Three days changed the history of the world forever. The God who became incarnate died. He rose again to offer new life to all. And he left behind a memorial of his death by which we enter ever more deeply into this great mystery that changed history and the way we perceive it. Holy Thursday. Good Friday. The Easter Vigil. Three days we call "triduum."
Catechesis is an echoing of Christianity. It tells us a story so we can form our lives by it. No story surpasses the story of Easter. No catechesis challenges like the catechesis of the triduum. Each catechist accepts the responsibility of leading the community to a reflection on these great days, so the story may live in us, and we may echo it to others.
The point of lectionary catechesis is to root catechesis in the liturgical year. So, if you catechize catechumens, your weekly meeting will reflect upon the Scriptures for personal development and upon the church's doctrine for educational, moral, and spiritual formation. If you catechize school children, your regular themes will find their origins in the Bible. If you lead adult education or even just give an occasional talk, you can enrich your presentation by first reflecting on the teaching in light of the Scriptures from last Sunday.
Chances are you'll be taking Easter week off, so you might be thinking, "Break time! No lectionary catechesis this week!" That's OK if the assembly celebrated the triduum so well it needs a break, but it's not OK to let these Scriptures come and go without another thought. Just look at these readings: the passion of John! The story of the Last Supper! The news of the resurrection! And on and on. Eighteen readings in three Days! If you've got Easter week off, give thought to when you can take time with your group to reflect on some of these passages. Your catechesis will grow rich and your life will become imbued with the glory of Easter.
Holy Thursday (April 8, 1993)
Holy Thursday brings many people's thoughts directly to the second reading (1 Cor 11:23-26). Here Paul tells us the familiar story of Jesus taking bread and wine and sharing them as his body and blood. Paul was the first to record the story, and was followed by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
John's Last Supper includes no reference to food and drink, but it recounts an incident the other Gospels do not: the washing of the feet (13:1-15). This story of service inspires a vivid ritual that exemplifies service for the whole community.
The first reading (Ex 12:1-8, 11-14) puts the Last Supper in its historical context. The story of the passover becomes ritualized in a meal, and that celebration provides the framework for Jesus' passover liturgy, which in turn inspires our Mass.
Catechesis will obviously focus on some important themes: the Eucharist and its meaning; the real presence of Christ in this "memorial"; the passover and its promise of deliverance and freedom for all who are oppressed in any way in any society; the importance of service in the Christian life and its relationship to the Eucharist; and the role of story-telling in worship and catechesis alike.
Good Friday (April 9, 1993)
John's Passion (18:1-19, 42) is the greatest story ever told. The presider on Good Friday is relieved to read the missal's instruction, "a brief homily may be given." To try to do this text justice would require a much longer presentation. That task falls to the catechist. Here we meet a Jesus in charge of his destiny, yet one who suffers innocently at the hands of others. Any scene could be explored for its own message: the arrest, the confusion of the apostles, the betrayal of Judas, the denials of Peter, the trial of Jesus at the hand of civil authorities, the question of Jesus' kingship, the bartering for Barabbas, the crowd's demand for crucifixion, the way of the cross, the last words of Christ, the death on Calvary, and the care for his body. It's too much for one homilist, too much for one catechist. Pray over which scenes you and your group need to hear, and use them for catechesis. Pick up some more of them next year. It will take a lifetime to explore the meaning of the cross.
Some of the most poignant passages in the prophecy of Isaiah are the songs of the suffering servant. The fourth (52:13-53:12), which we hear today, proclaims hope even amidst its horror: "It was our infirmities that he bore... he was pierced for our offenses... and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses." This song helps us understand the meaning of Jesus' death: It wins redemption for us in spite of our sins. Our sins made the death of Jesus necessary, and his death makes our redemption possible.
The passage from the letter to the Hebrews (4:14-16, 5:7-9) humbly points out the obedience of Christ in accepting this mission.
Some themes from Good Friday simply must be addressed in catechesis: the meaning of Christ's redemptive death, the place of suffering in the life of the Christian, the hope the cross offers, and the marvelous forgiveness of sins that is ours through the ugliness of crucifixion.
The Easter Vigil (April 10, 1993)
It's April 10 if you celebrate the Vigil on Saturday night. But just so you know, the missal says we can start before dawn if we like. So it'll be April 11 if you start the Vigil at 4 or 5 a.m. Don't laugh! Some places do it and love it!
Up to nine Scripture readings may guide the course of the Vigil. I recommend we use them all: Easter is no time to cut corners. But if your community is proclaiming only a few, find out which ones they are, and explore them in catechesis.
The story of creation (Gn 1:1-2, 2) and the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 14:15, 15:1) are the two most important passages in the Old Testament. They are rightly proclaimed on the night of nights, but sadly many in our community who abstain from the Vigil will never hear these paradigmatic stories. We hear the creation myth because the resurrection of Christ introduces a new kind of creation, and the crossing of the waters foreshadows the waters of baptism. As Pharoah and his forces were destroyed in water, as Christ conquered death when water and blood flowed from his side on the cross, so the new Christian puts to death the forces of evil that enjoyed fair play prior to his or her baptism. And on the other side of the sea, on the other side of the cross, on the other side of baptism, lies new life.
The sacrifice of Isaac (Gn 22:1-18) foreshadows the sacrifice of Christ. As Isaac climbs the hill carrying the wood of his own sentence of death, so will Jesus. But both are rescued by the hand of God.
Isaiah (54:5-14) invokes images of marriage, abandonment, and the floodwaters of Noah to proclaim the enduring covenant of God. That covenant becomes fulfilled in the marriage of Christ and the church in the new order of grace.
In a further passage (55:1-11), Isaiah appeals to the thirsty to drink from the waters of God's mercy. The foreshadowing of baptismal refreshment is clear.
Baruch (3:9-15, 32-4:4) calls to those who have forsaken wisdom to come learn where prudence is. The wisdom of God, manifest in the new creation of Christ and the Spirit, calls us to a faithful living of the new covenant.
Ezechiel (36:16-28) offers the devastated people of Israel a new birth through water. Those who have been in exile will be restored to their homeland by a pouring out of God's water. Again, the comparison to baptism will be clear.
Paul explains the meaning of baptism in a classic passage from his letter to the Romans (6:3-11). The relationship between baptism and resurrection should stand out by now.
Finally, we hear Matthew's version of the story of stories (28:1-10). Jesus is risen! The event lives in its proclamation. The proclamation lives in ritual. The ritual lives in our lives. Here is Gospel. Here is Good News.
Catechesis may explore any of these passages. But reflecting on the Gospel story itself should remain part of each year's formation. We will grow in a deeper understanding of our baptism and its implications for Christian living.
Easter Sunday (April 11, 1993)
John's account of the first Easter day (20:1-9) stirs our hearts each year. Catechesis will proclaim that Christ rose, and offer the promise of resurrection for us all. It will also explain the importance of telling the Easter story in our conversation and in our lives.
An early example of proclamation comes to us in the first readings today (Acts 10:34, 37-43). Peter gives a speech that relates all we need to know about Gospel. It instructs us by its content and its occasion, and challenges us to belief and proclamation as well.
For the second reading we have a choice. Both passages (Col 3:14 and 1 Cor 5: 6-8) admonish us to let the message of Easter affect the way we live. History is different now that Christ is risen, and so are we.
If our celebration of Lent has led us to internal renewal as individuals and as a community, the triduum will be a time to celebrate who we have become. Our reflection upon these texts will confirm our faith within, by helping us see how Christ has acted in our lives the past six weeks. Our reflection will also call us forward to rejoice in Christ's presence and to proclaim it to the world.