Thursday, April 21, 2011

Triduum: Holy Thursday

Tonight marks the beginning of the Triduum – the three days from Holy Thursday evening to Easter Saturday evening – during which Catholics commemorate the Last Supper, the Passion and Crucifixion, and finally the vigil at the tomb awaiting the Resurrection. This three-day Liturgical celebration caps off Holy Week which began the preceding weekend on Palm Sunday (which recalls Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem).

The liturgy for these three days - Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday - form one seamless whole. Beginning with the Last Supper and ending at the tomb, we follow Jesus step by step, hour by hour, through His Passion. We remain "in the moment" even as we leave the church and go about our daily routine. The services are designed to draw us into the real-time events of Christ's Passion and death. The liturgical celebration of Holy Thursday does not come to its final conclusion until we pass through the agony of Good Friday and finally the joy of Saturday's Vigil Mass. They form one Liturgy that allows us to walk with Jesus through these events. And so with Jesus we leave the Last Supper in silent anticipation of the Cross; and we leave Good Friday service in somber reflection, and anxious to witness the Risen Christ; and we are there at the tomb to witness His triumph over death. The Triduum draws us into a lived experience of the coming Easter by recalling those events as they actually happened.

And so, tonight we begin that journey...

Holy Thursday

Tonight we remember the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. In preparation for His death, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples, His last meal before His death. At that celebration Christ gave new meaning to the unleavened bread and the cup of blessing, by proclaiming: “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” – linking His sacrificial death to the Communion meal now celebrated at every Mass.

Also at that final meal Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles to demonstrate the humble service to which they would be called as leaders of the Church. If Jesus - their Master - washed their feet, then how much more ought they to wash the feet of others. On this night, during Mass members of the congregation are selected to have their feet ceremoniously washed by the presiding celebrant (the priest or bishop presiding at Mass). 

Holy Thursday commemorates the institution of the priesthood. Those men who are ordained as Catholic priests are called to a life of service (symbolized by the washing of the feet) and these men provide for us the Sacraments, most especially the Eucharist (which is remembered this night). When Jesus, after washing their feet, calls on His Apostles to do as He does, He is calling them to priestly service in the Church. So this night we especially remember the priestly vocation and pray for those who accept that call.

At the end of the Mass, the consecrated Eucharist (which Catholics believe to be the Body and Blood of Jesus – His Real Presence in our midst) is transferred from the main altar to a temporary location, usually outside of the main sanctuary at a suitable altar of repose. There members of the faithful can wait with the Lord through the night, just as the Apostles were called to do in the Garden of Gethsemane until Jesus was arrested. 

The service ends abruptly, with no concluding hymn or procession. All leave in silence. But the liturgy does not end…it continues the following day.

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