‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ (John 13:34)
The central message in my address for Palm Sunday was “Let Jesus happen to us through the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week”. At the Triduum services we won’t be concerned about historical re-enactments, but rather we will make present through the liturgy the actions and the life of Jesus so that they may nurture us and renew our faith in the Easter mysteries. So, over these first three evenings of this week I would like to share with you some thoughts about the Easter Triduum, the three days of Easter. We start, then, with Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, commonly called Maundy Thursday.
Maundy Thursday is the day in which the Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist during his last meal, a Jewish Passover meal, with the disciples. As part of this meal Jesus commands to his followers what they are to do and how they are to live. The name Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word ‘mandatum’, meaning ‘commandment’, because John 13.34 was used as the Entrance Antiphon. Interestingly, the washing of the feet, as Jesus practical expression of how we should love one-another, is sometimes call Mandatum as well. Yet, this mandatum, the new commandment of Jesus is more than a random snippet of Scripture at the beginning of the Mass; the Lord’s instruction to love one-another expresses concisely and powerfully both the meaning of Maundy Thursday liturgy, and what the life of a Christian should be.
‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’. So just as Jesus washed the disciples feet the priest washes the feet of the faithful so that both him and them might be reminded of their vocation to serve; just as Jesus gave himself wholly in the Eucharist, so at this Mass more than any other, the faithful receiving the Communion are reminded to give their lives wholly for others.
And this is, in a nutshell, the meaning and spirit of Thursday’s liturgy. But there is a second part to the service which in most churches is rather less well attended than the first; I am talking about the Watch. After Communion the Blessed Sacrament is transferred with much ceremony to the 'altar of repose', in our case the Lady Chapel altar, adorned for the first time since the beginning of Lent with flowers and many candles. On that altar the Lord in the Sacrament will be the focus of silent adoration until midnight, and in doing this we will retrace the moments leading up to Jesus’ arrest when
he ‘went with the disciples to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ (Matthew 26:36)
This Eucharistic Watch forms the link between the Last Supper in the first part of the service and the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday. In these moments of adoration Jesus will speak to us, and as we watch and wait with him a while he will nurture us with his presence. Around us the lights will be dimmed, the church will be stripped of the remaining decoration, and the words of the Passion according to St John will remind us that Good Friday is approaching and Calvary is near.