The Solemn Liturgy of Maundy Thursday

Thursday, April 21, 2011
Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may thankfully receive the same in remembrance of him who in these holy mysteries giveth us a pledge of life eternal, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

5:30 PM


Above: The Blessed Sacrament, at the Altar of Repose, after Holy Communion and before the Stripping of the Altar. A watch is kept after the Liturgy for those who wish to venerate the Sacrament.

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This first of the three great liturgies of the triduum is, itself, a service with many distinct parts.

The service begins like any other Solemn Eucharist at Saint Thomas. The choir and clergy are led in procession by a thurifer and acolytes carrying crosses and torches as all join in the singing of a hymn.

Following the Opening Acclamation and the Collect for Purity, the Gloria is sung as the Celebrant censes the altar. We then proceed, as usual, with the Salutation and the Collect of the Day, the Lesson, the Psalm, and the Epistle.

At the Gradual Hymn, four verses are sung as the Gospel Book is blessed and the Gospel Procession moves from the High Altar to the floor of the nave, among the people. After the reading of the Gospel by the Deacon, the congregation and choir sing the final two verses of the hymn.

A homily is given.

After the homily, we move into something completely different: the Mandatum, or foot-washing ceremony. When a bishop is present, the bishop stoops to wash. This year, a bishop will not be present, and therefore the Rector will wash the feet of twelve parishioners who represent various parts of the congregation. The Rector invites these parishioners to come forward, and they sit in chairs arranged in the center of the chancel. The Rector washes feet as the choir sings Ubi caritas and Drop, drop, slow tears.

The Greetings follow the Mandatum, and we then enter into the third part of the service, the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist proceeds as usual, except that the Sanctus Bell has been silenced, and instead you will hear the clacking of a wooden crotales, which makes a sound not unlike that made by wooden castanets. The bell remains silenced through the Great Vigil, and is heard only again at the First Eucharist of Easter on Saturday night.

As almost everyone in the congregation chooses to receive the sacrament on Maundy Thursday, communion can indeed take longer than usual.

After the Postcommunion Prayer, something else completely out of the ordinary happens. Acolytes emerge to take the candles off the altar, and these candles are carried in procession, behind a thurifer, cross, torches and clergy, and ahead of the remaining Blessed Sacrament, which is carried by the Celebrant and Deacon. This Sacrament will be consumed by parishioners on Good Friday.

The Procession occurs as a hymn is sung, with periods of silence between each verse. During those periods of silence, the Sacrament is moved: first from the High Altar to the Crossing, then from the Crossing to the center of the nave, then from the center to the back of the nave, and then around to the Altar of Repose in the Chantry, which has been made to look as the Garden of Gethsemene. All of this is done as the congregation kneels, the Sacrament slowly passing them by.

[This stopping at the crossing, the center and the back will occur again at the other two great liturgies of the triduum: the wooden cross will stop in these same places as it is brought to the High Altar on Good Friday, and the Light of Christ will stop at these exact places at the beginning of the Great Vigil.]

After the Sacrament is put into place on the Altar of Repose, the priests and acolytes kneel, and the cross which led the procession is lowered to a point where it almost, but does not quite, touch the floor. The final two verses of the hymn are sung in this Benediction, and the Solemn Liturgy of Maundy Thursday itself is now over.

Yet, there is more.

The choir has remained in place in the chancel. And after the acolytes and clergy have returned to the ambulatory adjacent to the chancel, the gentlemen of the choir begin to sing Psalm 22. As they sing, the altar is stripped bare by acolytes and priests. First the cross, then the flowers, then the Gospel Book and Missal and small linens, then the Fair Linen, and finally the frontal.

[If you read Psalm 22, Deus, Deus meus, you will quickly understand why it is sung as the altar is stripped bare.]

Then, after the altar has been left naked, the Rector emerges, and, by pouring from two cruets, he creates small puddles of water and wine in places on the surface of the altar that represent the wounds of Christ. He then scrubs the altar using a bundle of dried palms from Palm Sunday, a link to the triumphiant arrival in Jersulem that in days became tragedy. When he is finished loudly scrubbing, he tosses the bundle of palms aside, and the choir immediately stops singing, and all the lights are suddenly out, and the church is left in darkness as choristers run through the church, scattering themselves in frightened flight.

The bare altar is left alone and abandoned.

A watch is kept at the Altar of Repose for those who wish to stay for awhile to pray and venerate the Blessed Sacrament.

CelebrantFr. Mead
PreacherFr. Austin
DeaconFr. Austin
SubdeaconFr. Spurlock
Sung byThe Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys
MandatumFr Mead
LessonExodus 12:1-14
EpistleI Corinthians 11:23-26
GospelJohn 13:1-17,31b-35
GloriaMissa Pange Lingua, Josquin des Prez (c. 1440-1521)
Psalm78:13-21, 24-25, Anglican Chant (Stanford, Barnby, Atkins)
AnthemUbi caritas, Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)
AnthemDrop, drop slow tears, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
AnthemTristis est anima mea, Orlandus Lassus (1532-1594)
SanctusMass for Five Voices, William Byrd (c. 1540-1623
AnthemTantum ergo, Maurice Duruflé
The Stripping of the AltarPsalm 22 Deus, Deus meus, Plainsong (Tone II1)