Tonight we embark upon the Holiest days of the Church Year: the Triduum, the Memorial of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. The solemn celebration of the Triduum begins tonight with the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper- the Mass of His Body and Blood. On this, and every Holy Thursday, we celebrate the greatest miracle and mystery in human history: that our Lord Jesus loves us so much that He feeds us with His own flesh and blood. On this night He instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist to be a perpetual source of grace.
Tonight we celebrate not only the institution of the Holy Eucharist, but also the institution of a royal priesthood. For without the gift of the priesthood, we would not have the treasure of the Eucharist. Likewise, without the Eucharist, we would not have the priesthood. It is the priest who consecrates bread and wine, which at his word become the real Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The priest is the vital instrument by which Our Lord chooses to bring Himself to us- renewing in us His covenant of love. This is truly a night of miracles.
Yes, tonight’s Mass is replete with symbolism and the beauty of ancient ritual. But beyond the symbolism there is tangible reality, and the greatest reality of all is the Holy Eucharist.
Symbolically, tonight twelve men are chosen to represent the Apostles. Just as on this night centuries ago, Christ washed the feet of the His apostles, so too we are symbolically reminded of our call to wash the feet of others. Our Lord assumed the posture of slave, to perform the most menial task out of love. As we watch the re-enactment of the washing of the feet, and sing the antiphons, we too are reminded of our call to serve others as a reflection of Christ’s love alive within us. We are not merely bystanders, we are participants, as we carry the love of Christ to the world as servants of the Divine Master.
These antiphons are usually sung during the washing of the feet. From tonight’s Liturgy:
Antiphon 1 (from John 13: 4,5,15).:
The Lord Jesus,
When he had eaten with His disciples,
Poured water in a basin
And began to wash their feet, saying:
This example I leave you.
Antiphon 2 (from John 13: 6, 7, 8).:
Lord, do you wash my feet?
Jesus said to him:
If I do not wash your feet,
You can have no part with me.
So He came to Simon Peter,
Who said to him:
Lord do you wash my feet?
Now you do not know what I am doing,
But later you will understand.
Antiphon 3 (from John 13: 14):
If I your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet,
then surely you must wash one another’s feet.
Tonight, after Mass, the Holy Eucharist is transferred to a Tabernacle of Reposition, to be adored throughout the night. The Pange Linga (Sing my tongue the Savior’s Glory…) is sung as the Blessed Sacrament is processed around the Church. As the procession nears the Tabernacle of Reposition, the chorus changes to Tantum Ergo Sacramentum. These beautiful ancient hymns were penned by St. Thomas Aquinas, and express in chant the profound nature of the mystery of the Holy Eucharist and the reality of the Blessed Trinity.
Tonight, a plenary Indulgence is granted, under the usual conditions (Holy Communion, Sacramental Confession within eight days, prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father, and freedom of attachment to sin), for those who devotedly recite the Tantum Ergo on Holy Thursday after the Mass of the Body and Blood of Christ, during the liturgical rites (Handbook of Indulgences, 1991 Catholic Book Publishing, p.84).
Tantum Ergo Sacramentum
Down in Adoration falling
Lo! The Sacred Host we hail,
Lo O’er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.
To the everlasting Father,
And the Son Who reigns on high
With the Holy Spirit proceeding
Forth from Each Eternally,
Be salvation, honor blessing,
Might and endless majesty. Amen
The altar is stripped. The crosses are covered, and all depart in silence to contemplate the greatest gift ever given.
Ad Jesum per Mariam