Maundy Thursday

From the General Decree of 1955 which restored the liturgy of Holy Week (Maxima Redemptionis) in the Roman Catholic Church (emphasis added):

Let the faithful be taught about the love with which Christ our Lord ‘on the day before He suffered’ instituted the sacred and holy Eucharist, Sacrifice and Sacrament, the perpetual memorial of His Passion, to be offered day by day though the ministry of His priests. Let the faithful be invited to render due adoration after the end of the Mass to the most holy Sacrament. Finally, wherever to illustrate the Lord’s commandment of brotherly love the Washing of the Feet is carried out according to the restored rubrics, let the faithful be taught the deep significance of this holy rite, and let them spend this day in works of Christian charity.

The Mass today, which by order of Pope Pius XII should not begin before 5 p.m. or after 8 p.m. local time, is specifically focused on the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper and the Ordination of the Apostles and is therefore a Mass of joy and thanksgiving. It is for this reason that the church sets aside her penitential purple vestments and the priest wears festive white vestments. The Gloria is also sung during Mass which is a piercing difference from the last 40 days which has seen that part of the Mass shelved (often replaced by the Lenten Prose). In churches with bells, it is tradition for the bells to be run through-out the Gloria during this Mass and then they not rung again until Easter Sunday.

The derivation of the word Maundy reminds us of the ceremony of washing of feet, called Mandatum, from the first words of the Antiphon: Mandatum novum do vobis (John 13:34). The Mandatum takes place today because Jesus washed the feet of His Apostles before He instituted the Holy Eucharist. After the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is processed to the Altar of Repose where it remains until the following day. All of these rites are meant to commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist.

Before the liturgy of Holy Week was codified by the Church, this day was the Feast of the Holy Eucharist– and was the only commemoration of its kind. Private Masses are forbidden on this day. In the early Middle Ages there were three separate Masses that were celebrated today. The first was in memory of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, the second was the Blessing of Holy Oils and the third was for the reconciliation of public penitents. The second Mass was particularly interesting as it took place at the local cathedral by noon on this day and was presided over by the Bishop who was “surrounded by his priests” in like manner to Christ during the Last Supper. All that remains of the public re-welcoming of penitents in the third mass is the Deus a quo in the extraordinary form which is a very ancient piece. The Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday Mass that we celebrate today is what remains of the first celebration from the medieval church.

After the Sacrament is left at the Altar of Repose, all other altars within the church are stripped and washed. This is to provide a clear image of the Eucharist not being offered again until the conclusion of Holy Saturday. As the altars are stripped the priest recites Psalm 21(22):

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

Featured image by euroeana.eu on Pinterest.

Reflections on Lent – Denying ourselves we open up to God

Lent in the year of Our Lord two-thousand and twenty is well-underway. And if you are like me, it caught you by surprise. It seems only yesterday that we were celebrating the birth of Jesus and ushering in the New Year. Now with all of the decorations gone away, and the snow and cold beginning to lose its grip in the world, all of creation is springing back to life after a winter of slumber.

Lent captures the dichotomy of our faith perfectly, dare I say divinely. While the world is in enthralled in a spring bloom and “love is in the air” we Christians enter into a season of denial, prayer, penance and almsgiving. While the world triumphantly celebrates the cycle of creation, we stand back in silence, preparing ourselves for the Easter season to come. This is a dichotomy. We are both overfilled with joy at the love and beauty of our Creator and we are also aware of our sin and transgressions before Him.

When I was a child Lent was about giving stuff up. I was fortunate to attend a catholic school and every year around this time we were challenged by our teachers to give up pleasures. The usual stuff would always come up: pop, candy, television. Sometimes someone would be bold and try to give up chocolate or meat for the entire 40 day period. When I was a child I thought that Lent was about giving something up and proving to God how much you loved Him and were willing to give up for Him. But as I got older and as my faith became older as well, I learned that this kind of thinking about Lent was pointless. God knows already how much I love Him (or how little at times that I do). And the price for my salvation has already been paid, so there is little that I can do to effect that at any rate. And wasn’t Jesus clear when He told us not to go around sad and moping while fasting and not to pray in public with loud, long phrases that have empty meaning. Why then are we putting ashes on our heads and going around telling everyone what we’ve given up and how hard it is to do so during this period? These are confusing because it is not what Lent is about at all, and I fear that even many mature adults still possess child-like faiths that see Lent as this today as well.

Lent is about denying ourselves that is sure. But it is about understanding that in that denial we are opening ourselves and our lives to God. Falling to our knees and acknowledging our sin is not the end of the prayer, we fall to our knees and empty ourselves so that we can be filled up by God in the manner He wants us to be.

This Lent I took a practical approach to my Lenten obligation. I have given up all frivolous things in life. No milk or sugar in my coffee, no butter for my toast and no desserts or sweets added to my meals. This is not about giving up things, it is about denying myself pleasures so that I can open myself up to God. Each extremely hot and bitter black coffee that I make in the morning, each dry toast that I choke back is not just a badge of honour because I have given it up, but a spiritual exercise that invites God to come into my life. I am serious, during Lent my daily coffee ritual and my breakfast become a spiritual exercise, a divine movement, because I remind myself why I am doing what I am doing and what is to come. That my friends is the intent of Lent; to deny ourselves and allow God to fill the void.

So ask yourself this year, regardless of what you are giving up, are you following through and allowing God to fill the void? Are you denying yourself the harvest that you work in vain in order to reap the larger and greater harvest of the Saviour?

Look with favour on your family, Lord,
and as at this time we restrain the desires of the body,
may our hearts burn with love of you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Cover photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash.