Just four days after His triumphant ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, Jesus celebrates the Passover Feast with His disciples… what is referred to as the Last Supper. It is what we celebrate on Holy Thursday, it is the beginning of the Sacred Triduum… the official start to the most sacred of days that reveal to the Faithful the actions of Christ’s redemption. This Sacred Triduum includes Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. It begins with the morning prayers on Thursday and ends at sundown on Holy Saturday, just prior to the Easter Vigil.
In most areas, there is a special Chrism Mass held at the Cathedral where all the priests, deacons, seminarians and the Bishop join together so that the Bishop can bless all of the Chrism Oils which will be used throughout the coming year to celebrate the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Extreme unction and the consecration of Altars and Churches. In our diocese the Chrism Mass is celebrated on Wednesday of Holy Week. If you ever have an opportunity to attend one, please do, as it is a beautiful Mass to celebrate. As we watched all the priests enter into the Cathedral, along with all the deacons and the seminarians following behind, it was truly a cause for joy…. a cause for great hope in the future of our Holy Church. To see so many men and young men intent on serving the Lord… intent on serving His Church with their all…with their everything. It was a reminder that we need to continue to pray for these men and for more holy men to answer God’s call to a vocation to the Holy Priesthood. But before I stray too far off topic, let’s get back to Holy Thursday….
It can be called Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. The words Maundy comes from the Latin word ‘mandatum‘ which means commandment. It is the first word of the Gospel acclamation:
“Mandátum novum do vobis dicit Dóminus, ut diligátis invicem, sicut diléxi vos.” -“I give you anew commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.” – John 13:34
These are the very words Christ spoke to His apostles at the Last Supper. When they had celebrated the Last Supper, He washed each of the apostles feet. He did this to help prepare them for their priesthood. It was too show them how they were to serve one another. There is far more to the act of washing the apostles feet than most people understand. The ceremony stretches all the way back to ancient times, and is actually rooted in the Old Testament. It is connected to the fact that these men were chosen by God to become His first disciples…they were going to join themselves to Him in a special way. It is a sign of their marital union with the Lord. It is more than the symbolic sign of humility. There is more to it than just being at the service of others. But so many have reduced it to just that. They have taken this deliberate action of Christ and reduced it to a simple act of humility. It is precisely for this very reason that for so many years in the Church there were only men permitted to sit and have their feet washed. It was to signify that this was a bond of the priesthood…not just an outward symbol of humility.
While it is definitely true that we should all practice this same type of humility and service to one another, and that in fact we all are welcome to serve the Lord…to follow Christ... We are not all called to this type of priesthood. Choosing to wash the feet of those who have no knowledge of this rich history, could also be viewed as a means of lessening the initial importance of what Christ did in the Upper room… where He was surrounded only by His selected disciples. As faithful Catholics we should hope to follow the rich Traditions that have set the Catholic Church apart from the rest of the world throughout the centuries. We must remember that we were created for far greater things than this world could ever offer…And at some point, we must separate ourselves from the political correctness that has consumed the hearts of man…and turned them away from the Heart of the Lord…
After the washing of the feet, the priest takes off his chasuble and vests in a white cope. Returning to the Altar, he incenses the Sacred Hosts in the ciborium. Then, following behind the servers who are carrying the Crucifix and the candles, he processes around the Church, then places the ciborium in a side tabernacle, where the Body of Christ will remain ‘entombed’ until the the Liturgy of Christ’s Passion on Good Friday. These are the Sacred Hosts which will be distributed to the faithful on Good Friday during the Liturgy and the ‘tomb’ will indeed become empty and remain so, until the Saturday night vigil.
It is a very somber time in the Church. Most Churches remain open into the late hours of the night… Allowing for the faithful pray, while the Altar clothes and linens are stripped away. Psalms may be recited, as all these symbols of Christ’s Presence are covered or removed from sight. Removing these outward symbols helps us to more fully enter into Christ’s Passion. It helps us to enter with Christ into the Garden of Gethsemane. It helps us also to prepare ourselves for His imminent arrest and trials which we will listen to tomorrow during the reading of the Liturgy of His Passion and Crucifixion…
The tabernacle lamps are extinguished and the bells are silent… the Church is cloaked in darkness and in quiet. It is beginning to give us the full sense of what the world would be like without Christ….With this emptiness surrounding us…an aching grows in our hearts as we leave the Church in silence…..dipping our fingers into the font, we realize that even they are bare…we have nothing to cross ourselves with…we have nothing to wash away even the smallest of our venial sins…It is a scary thought to think for these next few hours….we are on our own….The only Holy Water that remains in the Church is a small amount that has been reserved to bless the fire on Holy Saturday or for an emergency sick call if needed.
By meditating on the Gospels of Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22 and John 13; it will help us recall all of Jesus’ actions in these coming days. To read my post from last year which details the Three Pillars of the Catholic faith which Christ gave us on Holy Thursday, please click here.
As a side note, in the Traditional Catholic Church an plenary indulgence was offered to those who would recite the Tantum Ergo on this special day.
|Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui
Praestet fides supplementum
|Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Lo! oe’r ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.
Laus et jubilatio
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio. A-men
|To the everlasting Father,
And the Son Who reigns on high
With the Holy Spirit proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honor blessing,
Might and endless majesty.