WASHING OF THE FEET, THE INSTITUTION AND THE WATCH
After Jesus has washed their feet, had put on his robes,
and had returned to the table, he said to them,
‘Do you know what I have done to you?’
Full readings: Exodus 12. 1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116; 1Corinthians 11. 23-26; St. John 13. 1-15.
If we take seriously living with God and unto God, this night ushers in the most holy time of the Christian year. It is a privileged time for it gives us the opportunity for the next three days to live completely with Him, as everything else fades into oblivion. The Church’s liturgy is so structured that we can all share in the events of our Christ’s life from Holy Thursday to Easter, (the Triduum). To-night we are with Our Lord as He washes the disciples’ feet, institutes the Holy Eucharist, prays in the garden of Gethesemane in the Synoptic Gospels before being arrested there and taken to Gabbatha where during the night He is beaten and subjected to all kinds of inhumane acts. No wonder He has very little strength to carry the cross outside the city for His crucifixion! We too will go to Golgotha, and through our tears, fasting and prayers kneel before the altar of Repose until we are exhausted also this night.
At the Eucharist to-night the Gloria is sung as it is a joyful occasion before the gloom of Good Friday (and before it resounds even more gloriously at the Paschal Vigil Liturgy). It is indeed a joyful and glorious occasion because on this night our Lord gives us Himself. It means we are never deserted by Him, even if we desert Him at times. This Sacrament means life and vitality and that is what we should take out in the world after each Mass. Nevertheless the joy of and thankfulness for the Sacrament make way for the other realities of this night: desertion and darkness. The church is stripped: now naked, devoid of life, there is nothingness. Jesus has gone to prepare for and meet His death.
Meanwhile the Sacrament has been taken to the Altar of Repose, usually in a chapel, which has been beautifully decorated to await Jesus. Here our dear Lord will rest for the night, and here He invites us to be with Him. If you have never experienced watching and praying with Our Lord on Maundy (the traditional name for this day) Thursday, I suggest you do it this year. Usually there is a roster system, mainly to ensure that there is always someone there, but one can come and go anytime. I can assure you it is the most wonderful night of the year. The silence envelopes one and penetrates deep within, so that you and Jesus become almost inseparable. You hear the silence of Jesus! This vigil is contemplation in all its sweetness. You want to linger and linger with your Lord, and you desire so ardently to be Mary so you could bathe those feet which will labour under the heavy cross and bear the nails. You simply pour out love, and time becomes almost timeless! A verse of a Eucharistic hymn will perhaps haunt you all night:
Strength and protection may Thy Passion be;
O blessed Jesus, hear and answer me;
deep in Thy wounds, Lord, hide and shelter me;
so shall I never, never part from Thee.
On this most holy night, as the Paschal moon sheds its soft light over the world, we are bidden to spend it with Jesus. Our Lord has done all He could possibly do for His disciples. He had just given them and to us the most wonderful gift in the world - Himself through the common substances of bread and wine at their evening meal. Indeed on this day our Lord gives us almost too many good things: His example of humility by washing His disciples’ feet, the assurance of His peace, the command to love one another, the promise of the Holy Spirit, and His very Self in the Blessed Sacrament. So “Could you not watch with me one hour?” On this most holy night, Jesus asks this of us all.Will you come, and “taste and see how gracious is the Lord?”
The hour has come! Judas has gone! Soon they will be here! Until then, the time is precious, to be spent in unison with His Father so that the divine will may be done. Yet His soul is heavy, full with grief and suffering for the sinfulness of man. To support Him as He pours out His agony to the heavens, he has taken Peter, James and John, the three who had shared with Him in His glorious transfiguration to another part of the garden of Gethesemane from the other disciples. His request to His friends is simple enough, to pray with Him. Yet they could not; they fail Him, their Friend and Master. Why? Was it because they were sleepy after the meal? Was it because they were lazy? Was it because they did not know what to pray for? For whatever reason they had deserted their Friend, and Peter was soon to deny Him as well. They could not watch with Jesus even for one hour!
As they slept Judas was gathering the troops. Only the moon silently watches as Jesus prays, and spreads her gentleness over His grief-stricken face. Soon the silence within the garden will be shattered by the sound of footsteps and the clamour of swords and staves, but more piercing will be the sound of Judas’ kiss.
Judas’ kiss challenges us to examine our loyalty to Christ; the disciples’ sleep challenges the freshness of our prayer and meditation life, while the brutality of the soldiers challenge our absorbing the hurts of this life. On this most holy night, let us give sincere thankfulness for the Blessed Sacrament which fills us with Your life each day, and may we always come to the Altar prepared to receive Love, and take Love out into the world.
As I watch with You during the silent hours of this night let Your sufferings and grief penetrate to my inner self, so I can share something of what You endured for me and all mankind, what Deitrich Bonhoeffer called ‘costly grace’. I adore You O Christ, and bless You, because by Your cross You have redeemed the world. Amen.
GOOD FRIDAY - THE CRUCIFIXION
Faithful cross! above all others
One and only noble treet!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be;
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle
Sing the ending of the fray,
O'er the Cross, the victor's trophy,
Sound the loud triumphant lay;
Tell how Christ, the world's redeemer,
As a a victim won the day.
God's love was such that it brought Him to Golgotha. It brought Him to dragging a heavy cross, often stumbling, often falling and needing support from an outsider to outside a city where with two criminals He was nailed to His cross, and left to hang there until He died. What an ignominious death for the God of all creation, the Giver of all life and sustenance, to die bereft of any human dignity and kindness. Such was God's love - a love that absorbed the Cross - a cross which carried the sin of disobedience of man.
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
The cross, oh, so horrible for Him (not the Johannine account) but oh, so sweet for us. It is indeed sweetness for us, frail creatures, because in dying, Christ has fulfilled the will of His Father in complete obedience and thus His Cross has freed us from the sin of Adam. The atonement means we have been restored to our former glory, and we now have the potential to live as we were created for, that is, towards perfection. "What could I do more for you that I have not done?"
Yet on Good Friday as we linger at the cross, our whole thoughts are directed to Christ there, hanging upon that cross. As we look and look upon our dear Saviour, we realize only too well it is my sins of selfishness, anger, pride, hatred, jealousy, sloth, greed, impatience, intolerance and deceitfulness which drove those nails into His feet and hands, and made Him undergo such agony. O Lord never let You see my sins but through my tears. Never was there such a pitiful but merciful sight. Love outstretched to embrace all of mankind. "Come unto me," He says, "and I shall refresh you." Even in Your deepest agony, it was we You thought of!
Just as the sword pierces Your side, let it pierce our hearts to overflow and overflow with love for You, dear Saviour of the world. Just as the nails penetrated Your hands and feet, may they drive out all our sins. As You cried out "forgive them Father, for they know not what they do", we crave for your forgiveness for every time we have driven those nails in further. As You gave up Your Spirit, let us too die to sin every day. As we kneel and kiss Your feet to-day during the Good Friday liturgy, may we do it lovingly and penitently. May it enforce on us the weight of the Cross, and then see that weight in the glow of God's love. Perhaps those words of that wonderful Passiontide hymn written by Samuel Crossman during the Caroline period, will ring in our ears as we do:
Here might I stay and sing.
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine!
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.
Good Friday is a day of fasting and prayer, and at the end of it we should feel exhausted both physically and spiritually. With the vigil the evening before, we should have given so much that we are completely drained. It is only when we are drained, hungry, and fatigued that we can have any understanding of our Lord's passion. Don't be frightened to undertake all this for our Saviour. The savouring of it will last a long time. And if we do not spend Good Friday without any deprivation, how then can we taste the joys and wonders of Easter day, and enjoy that Queen of all festivals in celebration? We cannot! So spend and be spent for Him Who hangs upon the Tree so that we may be His true sons and daughters.
O dear Redeemer, You underwent such agonized suffering for me, in order to restore me, may I show You my thankfulness in my penitence for my sin, my ardent desire to fight against sin, and above all in my love for You. I venerate Your cross, O Lord, for by virtue of the Cross, joy has come to the whole world. O Holy God, Holy and mighty, Holy and immortal, have mercy upon me. Amen.
The term “triduum” means three days, beginning on Holy Thursday evening and concluding on Holy Saturday night or early morn with the Paschal Vigil as the Church celebrates the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. It is one extensive liturgy with three acts as it were. It is the culmination of the whole liturgical year. The season of Lent concludes after morning Mass on Holy Thursday. There are special features during the Triduum, including the washing of feet, the institution of the Eucharist, the stripping of the altar, the vigil before the Altar of Repose, the veneration of the cross, the reading of the Passion narrative, the lighting of new fire and the paschal candle, the renewal of baptismal vows and the first Eucharist of Easter. As it is one continuous liturgy all faithful Catholics should be present throughout. It should be lived in the spirit of a retreat in which we meditate on these holy events without letting worldly things intrude much.
It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the Spirit.
John Ch. 19:30.
Full readings: Full readings: Isaiah 52: 13-52.12; Psalm 31; Hebrews 4.14-6, 5. 7-9; St. John 18. 1 – 19. 42.
Rejoice, heavenly powers!
Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creatures around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
The readings for the Mass: Romans 6. 3-11; Pslam 118; St. Matthew 28. 1-10.
Evil has been overcome! Death has lost its sting! Where now is the victory but through Christ Himself? As we huddle usually in the cold as well as the dark awaiting the lighting of the fire for the new light our thoughts should be towards the new life that we are about to celebrate. It is the most important celebration of the year as “the light of Christ” is chanted three times by the deacon as he carries the paschal candle into the church. After each declaration we give our assent in the “Amen’.
To-night’s liturgy has three parts to it: the liturgy of the word; the liturgy of initiation; the liturgy of the Eucharist. In the first part the readings declare God’s saving acts to the Israelites: His delivering them from bondage in Egypt and setting them on the course to the Promised Land. Indeed the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation, links the two passovers clearly – the Passover of the Israelites and that of Christ. The second part is the initiation rite for catechumens and or the renewal of baptismal vows by the congregation. For the catechumens it is the culmination of a long period of preparation to be become Christ’s own, and to promise faithfulness. The last part begins with the sound of bells and organ as the Gloria is sung. When the Vigil begins near dawn, the sun is now beginning to filter in. That heralds the joy of knowing that Christ is risen and that we shall receive that life at Communion.
The gospel reading tells of the women coming to the tomb very early in the morning with their spices after the ending of the Sabbath. To their surprise the stone had been rolled away and an angel appeared unto them exclaiming that Christ had risen and they must tell the disciples. Could this be true? After all it was not many hours before that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had sat opposite the tomb. But there had been the Sabbath observance! Nevertheless they set out, only to be greeted by the Master Himself. What joy that must have been as they fell down and worshipped Him!
This night begins another year of living in the spirit of the risen Christ. Although there are fifty days to celebrate Easter in a very special way, we must remember that each Sunday the Eucharist is celebrated essentially to honour the Resurrection.
We have spent forty days during Lent and then the Triduum. Hopefully we are all more disciplined, prayerful and loving. It is so easy to say we can leave all that until next year. Of course next year may not come. This special time of the year has prepared us for how we should live each day. We do not know when that moment will come and we face our pass over. Pray that we are not found wanting.
O heavenly Father we rejoice to-night with the angels and archangels in proclaiming the greatest news ever – that Christ is risen and had triumphed over death and sin, by Your grace help me to live like an Easter person. Amen.
Now in the place where He was crucified
there is a garden: and in the garden a
new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet
laid. There they laid Jesus.
There are no readings for the Eucharist as it is not celebrated while Christ rests in the tomb until the evening. Instead the Morning Office is usually said.
The horror of yesterday has subsided. Jesus’ body has been lovingly tendered for burial and placed in the sepulchre. There is a hush over the garden after the clamour of the crowds and the hammering of nails of yesterday.
Traditionally on Holy Saturday we ponder too on our Lord’s preaching to all the departed. The Church has always taught that on this day Christ descended into Hades, the place of the departed spirits. One of the most moving accounts of our Lord in Hades, His conquering of evil and death, and raising the dead is given in the Gospel of Nicodemus. So powerful is it, I would like it to be the focal point of our Holy Saturday’s meditation.
Satan, the prince and leader of death, says to hades: ‘Prepare yourself to receive Jesus who boasts that He is Son of God.’...
Hades, answering, said to Satan, `Who is this man so powerful, though He be a man who fears death? ... If therefore you are all powerful, of what kind is that man Jesus, who, fearing death resists your power?...’
And Satan answered, `Why have you doubted and feared to receive that Jesus, your adversary and mine? ... His death is nigh at hand, that I may bring Him to you, subject to you and me.’...
And while Satan and Hades said these things one to another, there came suddenly a voice as of thunders and a cry of spirits. `Lift up your gates you princes; and be you lifted up, you everlasting gates, and the King of glory will come in. ...’
And all the multitude of the saints hearing these things said to Hades .... ‘Open your gates, that the King of Glory may come in.’ And David said to Hades ‘And now, O most vile and filthy Hades, open your gates that the King of Glory may come in.’ And while David so spoke, the Lord of Majesty came upon Hades in the form of man, and lighted up the eternal darkness, and rent the indissoluble chains, and the aid of power invincible, visited us who were sitting in the deep darkness of trespass and in the shadow of the death of sins.
Then Hades and Death and their wicked servants seeing this, together with their cruel ministers feared exceedingly the brightness of this great light revealed in their own realm as they saw Christ suddenly in their home, and they cried out, saying: ‘We are conquered by You.’ .... Then the King of Glory with His majesty trampled on Death, and seizing Satan ... delivered him to the power of Hades and drew Adam to His brightness. ...
Then Hades [reviling Satan] said, ‘Lo, now this Jesus, with the splendour of his divinity, disperses all the darkness of death and has broken the firm foundation of our prisons, and has sent forth the prisoners and loosed them who were bound; and all who were wont to groan under our torments, insult us, and by their prayers our dominion is stormed and our kingdom conquered, and the human race no longer fears us. ...’
And the Lord, stretching forth His hand said, ‘Come to me, all my saints who have my image and my likeness. You who by the tree and the devil and death had been condemned, see now how by the tree, the devil and death have been condemned. And immediately all the saints were gathered together under the hand of the Lord. ...’
And the Lord stretching forth His hand made the sign of the cross on Adam and on all His saints, and holding the right hand of Adam ascended from the lower world, and all the saints followed Him. ...
And all the saints [declared] ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. The Lord is God, and has shone upon us. Amen. Alleluia.’
Holy Saturday is also a day of reflection, to look back on the Lent we have just kept and to see whether it has been a time of growth for us. Has it brought us to live a life that pursues holiness more and more? That is, have we come to know God better and to love Him more deeply in the way we have lived towards our fellow brothers and sisters? Hopefully we can all say, I have grown, even if only a little. It is progress, progress towards perfection in Christ which is the goal and purpose for every Christian. Having made that progress, we have to remember that living the Christian life is not static. We have to build on our Lenten foundation during the whole year. If that foundation has been solid, we may stumble but we shall not sink under the various trials and temptations which await us from day to day. Amongst all the changes and chances of this fleeting world, we can repose upon God’s changelessness.
On this Holy Saturday dear God, may I wait in quiet expectancy to meet You in the Easter garden. Let me to do all that is needed to be ready for such an important and wonderful meeting so that sin and any kind of shadow will not dim that glorious Light. Amen.