Maundy Thursday takes its name from the Latin antiphon sung at the beginning of the Footwashing Ceremony: Mandatum novum do vobis--"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you. There is a tendency to overemphasize the fact that this is the night of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. That was but one of the important things that happened at the Last Supper. This night begins the Triduum Sacrum, the sacred three days, of the Passion and Resurrection. As great a mystery as the Eucharist is, it is still only one aspect of a greater mystery, the mystery of love. Love is the mystery which is manifest again and again in the course of these days: in the New Commandment, in the Footwashing, in the Eucharist, and most especially on the Cross. A familiar Eucharistic hymn, translated from the Greek by John Brownlie, expresses succinctly the meaning of these days and the mystery they re-present.
Let Thy blood in mercy poured,
Thou didst die that I might live;
|By the thorns that crowned Thy brow,
By the spear wound and the nailing,
By the pain and death, I now
Claim, O Christ, Thy love unfailing.
Wilt Thou own the gift I bring?
Although the liturgy is enacted in segments, following the temporal course of the events of the Passion, it is in fact one liturgy of the Passion. Medieval English tradition reflected this in the use of a single liturgical color, the so-called Passiontide Red, or Oxblood, which was not used at any other time of the year but was used throughout the week of the Passion, from Palm Sunday until the change to festal vestments at the Paschal Vigil. In the early Church, the Paschal Mystery was quite literally celebrated in one liturgy. Our Paschal Vigil represents the tail end of a true all-night vigil, which began after dark on the Eve of the ancient Christian Pascha and featured the reading of the prophecies, followed by the Gospel accounts of the Passion and Resurrection. The Vigil included the Baptism of catechumens and, of course, culminated in the celebration of the Eucharist. Later, particularly in Jerusalem where events could be celebrated in the places in which they actually occurred, this single liturgy began to be broken up and spread over several days, losing some of the outward sense of continuity. But it remains a single liturgy, unified by its single overarching theme: the love of God that redeems us.
My song is love unknown,
He came from His blest throne
Sometimes they strew His way,
Why, what hath my Lord done?
|They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.
In life, no house, no
Here might I stay and sing,
Samuel Crossman, The Young Manís Meditation, 1664
Full Homely Divinity Home Page