises on Easter and are sprinkled with the new water of life blessed at the Vigil.

When important events appear in our lives, especially those that take us by surprise, we are quick to open space, to dedicate our ever-precious time, and to adjust our routine in order not to miss the gifts and challenges they might bring us. As the days of the Sacred Triduum, the three movements of the Great Symphony of Christ approach, all the faithful are encouraged, challenged, and invited to create a space in our lives to share in these liturgies in our parish communities. The richness and wonder of these celebrations have never been known to leave someone unmoved or stuck in a rut. The liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter are absolutely transformative. So much so, that without the earlier movements of the Triduum, Easter easily becomes an unfinished symphony.

Great symphonies have a way of moving our minds, our hearts, and our souls. Each movement lifting us high, plunging us into deep reflection, gently soothing our weariness, agitating our routines, and leaving us with a renewed sense of life. And so, in the words of Andrew of Crete (Sermon 9 for Palm Sunday), “Let us run to accompany Him as He hastens toward His Passion,” as the Great Symphony of Christ’s life and love strikes its first note.

Father Ben Berinti, C.P.P.S, Pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Palm Bay and
Pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church – March 30, 2023