Any liturgist will tell you that the best way to teach about liturgy is to celebrate richly and robustly. The Triduum, which is only weeks away, is without a doubt the most robust sacramental celebration in our life of worship and, as such, provides an extraordinary opportunity for quality adult faith formation simply by inviting people to play a role in the celebrations. Here are some ideas for how to make that happen.
Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
- Invite a group of adults to organize a pot luck dinner several hours before the Mass begins to highlight the notion of serving others and to build community.
- Invite several adults to bring forth the sacred oils in procession at the beginning of Mass.
- Gather a group of adults to ring bells during the Gloria—a wonderful tradition mentioned in the Roman Missal.
- Recruit a number of adults to assist in the Washing of the Feet, especially assisting with towels, refilling pitchers, and emptying basins.
- Invite a number of adults to walk in procession when the Blessed Sacrament is transferred after Communion.
- Arrange a tour/pilgrimage of local churches after Mass while many churches are open for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Here is some background on the tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday.
Good Friday Passion of the Lord
- Invite a group of adults to organize a fish stick or tuna casserole dinner a few hours before the nighttime celebration of the Passion. Don’t make it a fish fry. Keep it purposefully simple. People normally would scoff at fish sticks, but on Good Friday, they’ll make an exception! (I’m speaking from my experience in parish ministry!)
- Involve as many adults as possible in the proclamation of the Passion. It need not (and should not) be a re-enactment. However, it is very effective to assign reading parts to a number of adults and have them seated in the assembly. When it is time for their lines, they simply stand and read them loudly.
- For the Veneration of the Cross, arrange to have one large cross that the entire assembly can venerate, and have a group of adults assist the priest or deacon in carrying the cross in and uncovering it. This same group of people can hold the cross as the faithful come forward to venerate.
- Assign a group of adults to strip the altar after the Dismissal.
Holy Saturday Easter Vigil
- Invite a number of adults to be on hand for distributing taper candles for all who arrive; don’t rely on the usual number of ushers.
- Invite the entire assembly to come forward to bless themselves with the newly blessed holy water (if the font is large enough) as part of the renewal of baptismal promises.
- Arrange a corps of volunteers to fill little plastic bottles with holy water to be handed to all in attendance at the end of Mass.
- Organize a group of adults to host a wine and cheese reception to follow the liturgy.
Such robust celebration of the Triduum requires a great deal of orchestration but it is worth it; the power of these liturgies to form us is enhanced by such robustness. The more adults we have participating in these three days, the more adults will be formed, which is the goal of adult catechesis. This is no time to keep things simple!
What other opportunities for involving adults in the celebration of the Triduum did I miss? If I suggested anything liturgically incorrect (I’m not a liturgist), politely correct me.
I’ve sat with this for several days before deciding to comment.
While I don’t disagree with any of your suggestions per se, I do worry a bit that the way in which they are offered might lead to what I view to be a common and problematic misinterpretation of what is meant by “full, conscious, and active participation.”
I think that we have a responsibility to catechize people such that they understand that each and every member of the assembly, as a member of the assembly, is called to full, conscious, and active participation. This is not limited to those with a special or particular role to play. While I certainly agree that for the Triduum to be celebrated well there are many roles to fill, and the principle of “one minister, one function” absolutely suggests that these multiple roles require multiple people, I would caution against the idea that people with a particular role to play are somehow “more involved” in the celebration. I make this comment more in the abstract than in the particular. That is to say, I recognize that in the real lives of real people, it may be that an invitation to serve in a particular role becomes the occasion for a great awareness and focus on the celebration. I just hope that people don’t stay there in such a way that if in future years they do not have a special role they still see the need to be actively engaged.
In concrete terms with regard to some of your suggestions:
The Holy Oils – I recommend selecting individuals with a personal connection to how the oils are used. For example, a person who visits the homebound or sick might be a good selection for the Oil of the Sick. A young person preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation might be a good person for the Sacred Chrism.
I recommend that the entire assembly be invited to participate in the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the place of repose at the conclusion of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Of course, this might depend on the particularities of the space and location, but ideally the place of repose is separate from the Church and large enough to accommodate a significant number of the faithful, since all the faithful are urged to spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In my own parish, the place of repose is the parish hall, which is set up appropriately in advance, and the entire assembly processes out of the Church into the hall.
The number of people proclaiming the Passion on Good Friday (and on Palm Sunday) should be as many as necessary to make a good proclamation – no more and no less.
With regard to the veneration of the Cross, the Roman Missal is clear that a single large cross is the ONLY method envisioned by the rite.
Brian, thanks so much for your thoughts and clarifications. I couldn’t agree with you more about the possible misinterpretation of what participation in the liturgy means. To clarify my point, I am suggesting that these be doorways through which we can invite people who normally do not choose to attend the Triduum so that they can get a taste of the power of these liturgies in hopes that they will make it a part of their lives for years to come. I agree that it is not wise to artificially create multiple roles at Mass so as to get more people to “participate,” however, the Triduum already involves a number of roles that need to be filled and we should make sure we’re not just asking the same people every year to fill those roles because we know they usually attend. Your clarifications and caution are greatly appreciated.