The Liturgy of Maundy Thursday brings us to the heart of Holy Week. It marks the beginning of the Triduum, or sacred three days, by which the church enters into the mystery of Jesus’ last days.
The Service is made up of four main elements:
The Washing of Feet
If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (John 13.14)
The ritual of footwashing is a moving and powerful symbol and all are invited to participate. It reminds us of the humility shown by Jesus and the community of service that he has founded.
The Mass of The Last Supper
Dwelling on last meal of Jesus and his disciples we are reminded of the Jewish origins of Christian worship in the form of the Passover. From context of the Jewish feast emerge several layers of Christian meaning and significance. We look back to the Last Supper, dwell in the reality of Christ’s presence in broken bread and anticipate the future of the heavenly banquet.
The Stripping of the Sanctuary and Chapel of Repose
Maundy Thursday ends in a dramatic way. The sacrament is solemnly taken to the Chapel of Repose which recalls the withdrawal of Jesus to Gethsemane. The beauty of the altars is stripped away leaving the church looking empty and forlorn. The procession and the stripping are accompanied by hymns and psalms.
The abandonment of Jesus in the garden is recalled in the reading of the Gospel of the Watch which ends with the disciples forsaking him. The words of Jesus to his disciples in the garden Could you not stay awake with me one hour? ask us to wait and watch.