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The Mass of the Last Supper is, to me, the most beautiful service in Holy Week

One of the glories of the Triduum is the long and silent adoration at the Altar of Repose. One of its miseries is the attempt by misguided people to fill in the silence

By on Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Cathedral of Mdina, Malta, decorated for the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul (courtesy of the New Liturgical Movement)

The Cathedral of Mdina, Malta, decorated for the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul (courtesy of the New Liturgical Movement)

Today is traditionally known as “Spy Wednesday” – the day when, according to the gospel of the day, Judas “looked for an opportunity to betray him”.

Tomorrow the great Triduum begins. Some dioceses may well have had their Chrism Masses by now – I remember in Africa, where there were great distances to be traversed, and no proper roads, the Chrism Mass was held a full month before Easter. In my diocese it is this evening, and it represents more or less the only time of the year when the entire local church is invited to gather. So, if you are in any doubt about going along, it is well worth considering attending your local Chrism Mass.

I have heard it said that the Maundy Thursday Mass of the Last Supper is the least popular of the ceremonies of Holy Week. I have no idea why this should be, as it, to me, is the most beautiful of all the services. I will never, as a child, forget the wonderful sight of the Altar of Repose in the Cathedral in Malta, nor the spectacle of the frock-coated sacristan going from side altar to side altar, stripping them, not by removing the cloths and candles, but just by tipping the candlesticks over and rumpling the cloths.

Malta has, of course, three cathedrals, all of them beautiful; but the one I mean is not the stunning Anglican Cathedral, not even magnificent St John’s Co-Cathedral, but St Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina. I suppose everyone has a favourite church, a place where prayer has been valid. Mdina is mine, and the particular place is the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin
pictured here.

One of the glories of the Triduum is of course the long and silent adoration at the Altar of Repose that lasts until midnight. And one of the miseries of the Triduum, common in the city of Rome, is the attempt by misguided people to fill in this silence with paraliturgical hymns and prayers. This is one sure way to drive people away. Time and again I have seen people leave a church where they were praying in front of the Altar of Repose, on the entrance of some youth group armed with guitars and hymn books. I am not making this up.

Likewise, adoration should continue to midnight but not beyond. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved on Good Friday and Holy Saturday purely for the Viaticum, as the Missal makes clear. It is a pity that this is so often ignored, at least in Italy. For if I have a particularly favourite reading in the Triduum it is the second reading from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday.

It begins with the words: “Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep….” I think this silence is to be observed liturgically as well. You can find the whole reading, if you are unfamiliar with it, here.

  • Annie

    Absolutely agree with silent adoration at the Altar of Repose! There’s nothing much worse than Taize chant on a loop for ruining concentration. Apart from people chatting of course.

  • Lindi

    I agree that time of silence is precious .I feel sad that the re-presentation of Our Lord washing the feet of the men he is about to call to the priesthood has been altered by ‘including’ women. Sigh – wonder why we don’t have many priests !

  • http://pedesxpi.blogspot.com M.D. LaRue, K.M.

    Am I a bit confused here. In my experience adoration always took place from the end of the Maunday Thursday mass until the sacrament was removed for the Good Friday mass. In fact one of my favorite times to sign up for adoration was at 2 or 3 early on Good Friday morning: at the seminary this was an especially good time as there was few others who wanted the time and it was wonderfully quiet. Given that the sacrament is reserved for the Good Friday liturgy, this makes very good sense, whereas adoration until midnight only seems to make no sense in terms of the liturgy and its texts. After the Good Friday liturgy there was reservation in case of emergency, as you noted, but in a different and out of the way chapel, with no scheme for adoration. But perhaps Fr. you mispoke.

  • Anglo-Catholic

    “Something strange is happening…” is also one of my favourite readings. When I first it, it was one of those moments where I felt that the scales were falling from my eyes

  • The GF

    Everyone should read that amazing ancient homily for Holy Saturday. Dr Lucie-Smith has, once again, hit the nail right on the head.

  • Ratbag

    I’ve not heard the Wednesday of Holy Week called “Spy Wednesday” for ages!

    It’s jaw-dropping to read in the article that Maundy Thursday is ‘the least popular’ of the Easter Triduum! For goodness sake, the whole Triduum is one, long highlight and an important reminder of why we are Roman Catholics. It is the night Christ said the first Mass and turned bread and wine into His Body and Blood.

    I’m also astounded that some Blue Cagoule Gang decides to ruin the intimate silence of the Holy Hour after the Maundy Thursday Mass with a generous dose of Kum Bah Yah on the guitar! ‘Grief!

    I remember back in 1985, the curate of my old parish played an LP called Requiem by Andrew Lloyd Webber during the Holy Hour. Embarrassing, when I think back on it. It’s was a good job he wasn’t in the habit of putting his LPs into the wrong sleeve… or else we would have either had Ride of the Valkyries or Money For Nothing by Dire Straights!

    We need the discipline of silence and the time to be shown that discipline is long overdue.

  • Ratbag

    Sorry, that should spell DIRE STRAITS.

    Sigh!

  • Mater mari

    Lindi: I believe the latin rubric quite clearly states ‘viri’ for the Washing of Feet, that is, men as opposed to women, and not ‘homines’ (men as opposed to animals). I learnt this distinction in my first year of latin in the Second Form (Year 8) so why it is beyond the comprehension of clerics after a minimum of five years training can only be surmised.

  • AgingPapist

    The Anglo Catholic Church and some Lutheran churches celebrate the Maundy Thursdaly liturgy better than the Roman Church does. Often using the pre-Bugnini/pre-1955 forms of it For Good Friday, nobody celebrates any of the Holy Week rites better than one finds in Seville and other Spanish cities, and in the Greek Orthodox Church.