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Using every means to visualise the meaning of her Liturgy, the Church has adopted five colours, each having its individual significance. These colours are white, red, green, violet and rose. Cloth of gold which is used only on the greater solemnities may be substituted for white, green and red.

WHITE, which is the sum of all colours, signifies joy and purity of soul. This colour is used on the feasts commemorative of the great events in the life of Our Lord, on the feasts of Our Lady, the Angels, Confessors and Virgins. It is also worn during Christmastide and Eastertide.

RED, the symbol of fire and blood, is worn on Pentecost and throughout Witsuntide, and on the feasts of the Martyrs. It is also worn on the days commemorative of the sufferings of Our Redeemer.

GREEN, the colour of hope, is worn on the Sundays between Whitsuntide and Advent.

VIOLET, symbolic of penitence and humility is the peculiar colour of Advent and Lent, and is also worn on the Rogation Days, the Ember Days and Vigils of the greater feast days.

By way of exception, ROSE colour is permitted on Gaudete Sunday (third) in Advent and Laetare Sunday (fourth) in Lent.


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“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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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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“THE SEASON OF LENT begins on Ash Wednesday (5th March) marking the start of a six week period of preparation for the most important feast in the Church’s calendar, the Resurrection of the Lord at Easter.


Traditionally, Lent is penitential in character, reflecting the importance of ‘Changing One’s Heart’ by carrying out Acts of Charity, such as Almsgiving, denying oneself some of the everyday pleasures that we may take for granted, Fasting and, above all, Prayer and greater care in participation at the Eucharist. Acknowledging our failures and celebrating the Lord’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation has also been regarded as a valuable means of preparation and making that ‘Change of Heart’, which can transform our lives and open us to the fullness of gifts given to us at Easter.


During Lent the Church reflects the penitential character in its liturgies and prayers, especially the celebration of the Eucharist. The scripture readings emphasise repentance and forgiveness. The music used helps us to create this mood with the songs and chants we sing. The ‘Gloria’ is omitted and the Gospel Acclamation is said or sung without the ‘Alleluia’. There is more emphasis on the penitential rite and the proclamation of the Word, particularly the Gospel. There are no flowers on the altar and the colour of the vestments is violet.”
– Courtesy of “St William of York”


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“[Pope Benedict XVI] recalled the moment during a priest’s ordination in which he dons the liturgical vestments, saying: ‘In this exterior gesture the Church wished to make the interior event clear to us, and the task that arises therefrom: to don Christ, to give oneself to Him as He gave Himself to us. This event, this ‘donning of Christ,’ is represented ever and anew in each Mass.’

The liturgical vestments, then, Benedict XVI commented, ‘illustrate what it means ‘to don Christ,’ to speak and talk ‘in persona Christi’.’

The amice, he continued, ‘used to be placed over the head like a kind of hood, thus becoming a symbol of that discipline of the senses and the mind which is necessary for the celebration of Mass.’ The texts that interpret the alb and the stole ‘evoke the festive robes that the father gave to the prodigal son when he returned home dirty and in rags. When we celebrate the liturgy, acting ‘in persona Christi,’ we are all aware just how far from Him we are, how much dirt there is in our own lives. Only He can give us the festive robes, make us worthy of presiding at His table and of serving Him.

In donning the alb, said the Holy Father, ‘we must remember that His suffering was for me also. And only because of His love is greater than all of my sins can I represent Him and be a witness to His light… We ask the Lord to eliminate all hostility from our hearts, to remove all feelings of self-sufficiency and truly to dress us with the robe of love, that we may become people of light and not of shadows.

The Pope then went on to recall that the chasuble represents ‘the yoke of the Lord which has been imposed upon us as priests… To bear the Lord’s yoke means above all learning from Him, being always ready to go to His school. We must learn mildness and humility, the humility of God which was expressed in His becoming man.”
– From “Christ to the World” (International Review of Documentation and Apostolic Experiences) N 4 Jul-Aug 2008 Vol. 53; original title: “Symbolism of Liturgical Vestments”.

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Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Prayers for Ordinary Time


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