As we enter the last day of Jesus's life on Maundy Thursday, there are four notable components that make up our observance on that day.
1. Foot washing
(Omitted for 2020)
- Following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, the priest washes the feet of those present. While none must participate, we do well to remember the objections of Peter and to consider what prevents us from receiving this sign of love and service. We learn to serve others by accepting the service which Christ freely offers to us.
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. - John 13:3-5
2. Institution of the Eucharist
- We can become accustomed to the regular celebration and reception of the Eucharist given its prominent role in our regular schedule of worship. On Maundy Thursday, we remember the Last Supper of the Lord with his disciples. But like the foot washing, we do more than remember fondly this great event. We come to the table bidden by the Lord to enter in and participate in it.
The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. - 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
3. Vigil Watch
- After the Eucharist, we typically reserve the Sacrament for its use on Good Friday. And as we end the liturgy of Maundy Thursday, we stand on the eve of the Crucifixion. On that night after supper, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane and prayed to his Father in heaven. As he returns, he finds the disciples asleep, unaware of the magnitude of what is about to transpire.
We know well what awaits us on Good Friday, and as the Sacrament reposes on the altar, we are invited to sit vigil with the Lord. We watch, and we wait, mindful of our Lord's question to his sleeping disciples:
So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. - Matthew 26:40-41
4. Stripping of the Altar
- After Supper, Judas betrayed the Lord. In the hours which follow the disciples flee, Peter denies, and Jesus is abandoned. In time, even his clothes will be taken from him.
As our liturgy draws to a close, we symbolically abandon Christ as we remove the fine appointments which beautify the sanctuary. We strip the altar which is itself the principal symbol of the Lord. And the tabernacle which houses the Blessed Sacrament the rest of the year round is emptied, its door left ajar, and the candle of the presence is extinguished so that we are left with a dark and empty sanctuary.
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’...Peter declared to him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples. - Matthew 26:31, 33-35
Painting by Ford Maddox Brown: Jesus Washing Peter's Feet