| By Bishop Joe S. Vásquez

Celebrating Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection This Easter

Editor: The joy of Easter is coming soon, but first we must walk with Jesus to the cross during Holy Week and the Triduum. What is the Triduum and what is its significance in our faith?

Bishop Vásquez: The Triduum are the final three days of Holy Week. As Catholics, we consider the Triduum the most sacred time of the year. During these three days, we enter more deeply and fully into the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The church sees the Triduum as one celebration that spans three days: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. These three days are about the mystery of Christ and how we are united in that mystery with him.

Editor: Why are Masses not celebrated on Good Friday?

Bishop Vásquez: Good Friday is the only day of the year in which the church abstains from celebrating the Eucharist. Out of reverence and love for Jesus, who willingly laid down his life to save us on Good Friday, we do not celebrate Mass. This is a tradition that has been passed down through the ages. On Good Friday we fast and abstain from meat, and we venerate the cross as a sign of our love and devotion for that cross that brought salvation to the world.

Editor: The Easter Vigil, which is held on the evening of Holy Saturday, is rich with Scripture and tradition. How and why is it different from Mass on Easter Sunday?

Bishop Vásquez: The Easter Vigil is the culmination of the Triduum and the beginning of the Easter season. It is filled with rich symbolism. It begins on Holy Saturday after sunset outside of the church with the lighting of the paschal fire. Then the paschal candle is lit and leads the procession into the church as the congregation sings “alleluia” because Christ is risen from the dead. 

The Vigil is a beautiful way for us to enter into the resurrection of Christ and into the joyful celebration of Easter. Several passages from Scripture are proclaimed — they begin with the story of creation and God’s salvation of the people of Israel in the exodus, and then we hear the prophets announcing the coming of the Savior. Finally, we hear the proclamation of the Gospel, which announces the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. After the readings and homily, the church welcomes new Christians as they are initiated, baptized, confirmed and receive the Eucharist. This is always a joyful celebration!

The Vigil is a beautiful way for us to enter into the resurrection of Christ and into the joyful celebration of Easter.

Editor: The paschal candle, as you mentioned, is given prominence during the whole Easter season. What's the significance of the candle?

Bishop Vásquez: The paschal candle signifies Christ himself as the light that conquered sin and death and dispelled the darkness. He is the one who  illuminates our lives and everything around us. The candle is a beautiful symbol of Christ, who lives forever and gives us his light.

During the baptismal celebration at the Easter Vigil, the candle is lowered into the baptismal font three times to symbolize how Christ conquered sin and death. The candle then is lit every day during the Easter season. From the paschal candle, baptismal candles are lit and given to the newly baptized. When a sacrament is celebrated during the Easter season, the paschal candle is lit. The paschal candle is our primary symbol of the life Jesus offers us through his passion, death and resurrection.

Editor: Easter is not just one Sunday. Why do we celebrate for 50 days?

Bishop Vásquez: The Easter season is celebrated for 50 days. The mystery of Christ risen from the dead is fully appreciated and experienced not just in a single day; to take it in fully we must hear and experience this mystery over several weeks. Easter ends as we celebrate the feast of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. On this great feast, we celebrate the birth of the church. 

In the Easter season, during the first reading at Mass instead of reading from the Old Testament, we read from the Acts of the Apostles. These readings tell the story of the church’s earliest days and how the faith spread through the work of the apostles and the Holy Spirit. The season of Easter is a joyous celebration that reminds us Christ is always present with his church.

Editor: What is your prayer as we enter the passion, death and resurrection of Christ?

Bishop Vásquez: I pray that each one of us will enter more deeply into the mystery of Jesus Christ. May each one of us experience within our own lives the Lord's passion, death and resurrection, so that we may become true disciples of the Lord and proclaim Christ who has risen and lives and reigns for forever and ever. Amen. 

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez is the fifth bishop of the Austin Diocese, which is home to more than 700,000 Catholics. For details, visit the diocesan website at austindiocese.org.