Holy Thursday

The Essence of our Existence
by
Abbe Dom Prosper Gueranger

    The Easter Triduum has commenced with Holy Thursday, also called Maundy Thursday. Joy turns to somber tones following the silencing of the bells at the intonation of the Gloria. The watch has begun as the altars are stripped and we lay bare our souls to God in proving our perseverance. The next three days intensify in devotion and duration and when our human nature urges us to rest, let us remember Christ's words to His very Own Apostles, "Could you not watch one hour with Me?" That is the question put to all as we fight our comfort zones in striving to keep up with our Savior Who makes Himself available to us in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity; the very Essence of our existence, for without It we cannot grow in grace.

      Editor's Note: Because of the spiritual importance of the entire Liturgical Season of Lent, we are bringing you excerpts for this penitential season focusing today on the first day of the Easter Triduum: Holy Thursday with the excerpts below taken from Volume 6, pages 301-412). We have thus turned to the most traditional and practical Catholic source available, none other than the inspired and motivating words of the esteemed Abbot of Solesmes Dom Prosper Louis Pascal Gueranger, renowned for his masterful work The Liturgical Year, which is often considered the Summa for the Church's Liturgy in History, Mystery and Practice. It is in those areas that we feel it is important to address in order to help readers live as better Catholics in knowing, living, and applying their Faith to the fullest and giving to Christ and His Blessed Mother all that they can. Few capture the essence as this humble but brilliant abbot who is known simply as "the Gardener of the Canticles of Eternity."

    "Let us prove ourselves; let us sound the depths of our conscience, before approaching the holy Table. Mortal sin, and the affection to mortal sin, would change the Bread of life into a deadly poison for our souls. But if respect for the holiness of God, who is about to enter within us by holy Communion, should make us shudder at the thought of receiving Him in the state of mortal sin which robs the soul of the image of God and gives her that of satan, ought not that same respect to urge us to purify our souls from venial sins, which dim the beauty of grace? He, says our Savior, that is washed needeth not but to wash his feet. The feet are those earthly attachments, which so often lead us to the brink of sin. Let us watch over our senses, and the affections of our hearts. Let us wash away these stains by a sincere confession, by penance, by sorrow, and by humility; that thus we may worthily receive the adorable Sacrament, and derive from it the fullness of its power and grace. "

Maundy Thursday Mass, Washing of the Feet, and Stripping of the Altars

    The Church intends, on this day, the renew in a most solemn manner the mystery of the last Supper: for our Lord Himself, on this occasion of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, said to His apostles: 'Do this for a commemoration of Me.' (1)-{St. Luke xxii. 19}

    Jesus speaks these words to His apostles: 'With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you, before I suffer.' (1) {St. Luke xxii. 15} In saying this, He does not imply that the Pasch of this year is intrinsically better than those that have preceded it; but that it is dearer to Him inasmuch as it is to give rise to the institution of the new Pasch, which He has prepared for mankind, and which He is not going to give them as His last gift; for, as St. John says, having loved His own, who were in the world, He loved them unto the end.(2)-{St. John xiii. 1}...(pages 366-367)

    ...He [Judas] intends to remain with Jesus, until the hour comes for betraying Him. Thus, the august mystery, which is on the point of being celebrated, is to be insulted by his presence!...(page 367)

    ...He (Jesus) would teach us, by what He is now doing, how great is the purity wherewith we should approach the holy Table. "He that is washed,' says He, 'needeth not but to wash his feet,' (1) (St. John. xiii. 10} as though he would say" 'The holiness of this Table is such, that those who come to it should not only be free from grievous sins, but they should, moreover, strive to cleanse their souls from those lesser faults, which come from contact with the world, and are like the dust that covers the feet of one that walks on the highway.' We will explain further on the other teachings conveyed by this action of our Lord...(page 369)

    Such is the history of the last Supper, of which we celebrate the anniversary on this day. But there is one circumstance of the deepest interest to us, to which we have, so far, made only an indirect allusion. The institution of the holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and a Sacrifice, is followed by another: the institution of a new priesthood. How could our Savior have said: 'Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of man, and drink His Blood, you shall not have life within you,' (3) {St. John vi. 54} unless He had resolved to establish a ministry upon earth, whereby He would renew, even o the end of time, the great mystery He thus commands us to receive? He begins it today, in the cenacle. The twelve apostles are the first to partake of it; but observe what He says to them: 'Do this for a commemoration of Me.' (4) {St. Luke xxii. 19} By these words, He gives them power to change bread into His Body, and wine into His Blood; and this sublime power shall be perpetuated in the Church, by holy Ordination, even to the end of the world. Jesus will continue to operate, by the ministry of mortal and sinful men, the mystery of the Last Supper. By thus enriching His Church with the one and perpetual Sacrifice, He also gives us the means of abiding in Him, for He gives us, as He promised, the Bread of Heaven. Today, then, we keep the anniversary, not only of the institution of the holy Eucharist, but also of the equally wonderful institution of the Christian priesthood...(pages 371-372)

    The Mass of Maundy Thursday is one of the most solemn of the year; and although the feast of Corpus Christi is the day for solemnly honoring the mystery of the holy Eucharist, still, the Church would have the anniversary of the last Supper to be celebrated with all possible splendor. The color of the vestments is white, as it is for Christmas day and Easter Sunday; the decorations of the altar and sanctuary all bespeak joy, and yet, there are several ceremonies during this Mass which show that the holy bride of Christ has not forgotten the Passion of her Jesus, and that this joy is but transient. The priest intones the angelic hymn, Glory be to God in the highest! And the bells ring forth a joyous peal, which continues during the whole of the heavenly canticle; but from that moment they remain silent, and their long silence produces, in every heart, a sentiment of holy mournfulness... Moreover, she (Holy Mother Church) removes the joyous organ music to remind how the apostles (who were the heralds of Christ, and are figured by the bells, whose ringing summons the faithful to the house of God), fled from their divine Master and left Him a prey to His enemies.

    Another rite peculiar to today, is the consecration of two Hosts during the Mass. One of these the priest receives in Communion; the other he reserves, and reverently places it in a chalice, which he covers with a veil. The reason of this is that tomorrow the Church suspends the daily Sacrifice. Such is the impression produced by the anniversary of our Savior's death, that the Church dares not to renew upon her altars the immolation which was then offered on Calvary; or rather, her renewal of it will e by fixing all her thoughts on the terrible scene of that Friday noon. The Host reserved from today's Mass, will be her morrow's participation. This rite is called the Mass of the Presanctified, because, in it, the priest does not consecrate, but only receives the Host consecrated on the previous day. Formerly, as we shall explain more fully on, the holy Sacrifice was not offered up on Holy Saturday, and yet the Mass of the Presanctified was not celebrated as it was on the Friday. (pages 372-374)

    [Comments on the Epistle for Maundy Thursday] ...His [St. Paul's] account, [of the Last Supper], which corresponds throughout with that given by the evangelists, rests upon the testimony of our blessed Savior Himself, who deigned to appear to him and instruct him in person, after his conversion. The apostle does not omit to give the words, whereby our Lord empowered His apostles to renew what He Himself had done: he tells us that, as often as the priest consecrates the Body and Blood of Christ, he shows the death of the Lord, thus expressing the oneness that is between the Sacrifice of the cross and that of the altar... The consequence to be drawn from this teaching is evident: it is contained in these words of the apostle: Let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. ...'He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood, abideth in Me, and I in Him,' says our Lord. (1)- {St. John. vi. 57} Could there by a closer union? God and man abiding in each other? Oh! how carefully ought we to purify our soul, and render our will conformable with the will of Jesus, before approaching this divine banquet, to which He invites us! Let us beseech Him to prepare us Himself, as He did His apostles by washing their feet. He will grant us our request, not only today, but as often as we go to Holy Communion, provided we are docile to His grace. (pages 377-378)

    [Comments on Gospel for Maundy Thursday] ...Let us prove ourselves; let us sound the depths of our conscience, before approaching the holy Table. Mortal sin, and the affection to mortal sin, would change the Bread of life into a deadly poison for our souls. But if respect for the holiness of God, who is about to enter within us by holy Communion, should make us shudder at the thought of receiving Him in the state of mortal sin which robs the soul of the image of God and gives her that of satan, ought not that same respect to urge us to purify our souls from venial sins, which dim the beauty of grace? He, says our Savior, that is washed needeth not but to wash his feet. The feet are those earthly attachments, which so often lead us to the brink of sin. Let us watch over our senses, and the affections of our hearts. Let us wash away these stains by a sincere confession, by penance, by sorrow, and by humility; that thus we may worthily receive the adorable Sacrament, and derive from it the fullness of its power and grace. (pages 380-381)

    [Comments on the Stripping of the Altars] ...He [Jesus] is now in the hands of His enemies the Jews, who are about to strip Him of His garments, just as we strip the altar. He is to be exposed naked to the insults of the rabble; and for this reason, the psalm selected to be recited during this mournful ceremony is the twenty-first, wherein the Messias speaks of the Roman soldiers dividing His garments among them. (pages 391-392)

    What a day is this that we have been spending! How full of Jesus' love! He has given us His Body and Blood to be our food; He has instituted the priesthood of the new Testament; He has poured out upon the world the sublimest instructions of His loving Heart. We have seen Him struggling with the feelings of human weakness, as He beheld the chalice of the Passion that was prepared for Him; but He triumphed over all, in order to save us. We have seen Him betrayed, fettered, and led captive into the holy city, there to consummate His Sacrifice. Let us adore and love for us was not satisfied unless He drank, to the very dregs, the chalice He had accepted from His Father. (page 410)

    Editor's Note: Space does not permit the full scope of all that Abbe Gueranger wrote for Maundy Thursday (from pages 301 to 412)and we would hope this would serve as an impetus to also encourage you to invest in The Liturgical Year from St. Bonaventure Publications for your own edification, education and spiritual inspiration year in and year out.





MAUNDY THURSDAY REFLECTIONS BY DOM PROSPER GUERANGER