Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Roman and Byzantine Triduum (repost with new material)

The rites of Holy Week quickly approach us now that we are passing through Passiontide in anticipation of the Passion and Resurrection of Our Lord. Herein is [mostly] a repost of a past article I wrote concerning the striking similarities between the Roman and Byzantine (Eastern Roman if one thinks about it) rites for Holy Week with a few new thoughts interspersed to entice readership. Enjoy!

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 Thomist 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.
  3. The entire liturgy comprises the opus Dei, not just the Eucharist or any other one portion of it. Opus Dei does not indicate work men do to glorify God, but rather work He does for us and on our behalf. Indeed the word liturgy comes to us from a Greek term for "work of public service," the service being something God does for the public and not the other way around. With this in mind the Catholic must realize that God is present and "working" among the Church in all the rites of Holy Week
Now, let us look at the Triduum!

Mandy/Great and Holy Thursday

Archbishop Soroka washes feet at Ss. Cyril and Methodius
from: blogs.thetimes-tribune.com
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 me 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 act. 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 to all the faithful between Vespers and the Divine Liturgy proper. During the periods of time when the Eastern Christians suffered persecution under Islam, or suffered an organizational duress, there were fewer and fewer priests available to give absolution for sins, a faculty which in the Eastern and Western tradition must be given explicitly by the bishop; otherwise one could confess to a priest or any other person, but not receive absolution. As a means of forgiving sins priests would give the Unction of the Sick prior to the Eucharistic Sacrifice during Great Week, interpolating it into the vesperal liturgy for Holy Thursday. As St. John Chrysostom wrote 1,600 years ago, "Is there anyone among you sick? Let him call in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he has committed sins, he shall be forgiven."

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.

Should the Roman celebrant be a diocesan bishop oils are blessed for use throughout the coming year during the Mass. The Canon of the Mass stops, the only time when this happens in the Roman rite, and olive oil is then blessed and "breathed" on by the bishop and twelve priests, making it a work of Christ's priesthood which he imparted to His Apostles that night. The work of Christ during the Canon of Mass and during the blessing of oils is the same Melchizedek priesthood.

Good/Holy and Great Friday

A typical epitaphios
from: orthodoxytoday.org
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 incensation 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
source: uocofuse.org
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. During the Vesperal Liturgy converts are baptized and chrismated into the Church.
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. Lastly, priesthood is diffused and manifested by the use of holy oils. The blessing of oil in the Roman rite and the forgiveness of sins by oil in the Byzantine rite are two sides of Christ's one priestly function which he passed on to His Apostles that night (it also makes the concoction of "Chrism Masses" in the Roman rite something of a travesty).
  • 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 reveal 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. The inclusion of Baptism in both rites is also critical. Water, aside from being the "matter" used in Baptism is also representative of matter, creation, the world, and chaos. By blessing it and using it for Baptism, Christ and His Church sanctify it and reserve it and the rest of the restored creation for His use.
  • Pascha: tomorrow still begins tonight! The Cross/epitaphios is venerated one last time and the church is illuminated for Paschal Mattins and Lauds, which is when the Resurrection is actually celebrated.
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, what basic ideas and frames of mind we have put aside, and what needs to be recovered.  Heck, maybe the Latin Mass Society or Una Voce could start doing the old Holy Week on the grounds of ecumenism.... Ironic, is it not, that one is more likely to see the Roman Triduum at an Eastern Catholic or Eastern Orthodox parish than at any Roman Catholic parish? 


  1. An overwhelming, but loving article! It is striking how the traditional liturgies focuses on the same important matters, and in a striking similar way!! I cannot actually realize how did the Pian reformers find any support to their destructions - do you know something of this?

    On the other hand, I would like to post some questions which spur me.

    1) Where can we find the rubrics and ceremonies of the rites of deposition (Good Friday) and new elevation of the Cross (Holy Saturday evening)? I would like to study them closer, because I didn't know they were still performed by 1950.

    2) The lighting of the people's candles reminds me strikingly to the lightning of the candles in the Pian Paschal Vigil. Is it just my imagination, or could it exist (in ancient times) some Roman parallel to the Byzantine ceremony in the Mattins, which the reformers wrongly interpreted as a part of an ancient midnight Vigil, and so they inserted it in the new rite?

    Perhaps it would be so interesting to compare also the Triduum rites from Ambrosian, Aquileian, Mozarabic, Bragan, Norman and "Gallican" liturgies - though it would require a pretty long time!

    Thank you for the post.
    Kyrie eleison

    1. I think they confused Paschal Orthros with what they, in the West, were then doing on Holy Saturday morning. There is a wonderful article in 'The Furrow' (sorry I can't give you the reference as I am typing this at work) from the early 1950s praising the new Easter Vigil and stating that Holy Saturday (morning) will now be as quiet as in a Greek church. The author clearly had no understanding of the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil and had probably visited a Greek church on Western Holy Saturday when the dates of Pascha were different.

      The Roman liturgy preserved the old Lucernarium at Vespers whilst the Byzantine rite moved the light ceremony to Mattins. I don't think there is any doubt that Paschal Orthros is a sublime and brilliant celebration of the Resurrection. Sadly the reformers wanted to equate the ancient Roman Holy Saturday service with that when really it is very clearly about the culmination of the path the adult catechumens had taken during Lent culminating in their symbolic death and resurrection in Baptism.

    2. Thank you, Rubricarius, for that wonderful explanation. It might also be worth saying that the Mass/Divine Liturgy is the real interpolation on Holy Saturday and not the other rites. In the Byzantine rite the prophecies, Baptism, and Vespers were done in concatenation and the Divine Liturgy was used as a glue to bind the three, hence why the epistle in the Vesperal Liturgy of St Basil is the same as the one read at any Byzantine Baptism. I suspect the Mass in the Roman Holy Saturday had the same purpose at first: it ended the catechumenate and *anticipated* the Resurrection.

      The deposition and resurrection ceremonies varied from region to region. It is still done in some parts of Poland and in the Latin rite at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. References to how it was done in Sarum can be found on pp 156 and 174 here: http://books.google.com/books?id=cyUBAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=sarum+missal+in+english+pearson&hl=en&sa=X&ei=EQVIU5ekJKn68QHZ74CoAQ&ved=0CDcQ6wEwAA#v=onepage&q=sarum%20missal%20in%20english%20pearson&f=false More was probably sung during those rites than is given in the text. Here is a more complete Latin version (pp 333 and 357) that has a procession and a specific hymn for the resurrection rite before Mattins and Lauds: http://books.google.com/books?id=-r9FAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=missale+ad+usum+sarum&hl=en&sa=X&ei=swZIU7iRK4jA8QHe94GoCw&ved=0CCwQ6wEwAA#v=onepage&q=missale%20ad%20usum%20sarum&f=false

      Hope that helps!

    3. Thank you very much!

      Can the Lucernarium cerimony be found in the (pre-Pius XII) Roman Breviary, or must I search in another book? Thank you one more time!

      I wish you a truly happy and HOLY Triduum, and a holier Pascha!

      Kyrie eleison