Maundy Thursday: A New Commandment I Give Unto You |
The Triduum begins: From light to darkness - a symbolic darkness in which the better we understand the significance of the rubrics, the closer we grow to Christ in this world of darkness.
"We sadly recall that the Apostles one by one gradually left Him on this night, and that the earth was covered by darkness at His death. The single candle left burning, which is hidden behind the altar to be brought forth again when prayers are finished, causes us to remember that Christ came forth from the grave on the third day as the true light of the world. At the end of the Tenebrae, a noise is made with clappers signifying the earthquake which took place at Christ's death. All arise and depart in silence."
Holy Mother the Church has always given much attention, with the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, to giving her children the much needed guidance and assistance in bringing souls to closer union with Christ. This is, after all, her very reason for existence. We cannot ignore how the rituals, customs and liturgical celebrations have blossomed down through the centuries under her careful, loving hand, tended by the early Fathers, saints and Doctors of the Church. The rich symbolism and spiritual depth of the rituals of Holy Week speak loudly of a Church beckoning all to reach into the treasure chest of truth that is Catholicism, and experience the life that is available to all in Jesus Christ. The Sacred Triduum, the three most holy days of Holy Week present us with a marvelous opportunity to dig into the depths of all that the Church tries to convey to us mortals on our pilgrimage to the Resurrection. Hoping for a fruitful participation in this "Week of Lamentation," let us prepare for Maundy Thursday.
Having lost so much of the tradition of the Latin language, it is difficult for many to understand why Holy Thursday is often referred to as Maundy Thursday. The word Maundy derives from Mandatum, the first word of the Office of The Washing of the Feet.
Mandatum novum do vobis: ut diligatis invicem,
sicut delexi vos, dicit Dominus.
Ps. Beati immaculate iin via: qui ambulant in lege Domini.
A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another,
as I have loved you, says the Lord.
Ps. Blessed are the undefiled in the way: who walk in the law of the Lord.
A new commandment.
The feast of Maundy Thursday "solemnly commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and is the oldest of the observances peculiar to Holy Week" (The Catholic Encyclopedia). Traces of the ceremony of The Washing of the Feet are found in the most ancient rites. Other ceremonies were added to this commemoration, including the consecration of the holy oils (chrism) and the reconciliation of penitents. At one time there were three Masses celebrated on Maundy Thursday, the first for the reconciliation of public Penitents, the second for the consecration of the holy oils, and the third for special commemoration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, and the institution of the Priesthood. Today, only this last mentioned Mass is celebrated and the Bishop attended by priests and deacons blesses the holy oils in his Cathedral church. These holy oils will be used throughout the year for Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Extreme Unction.
On this day, the Church briefly puts aside her mourning, with the priest coming to the altar to celebrate the Liturgy, as commemorating the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, dressed in white vestments, conveying a solemn joy. The Gloria in excelsis is sung at this Mass accompanied by the ringing of bells, calling all the faithful to great "praise and gratitude to our Lord for having instituted this Blessed Feast of Love."
From this point on the bells will remain silent until the Gloria is once again heard on Easter Eve (Holy Saturday). The withdrawal of the bells and their silence is to make evident the expression, in an outward sense, of the Church's great sorrow or bereavement during the time of Christ's Passion and Burial. This silence which we will encounter for the ensuing three days dates back to at least the 8th century, referred to as "the still days." We are urged to spend these three days in a state of silence as far as possible, meditating in sorrow on the sufferings of our dear Lord as well as reflecting on the "shameful flight of the apostles at the capture of their master, and their silence during these days" (The Church's Year).
At this Mass, the priest consecrates two hosts, consuming one and preserving the other in the chalice for the following day, Good Friday, when there will be no consecration but rather a "service of the Presanctified." This practice is very ancient, although the elaborate observances surrounding it are of much more recent vintage.
The St. Andrew Daily Missal comments regarding the significance of the readings from this Mass as follows:
St. Paul tells us in the Epistle this day that the Mass is a "memorial of the death of Christ." The Sacrifice of the Altar is necessary if we are to partake in the Victim of Calvary and share in His merits. And the Eucharist, which derives all its virtue from the Sacrifice of the Cross, makes it universal as regards time and space in a sense unknown so far. To love the Blessed Sacrament is "to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Introit). Christ takes on Himself to perform the ablutions prescribed by the Jews during the supper (Gospel), to show forth the purity and charity that God requires of those who desire to communicate for, as in the case of Judas (Collect), "whosoever eats this bread unworthily is guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord" (Epistle).
We are called, just as the public Penitents in the earliest years of the Church, to examine our souls as often as we receive communion, to see if we have committed any grievous sin which we have not yet confessed or for which we are not heartily sorry. We remember that Judas betrayed our Lord with a kiss, and we beg Christ's mercy that we, though sinners, may be accorded the privilege to receive Holy Communion in a worthy manner, coming to understand our constant need for conversion, reconciliation and a
renewed return to the Lord.
After Mass, in solemn procession the consecrated Host in the chalice and the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle will be taken to an "altar of repose" adorned with flowers and candles, while the faithful sing the hymn, "Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium." (Sing, my tongue, the Saviour's glory, Of His Flesh the mystery sing…) This ceremony commemorates "the earliest times of Christianity, when the consecrated hosts for the communicants and the sick were kept in a place especially prepared, because there was no tabernacle on the altar" (The Church's Year). It is also deeply symbolic of Christ's going out to the Garden of Gethsemane accompanied by the Apostles, during which time His "Godhead was concealed." After placing the Blessed Sacrament in the place of repose, Vespers are said.
The altar is then stripped while reciting the Diviserunt, (They parted My garments amongst them: and upon My vesture they cast lots) and Psalm XXI which our Savior applied to Himself (My God, my God, look upon Me: why hast Thou forsaken Me?). The stripping of the altar marks a definite interruption in the Holy Sacrifice, which will not be celebrated again until Holy Saturday. The significance of this external gesture shows that "Jesus took off, as it were at the time of His passion, His divine glory, and yielded Himself up in utter humiliation into the hands of His enemies to be crucified (Phil. 2:6,7) and that at the crucifixion He was forcibly stripped of His garments, which the soldiers divided among them, as foretold in the twenty-first psalm, which is said during this ceremony. The faithful are urged to put off the old sinful man with his actions, and by humbling themselves become conformable to Christ" (The Church's Year).
After the stripping of the altar, the washing of the feet takes place. The officiating priest kneels before each of twelve men chosen for the ceremony, representing the twelve Apostles, washes, wipes and kisses the foot of each. By this action we are reminded that Christ intended to teach all, from the highest office, the necessary virtues of humility and charity that must be extended to everyone according to the example of Jesus Christ. During this ceremony is sung the Mandatum, (A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, says the Lord…). The beautiful Antiphons which follow are a reminder of our need to be purified from evil inclinations, to love one another with a sincere heart, and to truly long for the "courts of the Lord." This new commandment of love, given us by Christ, should permeate all of our thoughts and actions just as it permeates the entire celebration of Maundy Thursday.
The night Office prayed by the clergy on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Holy Week is referred to as Tenebrae, meaning darkness, and has been so called since at least the 9th century. The Office includes the chanting of the Lamentations of Jeremias accompanied by the gradual extinction of the fifteen candles in the "Tenebrae hearse" or triangular candlestick, as the service proceeds. At the end, the only candle left burning represents Jesus Christ, which is then removed and hidden behind the altar. For the entire Office of Tenebrae, including commentary and beautiful graphics, follow this link to the website of the Confraternity of Ss. Peter and Paul: Office of Tenebrae
"In the Tenebrae the Church mourns the passion and death of Jesus, and urges her children to return to God; she therefore makes use of those mournful words of Jeremias: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord, thy God!" (The Church's Year) The symbolism behind the Tenebrae recalls the time when the early Christians spent the whole night preceding great festivals in prayer. The gradual darkness that descends as the candles are extinguished symbolizes the darkness which lasted for three hours at the crucifixion, and also causes us to consider the words of St. John regarding Christ, "…the true light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not."
We sadly recall that the Apostles one by one gradually left Him on this night, and that the earth was covered by darkness at His death. The single candle left burning, which is hidden behind the altar to be brought forth again when prayers are finished, causes us to remember that Christ came forth from the grave on the third day as the true light of the world. At the end of the Tenebrae, a noise is made with clappers signifying the earthquake which took place at Christ's death. All arise and depart in silence.
Let us also go forth in silence to meditate on the rich significance of these ceremonies for Maundy Thursday, and pray that our hearts be touched by the finger of God as He speaks to us through the Holy Ghost in the traditions and practices of the Church instituted by His Only Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Christus factus est pro nobis obediens usque ad mortem.
Christ for our sake became obedient unto death.
(Sources: The Catholic Encyclopedia, © 1910 Robert Appleton Company,
The Saint Andrew Daily Missal
Rev. Rf. Leonard Goffine's "The Church's Year" ©1999 Sarto House)
For past columns by Catharine, see 2004lam.htm Archives