By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published April 16, 2009
Archbishop Gregory spent this Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil at home, as he continued to recuperate fully from an ankle injury. He wrote this column from this year’s unique perspective of celebrating the Triduum.
There are some portions of the Liturgy of the Hours that I have never prayed before this particular Triduum. The Liturgy of the Hours is the ritual book of psalms, canticles, hymns, and sacred readings that the Church prescribes for clerics to offer each day for the Church and for our own spiritual growth. The prayers are arranged so as to mark out the day as a sacred time—as sacramental moments. The instructions in the breviary itself point out that certain hours are only to be observed by those who do not attend the corresponding liturgical ceremonies of the Triduum.
Routinely over the past 50 years, I have had the great privilege of celebrating or participating in the ceremonies of the Triduum, but because of my temporarily limited mobility, this year I was obliged to pray those hours that I have never prayed before in the quiet of my home chapel. And therein I have discovered something wonderful about the prayer of the Church; it all comes together in perfect unity and harmony during these hours when we recall Christ’s Passion, death and Resurrection.
When the Church approaches this holiest time of the year, the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours coalesce with the Scripture passages from the Liturgy of the Eucharist and with other devotional practices. Thus these two sources of the Church’s worship declare that there is really only one event that matters during these holiest of days.
The Triduum is a quiet time in most churches. The altars are bare; the Blessed Sacrament is removed from tabernacles. There are few rituals beyond the Stations of the Cross, the religious customs and practices of certain cultures, and the musical devotions that remind us that Christ has died for us all and in His symbolic absence we all realize how truly impoverished we are without Him.
In this stillness, God’s Word tells a wonderful story of His suffering in silence, of His complete obedience to the will of His Father, of His humble acceptance of a horrible death. The Liturgy of the Hours recalls the psalms that point to the Passion of the Lord, the prophetic writings that allude to the Messiah’s destiny, the writings of the Church Fathers that interpret the deeper meaning of our redemption. The Church is hushed for much of the Triduum until she gathers in darkness to rekindle the Faith and to light the single candle that shines in the darkest of church buildings, passing on its tiny light to each individual candle that reaches out to it.
During the Easter Vigil the Church brings forth the new life of our newest Catholics. That is always an especially joyful moment since these wonderful people remind us all of the great treasure that we possess in our Catholic Faith. They anxiously approach the altar for the first time to receive the Lord as Eucharistic food and drink.
This year, I spent those hours recalling in quiet prayer what a fortunate community we are. The Archdiocese of Atlanta is growing both in numbers and in apostolic outreach. We bring so many gifts to our community and provide such hope for countless people through our schools, parishes, hospitals, Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul Society, catechetical and youth programs, campus and young adult ministries, and with our ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and collaboration. I had so many reasons to offer a word of thanks to the Father during these special days of Faith. May each one of you and all of your loved ones know the blessings and joy of a splendid Easter season.