Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Roman and Byzantine Triduum

Awareness of the old Holy Week in the Roman rite has grown since then-Pope Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum in 2007, as many eager clergy and faithful sought to understand both the 1962 liturgy and what preceded it. What many do not know, but will in a few moments, is just how close the old Roman Triduum is to the last three days of Great Week in the Byzantine liturgical tradition.

I found this especially jarring when I first realized it, as "restoration" to a more pristine liturgy, as supposedly exists in the East, was often presented as a premise for the Pian and Pauline reforms. It should not be so surprising. Rome and Constantinople are only a few hundred miles apart and were, until the papacy of St. Gregory the Great, under the same cultural and political body. Even after Rome's de facto separation from the Byzantine Empire Constantinopolitan liturgy came to Rome via Milan and via Europe (France and Spain picked up Eastern Roman traditions and practices from North African Christians). The Crusades would have a reciprocal effect centuries later. Contrary to our instinct to view the Rome-Constantinople schism as the compass for liturgy, the two cities probably have more in common than the Byzantine tradition has with the Thomistic Christians of India or the Nestorians or the other various non-Chalcedonian Churches we call "Oriental."

Before we look at the specific rites, let us lay down a few basic principles necessary to understanding the commonality of the two rites:
  1. A liturgical day begins the evening prior to the calendar day with Vespers. This derives from the Mosaic tradition (Exodus 29:38-39) of offering sacrifice in the morning and evening. The Temple eventually came to a regular schedule of prayer hours, much like the Divine Office, which is, in most ways, a Christianized version of the ancient Jewish public prayer. Saturday evening Vespers begin Sunday in the Byzantine tradition, as first Vespers begin a feast—and in some sense, Sunday—in the Roman tradition.
  2. The celebration of the Eucharist, call it Mass or Divine Liturgy, is integral to the mysteries and prayer of a given day, but does not encompass all of it. The Divine Office and Eucharist together comprise the observance of a feast, Sunday, or feria.
Now, let us look at the Triduum!

Mandy/Great and Holy Thursday

Archbishop Soroka washes feet at Ss. Cyril and Methodius
In the Byzantine tradition, dark vestments are used on this day. My parish, which has limited means, uses crimson red. The day begins Wednesday evening with Vespers, with the usual introductory rites and psalm 103 ("Bless the Lord, my soul..."). Psalms 140, 141, and 129 are sung, the emphasis being "crying out" to the Lord. The stichera (hymns), which emphasize Judas' betrayal of the "Creator and Maker of all" to the Jews, are sung thereafter. The emphasis on the guilt of Judas never ceases, which impressed the first time I heard these hymns. All Christians are aware of the great betrayal, but I never thought of singing "the Apostle and Apostate" and the "spawn of the vipers" as a liturgical song. The Evening Hymn is sung, followed by prophecies from Exodus, Isaiah, and Job. This marks a quiet transition into the Divine Liturgy proper, wherein the institution narrative from St. Paul first epistle to the Church in Corinth is read. The Cherubic Hymn is replaced by the normal communion verse "Make me this day a sharer in your mystical supper, Oh Son of God...." (interestingly, this is sung as the communion antiphon this day in the Ambrosian rite) These verses are repeated several times, even after communion. The blessing at the end, which normally speaks of "Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is risen from the dead," instead reflects on the Lord's humility in washing His Apostles' feet and dying for us and them. In the Melkite Church, and presumably the Chalcedonian-Orthodox of Antioch, the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given between Vespers and the Divine Liturgy proper. In most parishes, but not my small parish, the celebrant washes the feet of twelve men after communion and before the dismissal. If the celebrant is a bishop, he is sure to wash the feet of some clergy. The same goes for an abbot in a monastery. The washing takes place outside of the Royal Doors, in the nave of the church. Mattins on Thursday morning continues the theme of betrayal, which is much stronger than in the Roman rite.
Tenebrae sung at St. Mary's in Norwalk, CT USA, an excellent little parish.
The Roman rite, oddly, does not begin with Vespers, as there are no first Vespers during Holy Week. But it does begin, powerfully, with the Wednesday evening service of Tenebrae—Mattins and Lauds of Mandy Thursday. There are no introductory rites and the psalms are actually ferial, not festal. The lessons from the Book of the Lamentations of Jeremias speak of tragic desolation of a lonely city—quomodo sedet sola civitas. The responsories speak of Christ asking for the cup to pass from Him and of His immanent betrayal. The antiphons on the Mattins psalms speak of fear, silence, disturbance, trembling, and judgment. After each psalm a candle on the hearse is extinguished, eventually leaving the church in darkness. Whereas Mattins and Lauds usually lead us out of the darkness of night into the service of God throughout the day, here we go from day into obscurity and trembling as the Divine Redemption begins to unfold. Lauds begins with psalm 50 and then 89, the antiphon on which says "The Lord was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and He opened not His mouth." The Miserere psalm is repeated again as part of the would-be suffrages and the remaining candles on the altar are snuffed, darkening the church. The clergy take their books and smash them to create an earthquake-like noise, reminiscent of the one following the Crucifixion. Mass is sung after None, in practice in the morning. The introit is Nos autem gloriari and the Gloria is sung, but the rest of the Mass pertains to the Last Supper. The Epistle is the same as in the Byzantine liturgy and the Gospel is St. John's account of Christ washing the Apostles' feet. The vestments are white for the Mass but not for the rest of the day. My own cheesy interpretation of this is that it is like a going-away for a beloved friend who you know you will not see again for a long time; festive, but surreal and sad. In reality this is probably a Roman oddity: Byzantium used dark vestments, Milan used black, and the Gallican and Norman rites used red. After Mass a procession brings the Blessed Sacrament to an altar of repose and the Vespers follows. The altars of the church are stripped and washed. At a side altar, in the afternoon, the celebrant washes the feet of thirteen men, after having repeated the Gospel of the Mass. The priest wears a penitential violet for this ceremony, which many once considered a possible Sacrament.

Good/Holy and Great Friday

A typical epitaphios
In the Byzantine rite Great and Holy Friday begins with a long Mattins on Thursday evening. The Byzantine rite, which is actually sparse in its Scripture readings compared to the Roman rite, has twelve lessons on this day, beginning with chapters 13-18 of the Gospel of St. John. In some churches twelve candles are lit and gradually extinguish after each reading. A crucifix with an icon-style corpus is placed in the nave and all adore it. A hymn describing Christ as the "Bridegroom of the Church" transfigured by the nails of the Cross  precedes the adoration. After the Little Hours, around 3:00 PM, a Deposition from the Cross service takes place. It is a Vespers service and the Gospel Passion according to St. Matthew, although with interpolations from all the accounts, is sung by the deacon. The reading encompasses Christ's burial in the tomb of St. Joseph of Arimathea. At the end of the service the icon-styled corpus is removed from the Cross and "buried" in an embroidered cloth called the epitaphios, which is placed within a bier. Once again all adore. Compline follows.
In the Roman rite the day once again begins with Tenebrae and the exact same ceremonies as the previous Tenebrae on Mandy Thursday. The last nocturne of Mattins contained excerpts from St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, wherein the Apostle describes the two-edged sword of faith, hopes he maintains his, and emphasizes that faith is a living thing. The versicle before the second Miserere at Lauds adds mortem autem crucis. On Friday, in the morning or around noon, the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified takes place. Structured like a Mass, the celebrant and his deacons wear their normal vestments, albeit the black of Masses of death, and take their places according to Mass ceremonial. A prophecy from Osee and from the book of Exodus are read. The Passion according to St. John is sung, followed by collects for the needs of the Church and then, in three successive and dramatic stages, a Cross is unveiled for public adoration. The clergy and the people "creep" to the Cross in three double-genuflections. A Blessed Sacrament procession brings the Host consecrated the previous day to the altar and a "Mass" begins with the offertory and incensing of the altar. The Host is elevated and a fragment is mixed with the wine in the chalice. The celebrant consumes the Host and the contents of the chalice and purifies his fingers and the vessels as usual. Vespers follows immediately, as yesterday. Compline is sung in the late afternoon. Around 3:00 PM a deposition service takes place, during which the corpus is removed from the Cross and "buried" in a sepulcher created in  side chapel. Some churches in England and Northern Europe will put a crown of thorns and nails in the tomb.
A Deposition service

[Great and] Holy Saturday

A bishop before the change of vestments
On the last day of the Triduum the story gets really interesting. Great and Holy Saturday starts Friday evening with Mattins (often called "Jerusalem Mattins," as many Byzantine and Roman ceremonies were inspired or transposed from the Church in Jerusalem), a lengthy service with opening rites, six psalms, and then psalm 118 sung with long interpolations praising Christ's adoration by the angels in the tomb and the conquest of Hades. The Canon follows, concluding with the Laudate psalms from Lauds. The message at the end is that the proscription to rest on the seventh day was a prophecy of Christ's Saturday in the tomb, intimating that the eighth day would be a new creation! A litany, dismissal, and Marian hymn conclude Mattins. The Vesperal Liturgy, theoretically something in the afternoon of Saturday, in practice takes place in the morning for pastoral reasons. It begins with, you guessed it, Vespers! Black, or whatever dark color is available, is the color of the day thus far. The stichera begin to anticipate the Resurrection of the Lord ("for you alone manifested resurrection to the world!") and the lamentation of Hades ("my power is destroyed"). Fifteen Old Testament prophecies are read and any converts are baptized. The Canticle of the Three Children segues into the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. Prior to the Gospel, St. Matthew's account of the Resurrection, the clergy change their black vestments for white—quite a sight! A hymn of "silence" and "trembling" replaces the Cherubic hymn. The Hirmos is one of Jesus comforting His Mother rather than the usual "It is truly right...." Bread and figs are blessed at the end.
The deacon awaiting the Paschal fire in the old Roman Holy Saturday liturgy.
The Roman rite parallels strongly. Tenebrae again commences the liturgical day on Friday night. The Vesperal Liturgy starts Saturday after None, in practice mid-morning. Penitential violet is worn. A fire is blessed outside using three collects and the fire is brought into the church by a triple-wicked candle held by the deacon. The Paschal Candle is blessed and lit by the deacon during the Exsultet. Twelve prophecies from the Old Testament (four of which are to be found in the Byzantine rite) are read, telling of the gradual plan of salvation. The baptismal font is blessed and converts are baptized. The place of the baptisms, in a formerly-empty font, after the reading of the prophecies of old anticipating Christ have an un-mistakable purpose: baptism realizes for us the end of the prophecy and the beginning of the actual salvation; as the church is born anew by blessing, fire, and water from Christ, so too are these converted sinners; they are part of God's eighth day of Creation. The Litany of Saints begins and transitions into the actual Mass, taking the place of the Introit. The ministers change from violet to white vestments. At the Gloria bells are rung in joy. At the Gospel no candles are carried, as Christ's Resurrection, liturgically, is anticipated, but has not actually happened yet. There is no offertory chant and the Agnus Dei is omitted after the Canon. After communion a short Vespers with psalm 116 and the Magnificat are sung. A large [and well deserved] meal follows the Mass with Compline in the late afternoon or early evening.


from: Huffington Post

Pascha in the Byzantine rite could be said to start with the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great in the morning, but it is most firmly felt on Saturday evening, usually an hour or so before midnight, when Pascha Sunday is about to begin. After the midnight office the epitaphios with the corpus of the Lord is venerated once again. All lights are extinguished save for the trikirion, a small candlestick on the altar. The celebrant invites all to come and receive the "light not overtaken by night." The people congregate outside after lighting their own candles and are met by the clergy. The constantly repeated "Christ is risen from the dead and by His death He has trampled upon death and has given life to those who were in the tombs" is sung. An account of the Resurrection is then sung and the celebrant, with his blessing cross, knocks on the door of the church and announces the "King of Glory" to the poor man pretending to be the Evil One inside. The procession bursts into the church, bathed in light and fully illuminated. Mattins follows. The Paschal Canon is sung in full with the litany and Magnificat at the end. Twice during Mattins a deacon censes the people and gives them the Paschal greeting "Christ is risen! He is truly risen!" At the end the priest reads the Paschal sermon of St. John Chrysostom. The hours are sung in a very abbreviated form, entirely without psalms, and the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom follows. After the Liturgy the faithful venerate an icon of the Resurrection rather than a blessing cross.
In Rome Pascha began with the Gloria during the Holy Saturday rites. On Saturday evening Paschal Mattins and Lauds are sung. Throughout Northern Europe the images in the churches would be unveiled and the Cross would be "raised" from the sepulcher and adored once more, as on Good Friday. A procession would then arrive at the high altar, vested with the best frontal and all candles in the church lit. Mattins is just psalms 1-3 and a sermon of Pope St. Gregory the Great. No canticles or hymns. The celebrant and cantors them vest in the best copes and begin Lauds. The antiphons on the first and third psalms commemorate the angel rolling back the stone on the Lord's tomb and the earthquake that followed respectively—we are clearly re-visiting the Resurrection at this moment! Haec dies... "This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice therein" replaces the chapter and there is no hymn before the Benedictus. The dismissal has a double-alleluia and the Regina coeli finally ends the service.

Worth Noting

After these long, and possibly trivial, descriptions the similarities might be obscured by an overload of information, so let us consider the Triduum day-by-day:
  • Thursday: it actually begins Wednesday night, in shadows. The office marks the point of transition between days. The office and Eucharist together form the complete prayer of the Church, as the Mass/Divine Liturgy is limited in what it can say to two readings. Tenebrae contains the full realm of Christ's betrayal, His worries, human fear, darkness, and also the institution of the Eucharist. The same is true in the Byzantine rite, which examines the Agony in the Garden and the betrayal in depth at Vespers. Also notable is that the foot-washing does not interrupt the Mass/Divine Liturgy in either rite and follows the Biblical flow of events by coming after the Eucharist.
  • Friday: begins with Mattins on Thursday evening in both rites. A Cross is revealed and adored in both. Vespers precedes the Deposition ceremony in both rites, which are both held when Our Lord has, liturgically, died, at 3:00 PM. The sepulcher and the epitaphios serve the same purpose.
  • Saturday: again begins with Mattins the evening prior, although Tenebrae gets shorter as the Triduum progresses whereas Saturday Mattins in the Byzantine rite is very long. In both rites the Resurrection is anticipated, not outright celebrated. The Byzantine tradition emphasizes the Harrowing of Hades directly while the Roman tradition does so implicitly. The Vesperal Liturgy in both rites would presumably be celebrated in the afternoon but for pastoral reasons is celebrated in the morning. Both include Vespers, a large number of prophecies meant to denote the story of salvation leading to baptism and God's new Creation in the Resurrection, and a joyful transition from a penitential service into a joyful Mass/Divine Liturgy.
  • Pascha: tomorrow still begins tonight! The Cross/epitaphios is venerated one last time and the church is illuminated for Paschal Mattins and Lauds.
The Rad Trad hopes his readers got something out of this lengthy piece. The crossover between the two is significant and should give Roman liturgists who flirt with the "East" some reason to re-evaluate how we have done our Triduum in the last few decades.  Heck, maybe the Latin Mass Society or Una Voce could start doing the old Holy Week on the grounds of ecumenism....


  1. A most excellent post. It seems certainly that our Eastern brethren have well retained the sense of the liturgical day. Interesting that the Triduum in the East is treated as festal (i.e. with First Vespers) as opposed to the Roman Liturgy which treats the three days as Feriae (i.e. lacking First Vespers). I wonder how well imbibed is the Byzantine Divine Office among the praxes and consciousness of the laity as opposed to its near non-existence among their Western, devotionalist counterparts.

    Our parish in Southern NJ celebrates Tenebrae (sadly in the broad daylight of the mornings of the Triduum), but we follow the 1954 rubrics otherwise, inclusive of the repetition of Ps. 50 after the Christus Factus and the strepitus et frigor librorum. The Masses/Eucharistic Liturgies are sadly, still 1962.

    1. John, thank you for reading again! The days are not necessarily festive in the sense we understand. We tend to think of feasts as days with first and second Vespers (really any day semi-double or higher), but the Eastern tradition does not really have this idea. Sunday Vespers are on Saturday; Monday Vespers are on Sunday etc. Having Vespers of Pentecost on Saturday and Sunday is a Roman thing actually, in the Byzantine tradition Vespers of Pentecost would only be on Saturday, not both days. So I would say that the Byzantine Great Week treats the days is a ferial-ish manner. The laity tend to be very well adjusted to the Office for two reasons: 1-they tend to have Vespers at the parish level at least once a week (usually Wednesday or Saturday) rather than weekday Eucharist 2-the Office has enough constant parts for the faithful to learn them (we lost this with an excess of hymns, the variability of the little hours, and other things resulting from Divino Afflatu).

      Glad to hear your parish is sort of doing things the "rite" way! Perhaps they are slowly progressing towards the older rites!

  2. Indeed, Batiffol mentioned how Second Vespers was a relative newcomer to the liturgical day.

  3. "the celebrant and his deacons wear their normal vestments, albeit the black of Masses of death"
    Just a small point in this excellent article. The celebrant is accompanied by a deacon and sub-deacon (although usually both are actually in reality priest) and they wear black folded chasubles, very ancient and symbolic garments - the only time these vestments are worn during the year.(Purple folded chasubles being worn in Lent, Advent and on Ember Days)

    1. Andrew, thanks for the compliment. By "normal vestments" I meant their normal vestments for liturgies of penitential nature (which would be the folded chasuble) and that black is only worn in association with death in the Roman rite.

  4. Kind of strange singing the Exultet during the day when it says "haec nox est", no? Can you give us any more details on the pastoral reasons which led the Vesperal Liturgy being pushed to morning?

  5. "..interestingly, this is sung as the communion antiphon this day in the Ambrosian rite.."

    Even better: Coenae tuae mirabili is sung up to this day as the Ambrosian Postevangelium (that would be analogous to the Roman Offertorium) for Mandy Thursday.

    And if I remember correctly. only on this day is the schola (as stand-ins for ordained clerics?) directed to surround the altar to execute this chant (as seen in the 2010 video below).

    Echoes of the Great Entrance?

  6. By "double-alleluia" do you mean "Alleluia, Alleluia, glory be to thee, O God!"?