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MAUNDY THURSDAY – IN THE MIDST OF MOURNING WE CELEBRATE OUR LORD’S LAST GIFT BEFORE HIS PASSION

“The name ‘Maundy’ is from ‘Mandatum,’ the ceremony of washing the feet at the end of the Mass, whose first antiphon begins: ‘Mandatum novum do vobis.’ It is usual to call a service after the first word of its chants. In the same way we speak of a ‘Requiem,’ a ‘Dirge’ (‘Dirge’ is the beginning of the first antiphon at Matins for the dead), and so on. It is curious that in England the ceremony of washing the feet should have given its name to the whole day.

THE MAIN FEATURE

The main feature of the function today and tomorrow is that on Good Friday the holy Sacrifice is not offered. That is as old a custom as any in the Church. It obtains equally in all rites. Indeed, in most of the Eastern rites, as once at Rome, there were many ‘aliturgical’ (that is, days on which the holy Liturgy [Mass] was not celebrated) days in Lent. The Byzantine rite, for instance, has this Liturgy of the Presanctified every Wednesday and Friday in Lent, and on Monday and Tuesday in Holy Week. We now have it only on Good Friday. But, although no priest consecrates on Good Friday, it is the equally old custom that the priest (and once the people, too) should make their Communion. For this purpose it is necessary to reserve the Sanctissimum consecrated at the Mass the day before. Nowadays, it would be easy to take the Sanctissimum from the tabernacle; but the ceremonies of Holy Week date from a time when it was by no means the universal custom to reserve in every church. So special arrangements had to be made to reserve for this occasion. At the Mass on Maundy Thursday the priest consecrates [hosts, some of them he takes to a place prepared where they are kept] till Communion on Good Friday. That is the root of the service on both days.

THE BETRAYAL OF JUDAS

For the rest, the Mass of Maundy Thursday is a festal Mass, with white vestments, with the ‘Gloria in excelsis.’ It is the only case in the year when the Mass of the day and office do not correspond. The office is all mournful. Here the memory which seems most to fill the mind of the Church is the betrayal of Judas. But when Mass is said the Church cannot forget, although it is the middle of the week of mourning, that this is the day to which we owe the Holy Eucharist. So, a startling exception to the usual note of the time, at Mass at least we put aside all thought of mourning and celebrate with joy our Lord’s last gift before he died.

The ringing of the bells at the ‘Gloria’ is only the sign that from now on they will not be heard again until the first Easter Mass. The Church is accustomed to do a thing solemnly for the last time before it ceases, as we say the ‘Alleluia’ solemnly twice at the end of Vespers before Septuagesima. Probably the time of the ‘Gloria’ is chosen because it corresponds to the time when the bells ring out on Holy Saturday. The playing of the organ at the same time is obviously a further development of the same idea. The organ, too, comes back at the ‘Gloria’ on Holy Saturday. (Thurston, pp. 277-281). To play the organ on Maundy Thursday is less logical, since it should not have been heard during all Lent; but one can see the connection of ideas.

From this time begin the ‘still days’ of our forefathers, on which all are to be intent only on the memory of what our Lord bore for us.

After Mass the procession takes the Sanctissimum to the place where it is kept till the next day. This is an example of a real Roman procession, having a definite object. It is usual to call the place to which the Blessed Sacrament is taken the ‘altar of repose.’ This is a harmless popular name; but it is not really an altar. No sacrifice is offered on it.

THE ‘ALTAR OF REPOSE’

At first it seems that nothing more was done than to keep the Sanctissimum reverently in some safe place, often in the sacristy, as it is still reserved in many Eastern Churches. Then people realised that this was the one occasion when they had the Blessed Sacrament in their churches. So they made much of it. They fitted up and adorned a place of honour; they began to watch and pray before the ‘altar of repose’ all the day and all night. Much of the ideas of such later developments as Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, of the ‘Forty Hours’ and so on, seems to have begun during this time between Mass on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And then, even after it had become usual to reserve the Sanctissimum on the altar of nearly every church all the year round, the old custom of special reverence on this occasion went on. That, too, is nearly always so. Custom preserves many things in liturgy after their first reason has ceased.

SPECIAL REVERENCE

This accounts for the special reverence with which we still treat the Sanctissimum at the altar of repose, although we have it now in the tabernacle always. And, indeed, on this night of all nights, when our Lord was suffering his bitter torment, it is natural that people should spend part of the time with him in prayer, honouring the gift of that day.

REGARDING THESE FAST DAYS

We leave the altar of repose, come back to the High Altar and say Vespers. This is not really a special feature of these days. On all fast days Vespers are now said in the morning, from the old idea that one does not break one’s fast till after Vespers. Easier rule now allows people to eat at midday on fast days; but the liturgical sequence is preserved; so the meal pushed Vespers back to the morning. The fact that on fast days at the end of Mass the deacon says not: ‘Ite missa est,’ but ‘Benedicamus Domino,’ meant once that he did not dismiss the people then, because they were to stay for Vespers.

STRIPPING THE ALTAR

After Vespers the altar is stripped. This ceremony has become to us one of the features of Holy Week; yet it is only one more case of an archaic custom, otherwise abolished, but preserved on these days. Once, after Mass on any day, the altar was stripped. Now on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday the stripping of the altar has become a symbol of desolation, or a memory that our Lord was stripped of his garments.

THE WASHING OF FEET

The Maundy follows. When our Lord had washed the feet of the Apostles he gave us a clear command to do as he had done (John xiii. 15). Doubtless this means, in the first place, rather the general attitude he then observed; but the Church has always taken his command literally too. There are innumerable cases of washing feet (at one time a very practical work of charity) by Heads of religious houses, done to poor travellers, pilgrims, and so on, by Popes, bishops, Kings. Still in Catholic countries it is the custom for the Sovereign to wash the feet of thirteen poor men today. Indeed, so definite is our Lord’s command to carry out this ceremony, so clear the implication of a grace given thereby (John xiii, 10, 11, 17), that at one time it seems to have been considered almost to approach the dignity of a sacrament. We shall certainly not consider the Mandatum to be a real sacrament; but it may be counted among the sacramentals.

Naturally, it was most of all on this day that people obeyed our Lord’s command. Whereas Fathers and synods, from the fourth century, recommend the washing of feet in general, often especially the washing of the feet of the newly baptised (Thurston, pp. 307-309. As a typical example see the Rule of St Benedict, chap. 35 and 53), in the seventh century we find a Spanish council insisting on the restoration of this ceremony on Maundy Thursday, since in some places it was falling out of use (Seventeenth Syn. of Toledo (694), can. 3 (Hefele-Leclerq: Hist. Des Conciles, iii, p. 586). It is curious that thirteen men whose feet are washed, not twelve, are constantly mentioned. In the twelfth century the Pope washed the feet of twelve subdeacons after Mass, and of thirteen poor men after dinner (Ordo rom. xii, 25, 27). Various explanations are given of the number thirteen. Either it is meant to include St Matthias, or St Paul, or perhaps the Lord himself. There is a legend about an angel who appeared and joined the twelve poor men entertained on one occasion by St Gregory I. No number is specified in the missal; but the Ceremonial of Bishops speaks of thirteen (Caer. Ep., L. II, cap. XXIV, 2); this is the usual number now in the West (the Eastern rites keep to twelve).

After the washing of feet the church is left all empty and bare; only in a distant chapel the lights burn and people watch silently before the altar of repose, waiting for the service of the next morning.”
– Adrian Fortescue, from “The Holy Week Book”, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1913

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EASTER SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S RESURRECTION

(A) THE EASTER VIGIL

According to a most ancient tradition, this night is ‘one of vigil for the Lord’, and the Vigil celebrated during it, to commemorate that Holy night when the Lord rose from the dead, is regarded as the ‘mother of all Holy vigils’. For in that night the Church keeps vigil, waiting for the resurrection of the Lord, and celebrates the sacraments of Christian initiation.

THE MEANING OF THE NOCTURNAL CHARACTER OF THE EASTER VIGIL

‘The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil takes place at night. It should not begin before nightfall; it should end before daybreak on Sunday’. This rule is to be taken according to its strictest sense. Those abuses and practices which have crept in many places in violation of this ruling, whereby the Easter Vigil is celebrated at the time of day that is customary to celebrate anticipated Sunday Masses are reprehensible. Those reasons which have been advanced in some quarters for the anticipation of the Easter Vigil, such as lack of public order, are not put forward in connection with Christmas night, nor other gatherings of various kinds.

The Passover Vigil, in which the Hebrews kept watch for the Lord’s passover which was to free them from slavery to Pharaoh, is an annual commemoration. It prefigured the true Pasch of Christ that was to come, the night that is of true liberation, in which ‘destroying the bonds of death, Christ rose as victor from the depths’.

From the very outset the Church has celebrated that annual Pasch, which is the solemnity of solemnities, above all by means of a night vigil. For the resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith and hope, and through Baptism and Confirmation we are inserted into the paschal mystery of Christ, dying, buried, and raised with him, and with him we shall also reign. The full meaning of Vigil is a waiting for the coming of the Lord.

THE STRUCTURE OF THE EASTER VIGIL AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ITS DIFFERENT ELEMENTS AND PARTS

The order for the Easter Vigil is so arranged that after the service of light and the Easter proclamation (which is the first part of the Vigil), Holy Church meditates on the wonderful works which the Lord God wrought for his people from the earliest times (the second part or Liturgy of the Word), to the moment when, together with those new members reborn in Baptism (third part), she is called to the table prepared by the Lord for his Church, the commemoration of his death and resurrection, until he comes (fourth part). This Liturgical Order must not be changed by anyone on his own initiative.

The first part consists of symbolic acts and gestures, which require that they be performed in all their fullness and nobility, so that their meaning, as explained by the introductory words of the celebrant and the liturgical prayers, may be truly understood by the faithful.

In so far as possible, a suitable place should be prepared outside the church for the blessing of the new fire, whose flames should be such that they genuinely dispel the darkness and light up the night.

The paschal candle should be prepared in advance. For effective symbolism it must be made of wax, never be artificial, be renewed each year, be only one in number, and be of sufficiently large size so that it may evoke the truth that Christ is the light of the world. It is blessed with the signs and words prescribed in the Missal or by the Conference of Bishops.

The Procession in which the people enter the church should be led by the light of the paschal candle alone. Just as the children of Israel were guided by night by a pillar of fire, so similarly Christians follow the risen Christ. There is no reason why to each response ‘Thanks be to God’ there should not be added some acclamation in honour of Christ.

The light from the paschal candle should be gradually passed to the candles which it is fitting that all present should hold in their hands, the electric lighting being switched off.

The Deacon makes the Easter proclamation, which tells by means of a great poetic text the whole Easter mystery in the context of the economy of salvation. In case of necessity, where there is no deacon, and the celebrating priest is unable to sing it, a cantor may do so. Bishops’ Conferences may adapt this proclamation by inserting into it acclamations from the people.

The readings from sacred scripture constitute the second part of the Vigil. They give an account of the outstanding deeds of the history of salvation, which the faithful are helped to meditate calmly upon by the singing of the responsorial psalm, by a silent pause and by the celebrant’s prayer.

The restored Order for the Vigil has seven readings from the Old Testament chosen from the Law and the Prophets, which are everywhere in use according to the most ancient tradition of East and West, and two readings from the New Testament, namely from the Apostle and from the Gospel. Thus the Church, ‘beginning with Moses and all the Prophets’ explains Christ’s paschal mystery. Consequently, wherever this is possible, all the readings should be read so that the character of the Easter Vigil, which demands that it be somewhat prolonged, be respected at all costs.

Where, however, pastoral conditions require that the number of readings be reduced, there should be at least three readings from the Old Testament, taken from the Law and the Prophets; and the reading from Exodus chapter 14 with its canticle must never be omitted.

The typological import of the Old Testament texts is rooted in the New, and is made plain by the prayer pronounced by the celebrating priest after each reading; but it will also be helpful to introduce the people to the meaning of each reading by means of a brief introduction. This introduction may be given by the priest himself or by a deacon.

National or diocesan liturgical commissions will prepare aids for pastors.

Each reading is followed by the singing of a psalm, to which the people respond.

Melodies should be provided for these responses which are capable of promoting the people’s participartion and devotion.

Great care is to be taken that trivial songs do not take the place of the psalms.

After the readings from the Old Testament, the hymn ‘Gloria in excelsis’ is sung and the bells are rung in accordance with local custom; then the collect is recited, and the celebration moves on to the readings from the New Testament. There is read an exhortation from the Apostle on Baptism as insertion into Christ’s paschal mystery.

Then all stand and the priest intones the ‘Alleluia’ three times, each time raising the pitch. The people repeat after him. If it is necessary, the psalmist or cantor may sing the ‘Alleluia’, which the people then take up as an acclamation to be interjected between the verses of psalm 117, which is so often cited by the Apostles in their Easter preaching. Finally, the Resurrection of the Lord is proclaimed from the Gospel as the high point of the whole Liturgy of the Word. After the Gospel a homily is to be given, no matter how brief.

The third part of the Vigil is the baptismal liturgy. Christ’s passover and ours is now celebrated. This is given full expression in those churches which have a baptismal font, and more so when the Christian initiation of adults is held, or at least the Baptism of infants. Even if there are no candidates for Baptism, the blessing of Baptismal water should still take place in parish churches. If this blessing does not take place at the baptismal font but in the sanctuary, baptismal water should be carried afterwards to the baptistry there to be kept throughout the whole of paschal time. Where there are neither candidates for Baptism nor any need to bless the font, Baptism should be commemorated by blessing of water destined for sprinkling upon the people.

Next follows the renewal of baptismal promises, introduced by some words from the celebrating priest. The faithful reply to the questions put to them, standing and holding lighted candles in their hands. They are then sprinkled with water: in this way gestures and words recall to them the Baptism they have received. The celebrating priest sprinkles the people by passing through the main part of the church while all sing the antiphon ‘Vidi aquam’ or another suitable song of a baptismal character.

The celebration of the Eucharist forms the fourth part of the Vigil and marks its high point, for it is in the fullest sense the Easter Sacrament, that is to say the commemoration of the sacrifice of the Cross and the presence of the risen Christ, the completion of Christian initiation, and the foretaste of the eternal pasch.

Great care should be taken that this Eucharistic Liturgy is not celebrated in haste; indeed, all the rites and words must be given their full force – the General Intercessions in which for the first time the neophytes now as members of the faithful exercise their priesthood; the procession at the offertory in which the neophytes, if there are any, take part; the first, second or third Eucharistic Prayer, preferably sung, with their proper embolisms; and finally, Eucharistic Communion, as the moment of full participation in the mystery that is being celebrated. It is appropriate that at Communion there be sung psalm 117 with the antiphon ‘Pascha nostrum’, or psalm 33 with the antiphon ‘Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia’, or some other song of Easter exultation.

It is fitting that in the Communion of the Easter Vigil full expression be given to the symbolism of the Eucharist, namely by consuming the Eucharist under the species of both bread and wine. Local Ordinaries will consider the appropriateness of such a concession and its ramifications.

SOME PASTORAL CONSIDERATIONS

The Easter Vigil Liturgy should be celebrated in such a way as to offer to the Christian people the riches of the prayers and rites. It is therefore important that authenticity be respected, that the participation of the faithful be promoted, and that the celebration should not take place without servers, readers and choir exercising their role.

It would be desirable if on occasion provision were made for several communities to assemble in one church, wherever their proximity one to another or small numbers mean that a full and festive celebration could not otherwise take place.

The celebration of the Easter Vigil for special groups is not to be encouraged, since above all in this Vigil the faithful should come together as one and should experience a sense of ecclesial community.

Faithful who are absent from their parish on vacation should be urged to participate in the liturgical celebration in the place where they happen to be.

In announcements concerning the Easter Vigil care should be taken not to present it as the concluding period of Holy Saturday; rather it should be stressed that the Easter Vigil is celebrated ‘during Easter night’, and that it is one single act of worship. Pastors should be advised that in giving catechesis to the people they should be taught to participate in the Vigil in its entirety.

For a better celebration of the Easter Vigil, it is necessary that Pastors themselves have an ever deeper knowledge of both texts and rites, so as to give a proper mystagogical catechesis to the people.

(B) EASTER DAY

Mass is to be celebrated on Easter Day with great solemnity. It is appropriate that the penitential rite on this day take the form of a sprinkling with water blessed at the Vigil, during which the antiphon ‘Vidi aquam’, or some other song of baptismal character should be sung. The stoups at the entrance to the church should also be filled with the same water.

The tradition of celebrating baptismal Vespers on Easter Day with the singing of psalms during the procession to the font should be maintained where it is still in force, and as appropriate restored.

The paschal candle has its proper place either by the ambo or by the altar and should be lit at least in all the more solemn liturgical celebrations of the season until Pentecost Sunday, whether at Mass, or at Morning or Evening Prayer. After the Easter season the candle should be kept with honour in the baptistry, so that in the celebration of Baptism the candles of the baptised may be lit from it. In the celebration of Funerals the paschal candle should be placed near the coffin to indicate that the death of a Christian is his own passover. The paschal candle should not otherwise be lit nor placed in the sanctuary outside the Easter season.
– Given at Rome, at the Offices of the Congregation for Divine Worship, 16 January 1988

 

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HOLY THURSDAY EVENING MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

With the celebration of Mass on the evening of Holy Thursday ‘the Church begins the Easter Triduum, and recalls the Last Supper, in which the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, showing his love for those who were his own in the world, gave his body and blood under the species of bread and wine, offering to his Father and giving them to the Apostles so that they might partake of them; he commanded them and their successors in the priesthood to perpetuate this offering’.

Careful attention should be given to the mysteries which are commemorated in this Mass; the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ’s command of brotherly love: the homily should explain these points.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in the evening, at a time moreover that is convenient for the full participation of the whole local community. All priests may concelebrate, even if on this day they have already concelebrated the Chrism Mass or if, for the good of the faithful, they must celebrate another Mass.

Where pastoral considerations require it, the local Ordinary may permit another Mass to be celebrated in churches and oratories in the evening, and in the case of true necessity, even in the morning, but only for those faithful who cannot otherwise participate in the evening Mass. Care should nevertheless be taken to ensure that celebrations of this kind do not take place for the benefit of private persons or of small groups, and that they are not to the detriment of the main Mass. According to the ancient tradition of the Church all Masses without the participation of the people are on this day forbidden.

The tabernacle should be completely empty before the celebration. Hosts for the Communion of the faithful should be consecrated during that celebration. A sufficient amount of bread should be consecrated to provide also for Communion on the following day.

For the reservation of Blessed Sacrament, a place should be prepared and adorned in such a way as to be conducive to prayer and meditation; that sobriety appropriate to the Liturgy of these days is enjoined, to the avoidance or suppression of all abuses. When the tabernacle is sited in a chapel separated from the central part of the church, it is appropriate to prepare there the place of repose and adoration.

During the singing of the hymn ‘Gloria in excelsis’ in accordance with local custom, the bells may be rung, and should thereafter remain silent until the ‘Gloria in excelsis’ of the Easter Vigil, unless the Conference of Bishops or the local Ordinary, for a suitable reason, has decided otherwise. During this same period the organ and other musical instruments may be used only for the purpose of supporting the singing.

The washing of the feet of chosen men which, according to tradition, is performed on this day, represents the service and charity of Christ, who came ‘not to be served, but to serve’. This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained.

Gifts for the poor, especially those collected during Lent as the fruit of penance, may be presented as the offertory procession, while the people sing ‘Ubi caritas est vera’.

It is more appropriate that the Eucharist be borne directly from the altar by the deacons or acolytes, or extraordinary ministers at the moment of communion, for the sick and infirm who must communicate at home, so that in this way they may be more closely united to the celebrating Church.

After the postcommunion prayer, the procession forms, with the crossbearer at its head. The Blessed Sacrament, accompanied by lighted candles and incense, is carried through the church to the place of reservation, to the singing of the hymn ‘Pange lingua’ or some other eucharistic song. This rite of transfer of the Blessed Sacrament may not be carried out if the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion will not be celebrated in that same church on the following day.

The Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a closed tabernacle or pyx. Under no circumstances may it be exposed in a monstrance.

The place where the tabernacle or pyx is situated must not be made to resemble a tomb, and the expression ‘tomb’ is to be avoided: for the chapel of repose is not prepared so as to represent the ‘lord’s burial’ but for the custody of the eucharistic bread that will be distributed in communion on Good Friday.

The faithful should be encouraged after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper to spend a suitable period of time during the night in the church in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament that has been solemnly reserved. Where appropriate this prolonged eucharistic adoration may be accompanied by the reading of some part of the Gospel of Saint John (ch. 13-17).

From midnight onwards, however, the adoration should be made without external solemnity, for the day of the Lord’s Passion has begun.

After Mass the altar should be stripped. It is fitting that any crosses in the church be covered with a red or purple veil, unless they have already been veiled on the Saturday before the fifth Sunday of Lent. Lamps should not be lit before the images of saints.
– Given at Rome, at the Offices of the Congregation for Divine Worship, 16 January 1988

 

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