Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday Behind the Scenes

Maundy Thursday, also called Holy Thursday but not by us, is the annual service that commemorates the Last Supper. At St. Michael's it's a fairly long but rather fun ritual, full of fellowship and symbolism.

We gather in the Smith Parish Center for a meal that vaguely resembles a Seder but not really, with lamb and salad and some kind of grains, hummus and pita and wine. We read from the Old Testament and the New,bless the bread and wine and food, and sing a few simple chants. One person from each table is the "servant," charged with bringing out the food from the kitchen.

After we eat, the clergy and their helpers (acolytes) come around with water, soap and sponge, and wash the feet of the servants, while everyone else sings. (The "servant" at my table declined, so I was nominated. How's that for a selfie?)

They we process into the church, singing, before proceeding with the last Eucharistic Prayer before Easter Vigil.

People receive Communion as usual, but most of the rest of the service after that is unique. Acolytes carry the big candles from the altar and the Crucifer carries the cross, hidden behind a wrapping of purple cloth, as the priest (the Celebrant) carries the unconsumed portion of the Eucharist down the aisle to the back of the church. (I can tell you that those candles are heavy, and not especially sturdy!) The Communion is locked away on the Walsingham altar, which becomes the Altar of Repose.
Meanwhile, the congregation is singing, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Clergy and acolytes return to the sanctuary, now bereft of the symbols of Christ's presence, and we begin the Stripping of the Altar. We carry out altar clothes and linens, and the straight pins that hold them in place.

This year, we carried out absolutely everything - linens, books, even seat cushions!

We bring it all into the sacristy, the little room just outside the sanctuary, where the Altar Guild collects the linens for folding and washing.

While the Altar Guild works in the sacristy, clergy and subdeacons are scrubbing the now-bare altars. The congregation is left to leave on their own, in silence.

I read a few days ago that the reason there is no dismissal at the end of Mass on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday is that it's basically all one long service, with pauses from one evening to the next. There will be no consecration of bread and wine on Good Friday or the morning of Holy Saturday. Jesus is symbolically absent from the altar, except in the form of a rustic crucifix that we venerate on Good Friday. But on Thursday night and Friday, we can wait with him at the Altar of Repose, and try not to fall asleep as Peter, James and John did at Gethsemane before the arrest.

The Holy Week marathon service continues at 7 PM tomorrow with the Good Friday service. And I'm due to watch at the Altar of Report in 40 minutes, from 11:30 PM to midnight.