A View from the Sacristy: Maundy Thursday
March 23, 2016 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Maundy Thursday
On Maundy Thursday, we gather to remember the Lord’s last night on earth before his Passion. The liturgy of this night has some very special moments that we only perform on this night. One of the more dramatic is called the “Stripping of the Altar.” This comes at the very end of the service when all the ornament of the church is removed. At St Luke’s, where we cover our images throughout Lent, it makes the church very bare.
There are many explanations of why we do this: some say that we remember the Lord’s Passion by removing all the symbols of His joyful presence; others say that we join symbolically with the disciples in deserting the Lord during His Passion; some also say the Church is preparing to mourn the Lord’s death.
After the altar is left bare, the sacred minister, usually the rector, washes the altar. In some traditions a mixture of water and wine is used, at St Luke’s we use a mixture of Holy Water and Sacred Chrism. Chrism is made of olive oil and is scented with a sweet perfume, usually balsam. We use this sacred oil when anointing the newly baptized, the newly confirmed, and during our weekly healing service.
We use all the Holy Water and all the Sacred Chrism we have left since last year so that, at the Great Vigil of Easter, our bishop will bless new Holy Water and consecrate new Sacred Chrism. Holy Water is a living sign of Christ’s presence among use, as the Prayer Book says “the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” The consecration of the Sacred Chrism invites us to join with Christ in his ministry “those who are sealed with it may share in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ.” The water and the oil are used to welcome people into the Christian family so it seems right that we use these two sacred elements to wash the altar that is the center of our common life together.
We not only pour the two sacred elements over the altar but then we use palm from Palm Sunday twisted into a knot to scrub the altar. If you remember during the blessing of the palm this past Sunday, we asked that the palm be a sign for us of Christ victory. So, even at the darkest time in the life of Christ we remember his Passion by using the signs and symbols of the Risen Christ; Holy Water, Sacred Chrism and blessed Palm.
– Sean Scheller