April 13, 2017: MAUNDY THURSDAY (Part I)
April 13, 2017: MAUNDY THURSDAY
Rank: Double of the I Class.
(PART I: Until the Last Supper)
With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you, before I suffer.
(St. Luke, xxii. 15)
This is the first day of the Azymes, or Feast of the Unleavened Bread. At sun-set, the Jews must eat the Pasch in Jerusalem. Jesus is still in Bethania; but he will return to the City before the hour for the Paschal supper. The Law commands this; and, until he has abrogated the Law by the shedding of his Blood, he wishes to observe his ordinances. He therefore send two of his Disciples to get everything ready for the Pasch, without, however, telling them the great Mystery, wherewith it is to terminate. We who know it, and that it was at this Last Supper that was instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we can understand why he sends Peter and John, in preference to any of the other Disciples, to prepare what is needed (St. Luke, xxii. 8). Peter, who was the first to confess the Divinity of Jesus, represents Faith: and John, who leaned upon the breast of the Man-God, represents Love. The mystery, which is to be instituted at to-night’s Supper, is revealed to Love by Faith. It is this that Jesus would have us learn from his choice of the two Apostles; but they themselves see not the intention of their Master.
Jesus, who knew all things, tells them by what sign they are to know the house, which he intends to honour with his presence: they have but to follow a man, whom they will see carrying a pitcher of water. The house to which this man is going, belongs to a rich Jew, who recognizes Jesus as the Messias. The two Apostles apprise him of their Master’s wishes; and immediately he puts at their disposal a large and richly furnished room. It was fitting, that the place, where the most august Mystery was to be instituted, should be something above common. This Room, where the reality was to be substituted for all ancient figures, was far superior to the Temple of Jerusalem. In it was to be erected the first Altar for the offering up of the clean oblation, foretold by the Prophet (Malach, i. 11): in it was to commence the Christian Priesthood: in it, finally, fifty days later on, the Church of Christ, collected together and visited by the Holy Ghost, was to make herself known to the world, and promulgate the new and universal Covenant of God with men. This favoured sanctuary of our Faith, is venerated on Mount Sion, has been mercifully preserved unto us so many traces of our Redeemer, by the Divine Providence.
During the course of the day, Jesus has entered Jerusalem, with the rest of his Disciples: he has found all things prepared. The Paschal Lamb, after being first presented in the Temple, has been brought to the house, where Jesus is to celebrate the Supper: it is prepared, together with the wild lettuce and the unleavened bread. In a few hours, the Divine Master and his Disciples will be standing round the table, their loins girt, and staves in their hands; and, for the last time, they will observe the solemn rite prescribed by God to his people, when they first went forth from Egypt.
The Church intends, on this day, to renew, in a most solemn manner, the mystery of the Last Supper: for our Lord himself, on this occasion of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, said to his Apostles: Do this for a Commemoration of me (St. Luke, xxii. 15).
Jesus is in the Supper chamber, where the Paschal Lamb is to be eaten. All the Apostles are with him; Judas is there, also, but his crime is not known to the rest. Jesus approaches the table, on which the Lamb is served. His Disciples stand around him. The ceremonies prescribed by God to Moses are religiously observed. At the beginning of the repast, Jesus speaks these words to his Apostles: With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you, before I suffer (St. Luke, xxii. 15). In saying this, he does not imply that the Pasch of this year is intrinsically better than those that have preceded it; but, that it is dearer to him, inasmuch as it is to give rise to the institution of the new Pasch, which he has prepared for mankind, and which he is now giving to give them as his last gift: for as St. John says, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them unto the end (St. John, xiii. 1).
During the repast, Jesus, who reads the hearts of all mean, utters these words, which cause great consternation among the Disciples: Amen I say to you, that one of you is about to betray me :– he that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, he shall betray me (St. Matth, xxvi. 21, 23). The sadness, with which he speaks, is enough to soften any heart; and Judas, who knows his Master’s goodness, feels that they imply a merciful pardon, if he will but ask it. But no: the passion of avarice has enslaved his soul, and he, like the rest of the Apostles, say to Jesus: Is it I, Rabbi? Jesus answers him in a whisper, in order not to compromise him before his brethren: Thou hast said it! But Judas yields not. He intends to remain with Jesus, until the hour comes for betraying him. Thus, the august mystery, which is on the point of being celebrated, is to be insulted by his presence!
The legal repast is over. It is followed by a feast, which again brings the Disciples around their Master. It was the custom in the east, that guests should repose two and two on couches round the table; these have been provided by the disciple, who has his house at Jesus’ service. John is on the same couch as Jesus, so that it is easy for him to lean his head upon his Master’s breast. Peter is on the next couch, on the other side of Jesus, who is thus between the two Disciples, whom he had sent, in the morning, to prepare the Pasch, and who, as we have already observed, represent Faith and Love. This second repast is a sorrowful one, in consequence of Jesus having told the guests, that one of them is a traitor. The innocent and affectionate John is overwhelmed with grief, and seeks consolation on the Heart of this dear Lord, whom some one is about to deliver to his enemies.
But the Apostles little expect a third Supper. Jesus has not told them of his intention; but he had made a promise, and he would fulfil it before his Passion. Speaking, one day, to the people, he had said: I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever, and the Bread that I will give, is my Flesh for the life of the world. My Flesh is meat indeed, and my Blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my Flesh and drinketh my Blood, abideth in me, and I in him (St. John, vi. 51, 52, 54, 56, 57). The time has come for the fulfillment of this loving promise. But as it was both his Flesh and his Blood that he promised us, he waited till the time of his sacrifice. His Passion has begun; he is sold to his enemies; his life is already in their hands; – he may at once, therefore, offer himself in sacrifice, and give his Disciples the very Flesh and Blood of the Victim.
As soon as the second repast was over, Jesus suddenly rises, and, to the astonishment of his Apostles, takes off his upper garment, girds himself, as a servant, with a towel, pours water into a basin, and prepares to wash the feet of the guests. It was the custom, in the East, to wash one’s feet, before taking part in a feast; it was considered as the very extreme of hospitality, when the master of the house himself did this service to his guest. Jesus is about to regale his Apostle with a Divine Banquet; he wishes to treat them with every possible mark of welcome and attention. But in this, as in every other action of his, there is a fund of instruction: he would teach us, by what he is now doing, how great is the purity, wherewith we should approach the Holy Table. He that is washed, says he, needeth not but to wash his feet (St. John, xiii. 10); as though he would say: “The holiness of this Table is such, that they who come to it, should not only be free from grievous sins, but they should, moreover, strive to cleanse their souls from those lesser faults, which come from contact with the world, and are like the dust that covers the feet of one that walks on the high-way.”
It is with Peter, the future Head of his Church, that Jesus begins. The Apostle protests; he declares that he will never permit his Master to humble himself so low as this: but he is obliged to yield. The other Apostles, (who, as Peter himself, are reclining upon their couches,) receive the same mark of love: Jesus comes to each of them in turn, and washes their feet. Judas is not excepted: he has just received a second warning from his merciful Master; for Jesus, addressing himself to all the Apostles, said to them: You are clean; but not all (St. John, xiii. 10): but the reproach produced no effect upon this hardened heart. Having finished washing the feet of the Twelve, Jesus resumes his place, side by side with John.
Then taking a piece of the unleavened bread, that had remained over from the feast, he raises his eyes to heaven, blesses the bread, breaks it, and distributes it to his Disciples, saying to them: Take ye, and eat; this is my Body (St. Matth, xxvi. 26). The Apostles take the bread, which is now changed into the Body of their Divine Master; they eat; – and Jesus is, now, not only with them, but in them. But, as this sacred mystery is not only the most holy of the Sacraments, but, moreover, a true Sacrifice; and as a Sacrifice requires the shedding of blood; – our Jesus takes the cup, and changing the wine into his own Blood, he passes it round to his Disciples, saying to them; Drink ye, all, of this; for this is my Blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many, unto remission of sins (St. Matth, xxvi. 27, 28). The Apostles drink from the sacred chalice this proffered them; when it comes to Judas, he too, partakes of it, but he drinks his own damnation, as he ate his own judgement, when he received the Bread of Life. (I Cor, xi. 29). Jesus, however, mercifully offers the traitor another grace, by saying, as he gives the Cup to his Disciples: The hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table (St. Luke, xxii. 21).
Peter is struck by Jesus thus frequently alluding to the crime, which is to be committed by one of the Twelve. He is determined to find out who the traitor is not daring himself to ask Jesus, at whose right hand he is sitting, he makes a sign to John, who is on the other side, and begs him to put the question. John leans on Jesus’ breast, and says to him in a whisper: Lord, who is it? Jesus answers him in an equally suppressed tone: He to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And having taken one of the pieces of bread that remained over from the repast, he dipped it, and gave it to Judas. It was one more grace offered and refused, for the Evangelist adds: And after the morsel, Satan entered into him (St. John, xiii. 27). Jesus again addresses him, saying: That which thou dost, do quickly. The wretch then leaves the room, and sets about the perpetration of his crime.
Such is the history of the Last Supper, of which we celebrate the anniversary on this day but there is one circumstance of the deepest interest to us, and to which we have, so far, only made an indirect allusion. The institution of the Holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and Sacrifice, is followed by another; – the institution of a new Priesthood. How could our Saviour have said: Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his Blood, you shall not have life in you (St. John, vi. 54) – unless he had resolved to establish a ministry upon earth, whereby he would renew, even to the end of time, the great Mystery he thus commands us to receive? He begins it to-day, in the Cenacle. The twelve Apostles are the first to partake of it: but observe what he says to them: Do this for a commemoration of me (St. Luke, xxii. 19). By these words, he gives them power to change bread into his Body, and wine into his Blood; and this sublime power shall be perpetuated in the Church, by holy Ordination, even to the end of the world. Jesus will continue to operate, by the ministry of mortal and sinful men, the Mystery of the Last Supper. By thus enriching his Church with the one and perpetual Sacrifice, he also gives us the means of abiding in him, for he gives us, as he promised, the Bread of heaven. Today, then we keep the anniversary, not only of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, but, also, of the equally wonderful Institution of the Christian Priesthood.
THE CHURCH CEREMONY
The Office of Matins and Lauds, for the last three days of the Holy Week, differs, in many things, from that of the rest of the year. All is sad and mournful, as though it were a funeral-service: nothing could emphatically express the grief that now weighs down the heart of our holy mother, the Church. Throughout all the Office of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, she forbids herself the use of those formulas of joy and hope, wherewith, on all other days, she begins her praise of God. The Domine, labia mea aperies (O Lord, thou shalt open my lips): the Deus, in adjutorium meum intende (Incline unto mine aid, O God): the Gloria Patri, at the end of the Psalms, Canticles, and Responsories :– all are taken away. So likewise are those soul-stirring additions, which have been gradually made, in the different ages; and nothing is left, but what is essential to the form of the Divine Office :– Psalms, Lessons, and Chants expressive of grief. Each Canonical Hour ends with the Psalm Miserere, and with a commemoration of the Death and Cross of our Redeemer.
The Mass of the Maundy Thursday is one of the most solemn of the Year; and although the Feast of Corpus Christi is the day for the solemn honouring the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, – still, the Church would have the anniversary of the Last Supper to be celebrated with all possible splendor. The colour of the vestments is white, as it is for Christmas Day and Easter Sunday; the decorations of the Altar and Sanctuary all bespeak joy: and yet, there are several ceremonies during this Mass, which show that the holy Spouse of Christ has not forgotten the Passion of her Jesus, and that this joy is but transient. The Priest entones the Angelic Hymn, GLORIA IN EXCELSIS! and the Bells ring forth a joyous peal, which continues during the whole singing of the heavenly Canticle: but, from that moment, they remain silent, and their long silence produces, in every heart, a sentiment of holy mournfulness. But why does the Church deprive us, for so many hours, of the grand melody of these sweet bells, whose voices cheer us during the rest of the year? It is to show us, that this world lost all its melody and joy when its Saviour suffered and was crucified. Moreover, she would hereby remind us, how the Apostles, (who were the heralds of Christ, and are figured by the Bells, whose ringing summons the Faithful to the House of God,) fled from their Divine Master and left him a prey to his enemies.
The Holy Sacrifice continues as usual; but at the solemn moment of the Elevation of the Host and the Chalice of Salvation, the Bell is silent, and outside the Church, there is not given to the neighbourhood the usual signal of the descent of Jesus upon the Altar. When the time of the holy Communion is near, the Priest does not give the Kiss of Peace to the Deacon, who, according to the Apostolic tradition, should transmit it, by the Sub-deacon, to those that are about to communicate. Our thoughts turn to the traitor Judas, who, on this very day, profaned the sign of friendship by making it an instrument of death. It is out of detestation for this crime, that the Church omits, today, the sign of fraternal charity, – it would too painfully remind us of sacrilegious hypocrisy.
Tomorrow, the Church suspends the daily Sacrifice. Such is the impression produced by the anniversary of our Saviour’s Death, that the Church dares not to renew, upon her Altars, the immolation which was then offered on Calvary; – or rather, her renewal of it will be by the fixing all her thoughts on the terrible scene of that Friday Noon. The Host reserved from today’s Mass, will be her morrow’s participation.
But, although the Church suspends, for a few short hours, the oblation of the perpetual Sacrifice, – she would not that her Divine Spouse should lose aught of the homage, that is due to him in the Sacrament of his Love. Catholic piety has found a means of changing these trying hours into a tribute of devotion to the Holy Eucharist. In every Church is prepared a richly ornamented side-chapel or pavilion, where, after to-day’s Mass, the Church places the Body of her Divine Lord. Though veiled from their view, the Faithful will visit him in this his holy resting-place, pay him their most humble adorations, and present him their most fervent supplications. Wheresoever the Body shall be, there shall the eagles be gathered together (St. Matth, xxiv. 28). In every part of the Catholic world, a concert of prayer, more loving and earnest than at any other period of the Year, will be offered to our Jesus, in reparation for the outrages he underwent, during these very hours, from the Jews.
THE STRIPPING OF THE ALTARS
As soon as Vespers are over, the Celebrant returns to the Sanctuary, assisted by the Deacon and Subdeacon. He goes to the Altar, and takes off the cloths and ornaments. This ceremony signifies the suspension of the Holy Sacrifice. The Altar should be left in this denuded state, until the daily offering can be again presented to the Divine Majesty; that is, when the Spouse of the holy Church shall arise from the Grave, the Conqueror of Death. He is now in the Hands of his enemies, the Jews, who are about to strip him of his garments, just we strip the Altar. He is to be exposed naked to the insults of the rabble.
And having stripped the High Altar, the Celebrant takes off the Cloths from the other Altars that are in the Church. And air of desolation pervades the Temple of God. The very Tabernacle has lost its Divine Guest. The Ciborium, (in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved for Viaticum,) has been taken to the place, where reposes the Chalice containing the Body of our Lord. The Majesty of our God has withdrawn to that mysterious Sanctuary, into which we enter not but with silence and compunction.
THE WASHING OF THE FEET
After having, on this day, washed the feet of his Disciples, Jesus said to them: Know ye what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord; and you say well, for so I am. If then I, being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you, also, ought to wash one and other’s feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also (St. John, xiii. 12-15). Although the meaning of these words is, that after the example of our Divine Master, we should practise works of fraternal charity towards our neighbor, – yet the literal imitation of this our Saviour’s act has always been observed in the Church.
After the Deacon has chanted the Gospel of the Mass of Maundy Thursday, the celebrant takes off the Cope, girds himself with a towel, and kneeling down, begins to wash the feet of those who have been chosen. He kisses the right foot of each one, after having washed it. The Celebrant having resumed his Cope, the ceremony concludes with few prayers.
Source: The Liturgical Year - Passiontide and Holy Week, Dublin, Edition 1870
Praise be to Thee O Lord, King of everlasting glory!