Holy Week: Holy Thursday

by Sal on April 9, 2009

in Religion

Let us ever glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for He is our salvation, our life and our resurrection;
through him we are saved and made free.

While Palm Sunday set the stage, Holy Thursday begins the Easter Triduum, the three days that make up the heart of Holy Week.  While each night in the celebration of the Easter Triduum has its own character, tone, and ritual, the Church considers the Triduum to be one single liturgy with three parts, rather than three separate liturgies.  The ancient Holy Thursday entrance chant, referenced above (“Let us ever glory…”) illustrates this.  While the entrance chant of a Mass typically reflects on the readings or character of the particular celebration, the entrance chant of The Mass of the Lord’s Supper sets the tone of the entire  Triduum by reflecting on the Cross of Christ which is our way to salvation and resurrection.  The normal Entrance and Recessionals are also suspended on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, with just a quick unceremonious ending, and no standard entrance song on Good Friday and at the Easter Vigil.  The great liturgy of the Triduum begins with this chant on Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s supper, and concludes at the end of the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. It recounts the greatest story ever told, that of the triumph of God’s great love in his saving action through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.

Following the entrance which sets the theme for the whole Triduum, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper takes on its own character, that of the institution of the Priesthood, Christ’s call to service, and the institution of the Eucharist.  The liturgy begins as normal.  During the Glory to God, bells are rung throughout the church.  Following the Glory to God, church bells remain silent throughout the world until they are rung again during the great Easter Vigil, setting the tone for the somber events that are to come.

The readings for Holy Thursday recount how the saving passover sacrifice of the ancient Israelites (“It is the Passover of the Lord….This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution”) prefigures the Passover of the Lamb and our participation in that Passover celebration in the Eucharist (“Our Blessing Cup is a Communion in the Blood of Christ” and “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”)  The Gospel ties the Eucharist to our actions as people of the Church, recounting Christ’s call to serve one another and his institution of the Priesthood to serve His people in a special way.  Christ’s call to service shows the Son of God, maker of all creation, humbling Himself by washing the feet of His Apostles.  In this way, we are called to humble ourselves and do the same:

Do you realize what I have done for you?  You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master’, and rightly so, for indeed I Am.  If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.

Following the homily, this very scene is reenacted.  The priest celebrant removes his vestment and washes the feet of representatives of the congregation, illustrating this call to service in a very poignant way.  The Mass continues as usual, with special emphasis placed on the offertory and the consecration of the Mass, as this celebration highlights the institution of Christ’s greatest ongoing gift to His people, the real presence of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, which becomes our spiritual food, to aid us in our journey through this world, and to bring us closer to God’s saving love.

After Communion, the Eucharist is brought in procession to another place, calling to mind Jesus’ journey from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he would pray throughout the night until his arrest, trial, and death on Good Friday.  The Eucharist is reposed, and the Priest and ministers unceremoniously exit.  People are invited to stay and sit in quiet prayer for a time, recalling Christ’s words to stay with Him and pray.  Following the liturgy, the altar is stripped of any furnishings and linens, marking the starkness of the moment.  The tone of this liturgy is like no other.  Although we are celebrating the great gifts given to us by Christ, the tone is one of somber solemnity, in anticipation of the great sacrifice that Christ will offer on the Cross at the Liturgy of Lord’s Passion and Death on Good Friday.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Holy Week: Palm Sunday | Axis of Right
April 9, 2009 at 7:10 am
Holy Week: An Introduction | Axis of Right
April 10, 2009 at 8:35 am

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