Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sarum Rite Holy Thursday: The Stripping of the Altars

As this blogger notes, the Sarum Use celebration of Holy Thursday is more solemn than the Latin Rite. As the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite remembers the institution of the sacraments of Holy Communion and Holy Orders, the priest wears white vestments; the Gloria is sung; bells ring, and the Altar is quietly stripped after the Blessed Sacrament has being processed to the Altar of Repose. An air of solemnity sets in with that procession and the chanting of St. Thomas Aquinas's Eucharistic hymn, Pange, lingua and we try to meet Jesus's challenge in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Could you not watch one hour with me?"

The Sarum Use Holy Thursday omits the Gloria, uses Red vestments (as on Palm Sunday and Good Friday), and the Altar is ceremoniously and significantly stripped in preparation for Good Friday, as this post describes.

  • When the Altar is stripped, that symbolizes the stripping of Jesus at Calvary before He is nailed to the cross.
  • When the Altar is washed with wine and water, that symbolizes the blood and water that poured from His wounded side, representing Baptism and Holy Communion.
  • When the Altar is scrubbed with a brush, that symbolizes the scourging at the Pillar. 

More about the Sarum Use here.

A friend of mine posted on his Facebook page that his students were having trouble understanding or relating to Josef Pieper's theories of the relationship between religious ritual and leisure. They are Catholic high school students, but they have been secularized to degree that they don't see the connections between the great public work of the Church and their private lives. Sadly, I think the post-modern Catholic Church liturgy--not because of the Holy Thursday rites at all, which I think are wonderful--has contributed to this problem. The suppression of the prayers of Tenebrae, for example, stripped Holy Week of some of its mystery, not to mention the great cultural riches of musical settings of Jeremiah's Lamentations. Note that many Mainline Protestant churches celebrate Tenebrae, because they recognize the conflict between good and evil during Holy Week, and that we all participate in that conflict and live it everyday. When we remember the Passion and Death of Jesus, we should experience darkness and silence in the liturgy.

Father James V. Schall, SJ, identified the issue in his Foreword to the Ignatius Press edition of Leisure: The Basis of Culture:

When a culture is in the process of denying its own roots, it becomes most important to know what these roots are. We had best know what we reject before we reject it. If we are going to build a chair, the first thing we need to know, above all else, is what a chair is. Otherwise, we can do nothing. We are not a culture that never understood what a human being was in his nature and in his destiny.

Rather we are a culture that, having once known these things, has decided against living them or understanding them. Indeed, we have decided to reject most of them, almost as an act of defiance—as an act of pure humanism—as if what we are is not first given to us. We have let an empty future that we propose to make by our own standards become the ideal over and against a real past that revealed to us what man really was and is: namely, a being open to wonder who did not create himself or the world in which he dwells.

During Holy Week, being "a being open to wonder who did not create himself or the world in which he dwells' also means being a being open to wonder who did not redeem himself and whose suffering and striving only has meaning because of Jesus, who suffered for us, died for us, and rose for us. Something indeed to wonder about through prayer and meditation--which require leisure and time and attention.

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