WHAT IS THE MEANING OF HOLY THURSDAY?
BY: – Ibrahim Ujulu Medugu
In “Triduum Sacrum” (Sacred Triduum/Holy Triduum), Holy Thursday is the most complex. In a nutshell; the day witnesses a dual celebration at both the morning hours (Chrism Mass/Cathedraticum) and the evening hours (Coena Domini/Mandatum). The Germans call Holy Thurday “Grundonnerstag”, for it connotes the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. From our attitudes we too can be Judas: Why do we sleep in church but stay awake in bars until sunrise? Why is it so hard to talk to God in prayer but so easy to chat? Why is it so easy to ignore a Godly text but re-send the nasty ones? When we sin we too like Judas are denying Jesus. Jesus said: “if you deny me in front of your friends, I will deny you in front of my father”. “The oldest and official name was Quinta in Coena Domini (Thursday of the Lord’s Super)” says O’Shea. It is also called “Maundy Thursday” among the English speaking countries, a corruption of the Latin word “Mandatum”; used to light the humility of Christ washing the feet of his Apostles-an action only done by slaves to their masters or mistresses. By so washing the feet of his Apostles, Christ has shown us that the world is not saved by our opinions but by our examples.
More so, on this day the Church also celebrates and commemorates the Institution of the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist that are inextricably tied together. Our Blessed Lord shared His unique priesthood with men by ordaining the apostles, and then He charged them with the command that is the raison de’tre for every Liturgical prayer. Holy Thursday therefore created the vocation to the priesthood/religious, a mark was stamped, a sign was given.
Nonetheless, historically Holy Triduum was only referred to Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday with the exclusion of Holy Thursday. Together the form Christ’s crucified, burial and resurrection (holy three days). Holy Thursday at that time was not referred to be part of the Holy Triduum, it was only referred as the solemn day for penance in order to enable people partake in the paschal mysteries worthily and the celebration of Chrism Mass only. This was aptly pin picked in the Galasian sacramentary of the 7th century. Against this practice of the early church that divorced Holy Thursday from the Triduum, the church in Modern time added it as an integral part of the Triduum celebrating as it were the “memoria passionis”; that is, the sacramental re-enactment of the Paschal Mystery.
Furthermore, since the reforms of Pope Pius XII, in the morning of the Holy Thursday, priests/religious and the laity of archdioceses, dioceses and vicariates do gather together with their bishop to celebrate chrism mass. It is expected that that all Catholics should congregate in large numbers in order to express solidarity and support to the chair of bishop or archbishop as the case may be. At the Chrism Mass, priest in front of their bishop and lay faithful recommit and rededicate themselves again to the responsibilities they accepted at ordination.
On biblical theological grounds and in faithfulness to the apostolic tradition of the church, Chrism Mass ought to be celebrated on Holy Thursday; as a reminder of the day on which it was first celebrated by Jesus in the evening of His passion. This notwithstanding, Chrism Mass could be celebrated on any other alternate day if there is a sufficiently grave reason or pastoral necessity of the diocese demands to enable the participation of more priests.
The readings of the Chrism Mass have a priestly undertone. The first reading from Isaiah 61:1-9 emphasis on the priestly character of the whole people of God. The second reading (Rev 1:5-8) are much connected with the first reading: “Christ has made us a line of Kings, priests to serve without counting the cost”. In fact, the preface of the Eucharistic prayer carries the theology of the eternal covenant as given the dignity of a royal priesthood to the people he has made in his own: By choosing others to share his sacred ministry through the laying on of hands.
Apart from the renewal of priestly vows and commitment during the Holy Thursday, the three holy oils used in the Church worship are equally blessed. In sacred scripture, oil serves a variety of purpose. It served as a condiment (Numbers 11:8), a fuel for lamps (Mtt. 25:1-9) and a healing agent for wounds (Lk. 10:34). It was equally used for anointing of: Kings (1 Samuel 10:I; 16:1-13); priests (Exo. 29:7), prophets (3Kings 19:16). It was also used for: honoring guests (Lk 7:46); for burial (Mk. 16:1, Lk. 23:56); as a cosmetic (Ruth 3:3, Jdt 10:3); for sacrifice (Ex. 29:40, Numbers 28:5); for figurative expressions to signify such a thing as in abundance (Jn 2:24); soft words (Prov 5:3); joy (1Sam 61:3); brotherly unity (Ps. 132:1-2); influence of the Holy Spirit (Jn 2:20); etc. Even in the history of the Church, throughout the run of the centuries of Christianity oils were considered instruments for strengthening, sacralization, beautifying and healing. They are symbols of spiritual nourishment and gifts of special grace of the Holy Spirit and it effects consecration.
The oils that are often blessed at Holy Thursday during Chrism Mass include:
1) Oil of Chrism: It is a blessed mixture of olive oil and balsam. According to J.P. Lang: “Balsam is a viscous aromatic resinous fluid acquired by cutting certain trees or plants… Since it is a curative agent for muscles and healing wounds, symbolically it indicates the grace received that preserves Christians from the evils of the world and allows them to lead virtuous and decent lives”. Chrism oil is also known as the oil of thanksgiving as it was stated in the Apostolic tradition of Hippolytus. The oil is used for anointing after baptism and for the administration of the sacrament of confirmation. During the Easter vigil it is equally together with the oil of Catechumen poured into baptismal water to effect its total blessing and consecration. It is also used for the coronation of Kings, bishops and for ordination of priests. Most recently, the Roman rite specifies that the dedication of a church should include the anointing of its walls (in 12 places) and the principal door with chrism in the form of a cross. It also recommends the signing of the altar on its table and base with chrism. Furthermore, chrism is used for the consecration of chalice and together with the oil of the sick used for consecration of church bells.
2) Oil of Catechumens: St Hippolytus calls it oil of exorcism. Together with the chrism, it is poured into the baptismal water at Easter vigil. W.J. O’shea avers that: “this oils is used in order to express our need for God’s help and strength so that, undeterred by the bonds of the past and overcoming the opposition of the evil, they candidate will forthrightly take the step of professing the faith and will hold fast to it unfalteringly throughout their lives”.
3) Oil of the Sick: Traditionally, the blessing of the oil of the sick occurs before the end of the Eucharistic prayer while the blessing of the other two comes after the communion prayer. The oil of the sick is only administered to the sick members of the mystical body in order to give them inner strengthening, forgiveness and recovery accompanied by prayer of faith (James 5:14). I am a witness to this that those who receive this sacrament of anointing of the sick will find it a true sign of comfort and support in time of trial. It will surely work to overcome the sickness, if this is God’ will.
A bishop is the ordinary minister in the consecration of the oil of Chrism. According to the first Council of Toledo (400) a bishop could as well consecrate chrism at any time. The practice however of blessing it on Holy Thursday dates back to the 6th century. Nevertheless, some priests could equally be conceded the faculty for the blessing of oils of catechumen and the sick.
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