by Jay Chin
The Easter Triduum is a three-day period of preparation for Easter, beginning on the evening of Maundy Thursday and concluding with Holy Saturday Vespers. Pope Francis began this year’s Triduum not at the Vatican, but at the Centro Santa Maria della Provvidenza di Roma, a rehabilitation center for the elderly and disabled. There he preached an off-the-cuff homily about Jesus’ Last Supper as a farewell, as a giving of an inheritance, and that part of that inheritance is being a servant, especially a servant of love to others. After the homily, he performed the Washing of Feet ritual with nine Italian men, a 16-year-old youth from Cape Verde, a Muslim from Lybia, and an Ethiopian woman. Pope Francis not only washed their feet, but also kissed them, sometimes bending all the way to the ground for those who were paralyzed. Going out to the less fortunate on Maundy Thursday is a personal tradition of His Holiness, going back to when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires and it is clear that he intends to maintain it instead of celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of St. John Lateran, as was until recently customary.
His Holiness presided at the Via Crucis, or the Way of the Cross, on the night of Good Friday, the only day of the year when the Mass is not celebrated. The meditations at each station were given by Arcbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini of Campobasso-Boiano. He called to mind those marginalized by society and those who suffer violence. A homily was offered by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., Preacher of the Papal Household since 1980, where he denounced the evils of greed and the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At the end of the Via Crucis, Pope Francis offered a reflection where he pointed out that the Cross shows both the “monstrosity of man, and also God’s mercy.” He also asked those present to remember those who feel abandoned “under the weight of the Cross” in our prayers in order that they might find hope in the resurrection.
There was no public Mass or Vespers service held for Holy Saturday, for it is in the morning and afternoon that the Vatican Staff prepares the Basilica for the Easter Vigil, which started at 8:30. Like all Easter Vigils, it began with a single lighted candle, the Paschal candle, whose flame is shared with all those gathered. It symbolizes the transition from the darkness of the Death of Christ to the light of His Resurrection. In his homily, he asked those present if they remembered their “Galilee”, the place where Christ touched their hearts and called them to be His disciples. He urged them to return to that “Galilee”, for there is where the Lord is waiting. It is not mere remembrance, or nostalgia, but “It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.” After the homily, he baptized ten people from Vietnam, Belarus, Senegal, Lebanon, Italy, and France. He asked every single one of them if they wanted to be baptized, to which they all assented.
A few hours later, 150,000 people were gathered in St. Peter’s Square for Easter Sunday Mass. The Square was decorated with an array of daffodils, hyacinths, and white roses. His Holiness noted that this year Easter coincides in both Western and Eastern Christianity. He called upon the faithful to pray for peace in the Ukraine, which is still struck with political turmoil, Syria and Nigeria, where the Christian population is persecuted, and Palestine, which His Holiness will be visiting next month. He also asked those present to take care of those at home, “sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast.”