Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rites and Rituals For Lent, Easter, and Pentecost

Note: Earlier in Lent I presented the first half of Richard Price’s “Rites and Rituals For Lent, Easter, and Pentecost,” originally published in The Seasons, a small-circulation devotional publication I co-edited for seventeen years.  Richard intended it as an outline for readers wanting a brief reminder of the major themes for worship in this important part of the church year.  Here now is the second half, from Maundy Thursday through Pentecost.

Rites and rituals are an integral part of the liturgical and spiritual life of the church.  They provide a framework within the larger frame of the calendar of the church year.  The time from the season of Lent to the Day of Pentecost offers a great number of these rites and rituals, which permit us expression of our faith in a variety of liturgical settings. 

Easter Triduum / “The Three Days”


The Three Days begin at sundown on Maundy Thursday and climax at dawn on Easter Sunday.  During these days there is an incredible richness and variety of rites and rituals, which are appropriate to the pilgrimage from the upper room, to Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and resurrection.  It may not be possible to use all of the ritual, but careful planning can allow for use of many of the rites.

Maundy Thursday   (Liturgical Color: Scarlet or White)
 The tradition of the church tells us that this is the night when Jesus gathered his disciples in the Upper Room, and what took place was the institution of Holy Eucharist.  It is appropriate therefore to celebrate that institution “in the night in which he was betrayed.”

On this night Jesus washed his disciples feet as a sign of his servanthood.  In many traditions, the pastor will was the feet of a selection of the faithful, representing the institution of pastoral ministry to the servant church.

A moving end to this liturgy is the stripping of the altar.  All paraments are removed from the altar, along with the vessels and linens of the sacrament.  The clergy and the congregation then depart in semi-darkness and utter silence symbolizing the darkness that will come over the church on Good Friday.

Good Friday  (Liturgical Color: Black or no color)
The rituals of this day focus on the crucifixion of Jesus, and the cross upon which he died.  It is a liturgy of darkness and silence. 

The worship space is devoid of paraments, banners, flowers, and other decorations. A cross that cannot be removed should be veiled in black.  A large cross is carried in procession through the church and placed in front of the altar.  Lighted candles are carried with the cross and placed in stands on either side.  An antiphon, The Solemn Reproaches, is sung in adoration of the crucified Christ.  Following the antiphon there is silence for reflection.  During this time the assembly may come forward to the cross to make a sign of reverence,  which may include such actions as pausing before the cross, kneeling before it for prayer, touching or kissing it.  All then depart in silence

Another ritual, perhaps more familier, is The Office of Tenebrae, which consists of a series of readings.  Following each reading a candle is extinguished until there is complete darkness representing the extinguishing of the light of the world, Christ’s death on the cross.

Vigil of Easter  (Liturgical Color: Gold or White)
This is one of the most ancient liturgies of the church, when the catechumens were baptized and made members of the community.  The dynamic of the liturgy begins in darkness, representing Christ’s death and burial in the tomb.  As the liturgy progresses, light is added as the liturgy makes its way to the glorious celebration of Christ rising from the dead.

Traditionally, this liturgy begins in the late hour of the night, so that at midnight, the first hour of Easter Day, commences the celebration of the resurrection.

This liturgy is rich with ritual beginning with the bringing of new fire and the lighting of the paschal candle.  There follows the reading of the Easter Proclamation, and continuing with twelve readings from the Old Testament which rehearse God’s acts of salvation.  Following the homily, there is a litany of the saints, which is a prelude to administration of the Sacrament of Baptism and the reception of new members.  The liturgy concludes with a celebration of Holy Eucharist, during which the newly baptized received the sacrament for the first time.

Easter Vigil is a lengthly and complicated liturgy which should be well planned and rehearsed so that all participants understand the meaning of the liturgy and their role and responsibility.  It is possible to edit the liturgy, but the editing should be done with care to retain the various elements. 

Resurrection of Our Lord

Easter Day  (Liturgical Color: Gold or White)
It would be appropriate to begin this liturgy with the Thanksgiving for Baptism.   The Gloria in Excelsis, which was not sung during Lent, is now sung with joy and exhaultation.   If the Easter Vigil is not celebrated some of the elements of that liturgy could be included; Lighting of the Paschal Candle, the Sacrament of Baptism, and the Easter Proclamation

Sundays of Easter  (Liturgical Color: White)
These Sundays continue the joyous celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and again, it is appropriate to begin the liturgy with Thanksgiving for Baptism.

Ascension Day, Day of Pentecost

Ascension Day  (Liturgical Color: White)
Ascension Day falls on the Thursday between the sixth and seventh Sundays of the Easter season, and in recent generations has essentially been ignored, most likely because it falls on a week day.  The celebration of this day could very well be transferred to the seventh Sunday so that if offers a bridge to the Day of Pentecost.  There are no particular rituals associated with this day, but it would be appropriate to continue the continuity of the season with use of Thanksgiving for Baptism.

Day of Pentecost  (Liturgical Color: Red)
This day is sometimes called “the birth day of the church,” since its focus is on the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower the disciples.  Appropriate rituals for this day include Thanksgiving for Baptism, Confirmation, Reception of New Members, and the Rite of Ordination to Pastoral Ministry.

 Richard Hammond Price, OCC
©  2009

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