The Holy Triduum (Three Days) of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter is the holiest time of the Christian year. How can we enter more deeply into the mysteries of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord during this sacred time?
Holy Thursday is when the Church celebrates the solemn memorial of the Last Supper — when Our Lord Jesus instituted the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood. During the Liturgy of the Word, we hear again the story of the first Passover, when the blood of a lamb was used to mark the doors of the Israelites, the angel of death passed over their homes when he struck down the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. The Israelites were to keep the Passover every year “as a perpetual institution.” And they did, until the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. But that Passover sacrifice and meal was simply a foreshadowing (a “type”) of the true Passover, which Our Lord instituted on Holy Thursday. In the Epistle (I Corinthians 11), we hear St. Paul’s account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, and in the Gospel (John 13), we hear how the Lord Jesus sets a model for how we are to serve one another in the Church — by the washing of his disciples feet, He shows us that we must humble ourselves and take the lowliest place of service to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It would be good for us to meditate upon these Scriptures as we prepare for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
After the Liturgy of the Word, the priest celebrant will (usually) wash the feet of several parishioners, effectively reenacting the action of Our Lord, and symbolizing the fact that the priest is a servant — he serves the People of God on the journey to the eternal promised land of heaven by his priestly ministry. Following this, the Mass continues with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, but the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) has some special inserts that are only used for this Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday — listen attentively!
At the end of this solemn Mass, the Church normally has a Eucharistic procession, in which the Holy Eucharist is brought around the Church to the special altar that has been prepared for adoration. During this procession, we chant the “Pange Lingua” — a medieval hymn in honor of the Holy Eucharist that was composed by the Church’s greatest theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas. Once we reach the altar of repose, we begin our time of adoration — but the Blessed Sacrament is not exposed in a monstrance (as in normal Eucharistic adoration) — Our Lord is adored in the tabernacle, hidden from our eyes. This is a sacred time of watching and waiting with Our Lord while He undergoes the Agony in the Garden — we stay awake and watch with Him as we prepare to enter into the next phase of the Holy Triduum, Good Friday. [Stay tuned for the next post]