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Rubrics for the Triduum

Congregation for Divine Worship
from the Circular Letter on Lent and the Triduum

In 1988 the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome issued extensive guidelines for the celebration of Lent and the Triduum. Every priest, musician and liturgist should read this document during Lent. I'll bet there are many surprises!

Some examples:

3. However, in some areas where initially the reform of the Easter Vigil was received enthusiastically, it would appear that with the passage of time this enthusiasm has begun to wane. The very concept of the Vigil has almost come to be forgotten in some places with the result that it is celebrated as if it were an evening Mass, in the same way and at the same time as the Mass celebrated on Saturday evening in anticipation of the Sunday.


11. The Sundays of Lent take precedence over all feasts and all solemnities. Solemnities occurring on these Sundays are observed on the preceding Saturday. The weekdays of Lent have precedence over obligatory memorials.

13. The faithful should try to attend weekday Mass and where this is not possible they should at least be encouraged to read the lessons, either with their family or in private.

14. The Lenten season should retain something of its penitential character. As regards catechesis, it is important to impress on the minds of the faithful not only the social consequences of sin but also that aspect of the virtue of penance, which involves the detestation of sin as an offence against God.

15. Pastors should devote themselves to the ministry of reconciliation, and provide sufficient time for the faithful to avail themselves of this sacrament.

16. The Roman tradition of the "stational" churches can be recommended as a model for gathering the faithful in one place. In this way the faithful can assemble in larger numbers, especially under the leadership of the bishop of the diocese, or at the tombs of the saints, or in the principal churches of the city or sanctuaries, or some place of pilgrimage which has a special significance for the diocese.

17. In Lent the altar should not be decorated with flowers, and musical instruments may be played only to give necessary support to the singing; this is in order that the penitential character of the season be preserved.

23. The first Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of the annual Lenten observance. In the Mass of this Sunday there should be some distinctive elements which underline this important moment; e.g. the entrance procession with the Litany of the Saints.

25. On the fourth Sunday of Lent Laetare and on solemnities and feasts, musical instruments way be played and the altar decorated with flowers. Rose-colored vestments may be worn on this Sunday.

26. The practice of covering the crosses and images [statues] in the church may be observed, if the episcopal conference should so decide. The crosses are to be covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord's passion on Good Friday. Images are to remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.

Holy Week

29. [On palm Sunday] the commemoration of the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem has, according to ancient custom, been celebrated with a solemn procession, in which the faithful in song and gesture imitate the Hebrew children who went to meet the Lord singing "Hosanna." The procession may take place only once, before the Mass which has the largest attendance, even if this should be in the evening either of Saturday or Sunday. The congregation should assemble in a secondary church or chapel or in some other suitable place distinct from the church to which the procession will move. In this procession the faithful carry palm or other branches. The priest and the ministers, also carrying branches, precede the people. The palms or branches are blessed so that they can be carried in the procession. Pastors should make every effort to ensure that this procession in honour of Christ the King be so prepared and celebrated that it is of great spiritual significance in the life of the faithful.

30. The Missal, in order to commemorate the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem, in addition to the solemn procession described above, gives two other forms, not simply for convenience, but to provide for those situations when it will not be possible to have the procession.

33. For the spiritual good of the faithful the Passion should be proclaimed in its entirety, and the readings which precede it should not be omitted.

Triduum in General

39. The Easter fast is sacred on the first two clays of the Triduum, in which according to ancient tradition the Church fasts "because the Spouse has been taken away." Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence; it is also recommended that Holy Saturday be so observed, so that the Church, with uplifted and welcoming heart, be ready to celebrate the joys of the Sunday of the Resurrection.

40. It is recommended that there be a communal celebration of the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. This Office, formerly called Tenebrae, held a special place in the devotion of the faithful, as they meditated upon the passion, death and burial of the Lord, while awaiting the announcement of the Resurrection.

42. The chants of the people and also of the ministers and the celebrating priest are of special importance in the celebration of Holy Week and particularly of the Easter Triduum, because they add to the solemnity of these days, and also because the texts are more effective when sung. In larger churches where the resources permit, a more ample use should be made of the Church's musical heritage, both ancient and modern, always ensuring that this does not impede the active participation of the faithful.

Holy Thursday

48. The tabernacle should be completely empty before the celebration.

50. During the singing of the hymn Gloria in excelsis, in accordance with local custom, the bells may be rung, and should thereafter remain silent until the Gloria in excelsis of the Easter Vigil, unless the conference of bishops or the local ordinary, for a suitable reason, has decided otherwise. During this same period the organ and other musical instruments may be used only for the purpose of supporting the singing.

51. The washing of the feet of chosen men which, according to tradition, is performed on this day, represents the service and charity of Christ, who came "not to be served, but to serve." This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained.

52. Gifts for the poor, especially those collected during Lent as the fruit of penance, may be presented in the offertory procession, while the people sing Ubi caritas.

54. The rite of transfer of the Blessed Sacrament may not be carried out if the liturgy of the Lord's Passion will not be celebrated in that same church on the following day.

55. [After Mass] the Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a closed tabernacle. Under no circumstances may it be exposed in a monstrance. The place where the tabernacle is situated must not be made to resemble a tomb, and the expression "tomb" is to be avoided: for the chapel of repose is not prepared so as to represent the "Lord's burial" but for the custody of the Eucharistic Bread that will be distributed in Communion on Good Friday.

57. After Mass the altar should be stripped. It is fitting that any crosses in the church be covered with a red or purple veil, unless they have already been veiled on the Saturday before the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Lamps [candles] should not be lit before the images of saints.

Good Friday

61. All celebration of the sacraments on this day is strictly prohibited, except for the Sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick.

62. It is recommended that on this day the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer be celebrated with the participation of the people in the churches (cf. n. 40)

65. The priest and ministers proceed to the altar in silence, and without any singing. If any words of introduction are to be said, they should be pronounced before the ministers enter. The priest and ministers make a reverence to the altar prostrating themselves. This act of prostration, which is proper to the rite of the day, should be strictly observed, for it signifies both the abasement of "earthly man," and also the grief and sorrow of the Church. The faithful for their part, as the ministers enter, should be standing, and thereafter should kneel in silent prayer.

67. The general intercessions are to follow this wording and form handed down by ancient tradition, maintaining the full range of intentions, so as to signify clearly the universal effect of the Passion of Christ, who hung on the Cross for the salvation of the whole world.

69. The Cross is to be presented to each of the faithful individually for their veneration, since the personal veneration of the Cross is a most important feature in this celebration, and only when necessitated by the large numbers of faithful present should the rite of veneration be made simultaneously by all present. Only one Cross should be used for the veneration, as this contributes to the full symbolism of the rite. During the veneration of the Cross the antiphons, the Reproaches, and hymns should be sung, so that the history of salvation be commemorated through song.

71. After the celebration, the altar is stripped, the Cross remaining, however, with four candles. An appropriate place (for example the chapel of repose used for reservation of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday) can be prepared within the church, and there the Lord's Cross is placed so that the faithful may venerate and kiss it, and spend some time in meditation.

72. Devotions, such as the Way of the Cross... are not, for pastoral reasons, to be neglected. Such devotions should be assigned to a time of day that makes it quite clear that the liturgical celebration by its very nature far surpasses them in importance.

Holy Saturday

73. It is highly recommended that on this day the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer be celebrated with the participation of the people (cf. n. 40). Where this cannot be done, there should be some celebration of the Word of God, or some act of devotion suited to the mystery celebrated on this day.

74. The image of Christ crucified or lying in the tomb, or the descent into hell, which mystery Holy Saturday recalls, as also an image of the Sorrowful Virgin Mary can be placed in the church for the veneration of the faithful.

75. On this day the Church abstains strictly from the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass. Holy Communion may be given only in the form of Viaticum. The celebration of marriages is forbidden, as also the celebration of other sacraments, except those of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick.

The Easter Vigil

78. The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil takes place at night [not evening]. It should not begin before nightfall; it should end before daybreak on Sunday. This rule is to be taken according to its strictest sense. Reprehensible are those abuses and practices which have crept in in many places in violation of this ruling, whereby the Easter Vigil is celebrated at the time of day that it is customary to celebrate anticipated Sunday Masses.

82. In so far as possible, a suitable place should be prepared outside the church for the blessing of the new fire, whose flames should be such that they genuinely dispel the darkness and light up the night. The paschal candle should be prepared, which for effective symbolism must be made of wax, never be artificial, be renewed each year, be only one in number, and be of sufficiently large size, so that it may evoke the truth that Christ is the light of the world. The light from the paschal candle should be gradually passed to the candles which it is fitting that all present should hold in their hands, the electric lighting being switched off.

85. Wherever possible, all the readings should be read in order that the character of the Easter Vigil, which demands the time necessary, be respected at all costs. Where, however, pastoral conditions require that the number of readings be reduced, there should be at least three readings from the Old Testament, taken from the Law and the Prophets; and the reading from Exodus chapter 14 with its canticle must never be omitted.

87. The priest intones the "Alleluia" three times, each time raising the pitch. The people repeat it after him. If it is necessary, the psalmist or cantor may sing the "Alleluia," which the people then take up as an acclamation to be interspersed between the verses of Psalm 118.

88. Even if there are no candidates for Baptism, the blessing of baptismal water should still take place in parish churches. If this blessing does not take place at the baptismal font but in the sanctuary, baptismal water should be carried afterwards to the baptistery there to be kept throughout the whole of paschal time.

93. The Easter Vigil Liturgy should be celebrated in such a way as to offer to the Christian people the riches of the prayers and rites. It is therefore important that authenticity be respected, that the participation of the faithful be promoted, and that the celebration should not take place without servers, readers and choir exercising their roles.

95. In announcements concerning the Easter Vigil care should be taken not to present it as the concluding period of Holy Saturday, but rather it should be stressed that the Easter Vigil is celebrated "during Easter night," and that it is one single act of worship. Pastors should be advised that in giving catechesis to the people they should be taught to participate in the Vigil in its entirety.

Easter Sunday and Eastertide

98. The tradition of celebrating baptismal Vespers on Easter Day with the singing of psalms during the procession to the font should be maintained where it is still in force, and as appropriate restored.

99. The paschal candle has its proper place either by the ambo or by the altar and should be lit at least in all the more solemn liturgical celebrations of the season until Pentecost Sunday, whether at Mass, or at Morning and Evening Prayer.

103. Throughout the Easter season the neophytes should be assigned their own special place among the faithful. All neophytes should endeavour to participate at Mass along with their godparents. In the homily and, according to local circumstances, in the general intercessions mention should be made of them. Some celebration should be held to conclude the period of mystagogical catechesis on or about Pentecost Sunday, depending upon local custom. It is also appropriate that children receive their First Communion on one or other of the Sundays of Easter.

107. This sacred period of fifty days concludes with Pentecost Sunday, when the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, the beginnings of the Church and the start of her mission to all tongues and peoples and nations are commemorated. Encouragement should be given to the prolonged celebration of Mass in the form of a Vigil, whose character is not baptismal as in the Easter Vigil, but is one of urgent prayer, after the example of the Apostles and disciples, who persevered together in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as they awaited the Holy Spirit.

It would be wise to read the Circular Letter in its entirety.

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