Holy Thursday

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, he 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, and he commanded them and their successors in the priesthood to perpetuate this offering.”

Careful attention should be given to the mysteries that are commemorated in this Mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ’s command of brotherly love.

Holy Thursday is also known as “Maundy Thursday.” The word maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum(commandment) which is the first word of the Gospel acclamation:

Mandátum novum do vobis dicit Dóminus, ut diligátis ínvicem, sicut diléxi vos. “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

These are the words spoken by our Lord to His apostles at the Last Supper, after he completed the washing of the feet. We should imitate Christ’s humility in the washing of the feet.

By meditating on the Gospels (cf. Matt 26:1 ff.; Mark 14:1 ff.; Luke 22:1 ff.; John 13:1 ff.), we can recall to mind Jesus’ actions of that day. Father Bernard Strasser summarizes all the events of that first Holy Thursday:

…They included: (1) the eating of the Easter lamb or the paschal meal; (2) the washing of the disciple’s feet; (3) the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist (the first Mass at which Jesus Christ, the eternal high priest, is the celebrant; the first Communion of the apostles; the first conferring of Holy Orders); (4) the foretelling of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denials; (5) the farewell discourse and priestly prayer of Jesus; (6) the agony and capture of Jesus in the Garden of Olives. — Father Bernard Strasser, With Christ Through the Year

Chrism Mass

There are only two Masses allowed on Holy Thursday — the Chrism Mass and the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. In each diocese there is a Chrism Mass or Mass of the Holy Oils, usually said in the morning at the cathedral of the diocese. Catholics should make an effort to participate at the Mass at least once in their lives, to experience the communion of priests with their bishop. All the priests of the diocese are invited to concelebrate with the bishop. The holy oils to be used throughout the diocese for the following year in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Sacrament of the Sick are blessed by the bishop at this Mass. This Mass also celebrates the institution of the priesthood.

According to the ancient tradition of the Church, all Masses without the participation of the people are forbidden on this day.

Mass of the Lord’s Supper

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 the following day.

During the evening of Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. It is celebrated in the evening because the Passover began at sundown. There is only one Mass, at which the whole community and priests of the parish participate. This is a very joyful Mass, as we recall the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood. The priests wear white vestments, the altar is filled with flowers, the “Gloria in excelsis” is sung and the bells are rung.

After the “Gloria in excelsis,” we shall not hear organ music and the bells until the “Gloria in excelsis” of the Easter Vigil. The Liturgy of the Mass recalls the Passover, the Last Supper, which includes the Washing of the Feet of chosen men which represents the service and charity of Christ, who came “not to be served, but to serve.” The hymn Ubi Caritas” or Where Charity and Love Prevail” is usually sung at this time or during the offertory procession where gifts to the poor, especially those collected during Lent as the fruit of penance, may be presented.

After the postcommunion Prayer, there is no final blessing. The Holy Eucharist is carried in procession through church with the crossbearer at its head and accompanied by lighted candles and incense, and then transferred into a place of reposition, usually a side chapel. The hymn Pange Lingua is also usually sung at this time.

When the tabernacle is in a chapel separated from the central part of the church, it is appropriate to prepare the place of repose and adoration there. 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.

After the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the faithful should be encouraged to spend a suitable period of time during the night in the church in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament that has been solemnly reserved to answer Christ’s invitation “Could you not, then, watch one hour with me?” (Matt 26:40). Where appropriate, this prolonged eucharistic adoration may be accompanied by the reading of some part of the gospel of Saint John (ch. 13-17). There is a tradition, particularly in big cities with many parishes, to try and visit seven churches and their altar of repose during this evening.

From midnight onward, however, the adoration should be made and conclude without external solemnity, for the day of the Lord’s passion has begun.

After Mass, we recall the Agony in the Garden, and the arrest and imprisonment of Jesus. The altar is stripped bare and any crosses in the church are removed or 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.

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