"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
We are quickly approaching the Church's observance of the days of which our Lord spoke -- the days of His betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection. This sacred three-day period, the Triduum, is the kernel of the entire liturgical year. It begins on the evening of Holy Thursday and concludes on the evening of Easter Sunday. It is packed and overflowing with ancient symbolism and themes for profound meditation, not the least of which is the infinite dignity of human life.
The Triduum happened, after all, because of human life. God loves human beings, and the crucifixion and resurrection of God-in-the-flesh ushers human beings into eternal life. The "gates of heaven" are not made of silver or gold, but rather of human flesh and bones. Jesus brings to heaven the very same nature that all of us, born and unborn, share. The events of the Triduum are very physical: His Body given at the table, nailed to the cross, laid in the tomb, risen from the dead. These days give meaning to the human body. We are not free to neglect the body: we must feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, tend to the sick, and protect the unborn from the abortionists' forceps.
On Holy Thursday, Mass is not permitted without a congregation. It is the day on which the Lord gave the commandment of brotherly love, and gave us the Eucharist, which establishes communion among brothers and sisters. The washing of the feet reveals the meaning of the Eucharist and the cross: He laid down his life for us; so we must lay down our lives for one another. The Triduum teaches us, then, that it is our business when someone is unemployed, or discriminated against, or about to have an abortion. It is our business, because the business of a Christian is love.
No Mass is permitted on Good Friday, or during the day on Holy Saturday. The tabernacle is empty. The Church experiences the strange silence and emptiness of the first Good Friday. The Lord has been taken away. To love one another, we must be able to enter the other's emptiness. How deep, indeed, is the loneliness of the empty womb for those who have experienced abortion. It is a haunting emptiness, enduring through life, and crying out for our compassionate care.
Good Friday is also the day that the Lord gave us the greatest example of forgiveness. And He was a victim of capital punishment. It is a day to renew our determination to work for alternatives to the death penalty and alternatives to war.
The Day of Days is Easter. The Easter Vigil cannot begin before dark, because the Church wants to dramatize the fact that darkness (symbolizing sin and death) is conquered by light (symbolizing the Risen Christ). "Christ our Light!" the deacon proclaims. "Thanks be to God!" the people respond. Thanks, indeed, because the victory belongs to Life! Don't let anything take that Easter joy from you!