Thursday, April 08, 2004

Maundy Thursday





Today is the first day of the Sacred Triduum. The wonderful old Catholic Encyclopaedia gives a short history of today's feast here. (I've been using Google's cached copies lately; the actual CE site must be getting fairly popular as it is quite difficult to access these days.)

It is usual on this day for the Chrism Mass to be held in each diocesan cathedral at which the holy oils for the coming year are consecrated. In this archdiocese for some reason it was celebrated last Monday.

The Mass liturgy includes the washing of the feet of twelve men by the priest in imitation of Christ at the Last Supper. In older times, it was not only the clergy who washed the feet of others, but also kings and other rulers and men of power. The following text is from "Chambers Book of Days". It includes descriptions and some of the old Maundy Thursday traditions in England and is followed by a description of the Roman ceremonies of his time. Chambers looks down his Protestant nose at the popish ceremonies to be sure, but it is still a fascinating look at the old ceremonies mostly gone now.

The king of England was formerly accustomed on Maundy Thursday to have brought before him as many poor men as he was years old, whose feet he washed with his own hands, after which his majesty's maunds, consisting of meat, clothes, and money, were distributed amongst them. Queen Elizabeth, when in her thirty-ninth year, performed this ceremony at her palace of Greenwich, on which occasion she was attended by thirty-nine ladies and gentlewomen. Thirty-nine poor persons being assembled, their feet were first washed by the yeomen of the laundry with warm water and sweet herbs, afterwards by the sub-almoner, and finally by the queen herself, kneeling; these various persons, the yeomen, the sub-almoner, and the queen, after washing each foot, marked it with the sign of the cross above the toes, and then kissed it. Clothes, victuals, and money were then distributed. This strange ceremonial, in which the highest was for a moment brought beneath the lowest, was last performed in its full extent by James II.

King William left the washing to his almoner; and such was the arrangement for many years afterwards. 'Thursday, April 15 [1731.], being Maundy Thursday, there was distributed at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, to forty-eight poor men and forty-eight poor women (the king George II's age being forty-eight), boiled beef and shoulders of mutton, and small bowls of ale, which is called dinner; after that large wooden platters of fish and loaves, viz. undressed, one large old ling, and one large dried cod; twelve red herrings and twelve white herrings, and four half-quarter loaves. Each person had one platter of this provision; after which were distributed to them shoes, stockings, linen and woollen cloth, and leather bags, with one penny, two-penny, threepenny, and fourpenny pieces of silver and shillings; to each about four pounds in value. His Grace the Lord Archbishop of York, Lord High Almoner, performed the annual ceremony of washing the feet of a certain number of poor in the Royal Chapel, Whitehall, which was formerly done by the kings themselves, in imitation of our Saviour's pattern of humility.' For a considerable number of years, the washing of the feet has been entirely given up; and since the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria, an additional sum of money has been given in lieu of provisions. Some examples of the Maundy money recently used by English royalty are here represented.

In Austria, the old rite of the Fusswaschung is still kept up by the Emperor, under circumstances of great ceremony.

The ceremonies of Holy Thursday at Rome call for being described in detail.
Blessing the Oils: This ceremony takes place in St. Peter's during mass, the cardinal arch-priest, or a bishop in his stead, officiating. There are three varieties of the oil to be blessed. The first is the oil of catechumens, used in blessing baptism, in consecrating churches and altars, in ordaining priests, and in blessing and crowning sovereigns. The second is the oil used in administering extreme unction to the apparently dying. Third, the sacred chrism, composed of oil and balm of Gilead or of the West Indies, and which is used in confirmation, the consecration of bishops, patens, and chalices, and in the blessing of bells. The Roman Pontifical prescribes, that besides the bishop and the usual ministers, there should be present twelve priests, seven deacons, and seven sub-deacons, all habited in white vestments.

The bishop sits down before a table facing the altar, and exorcises and blesses the oil for the sick, which is brought in by a sub-deacon. He then proceeds with the mass, during which the balsam is brought in, and also the oil for the chrism and that for the catechumens, by two deacons. The bishop blesses the balsam and mixes it with some oil; he then breathes three times in the form of a cross over the vessel of the chrism, as do the twelve priests also. Next follows the blessing, and then the salutation of the chrism; the latter is made three times, by the bishop and each of the twelve priests in succession saying, ' Hail, holy chrism,' after which they kiss the vessel which contains it. The oil of catechumens is blessed and saluted in like manner; and with the remaining part of the mass the rite terminates. Roman Catholic writers adduce various authorities and traditions sanctioning these ceremonies.

Silencing the Bells: In the Sistine chapel, at the performance of mass, after the Gloria in Excelsis is sung, no bells are allowed to be rung in Rome, except at the Papal benediction, until the same canticle is sung in the Papal chapel on the following Saturday morning. In other words, all the bells in Rome are mute from about half-past eleven on Thursday morning till the same time on Saturday. During this period of two days, such is the force of the custom, that hand-bells, usually employed in hotels to be rung for dinner, are silent. So likewise bells rung for school remain mute. As a substitute for bells, it is the practice to use a kind of wooden clappers, or troccola. These are in the form of wooden boxes, with some interior mechanism turned by a handle, so as to make a disagreeable clattering noise. This species of troccole is said to have been used anciently by the Greeks. The silencing of the bells?a signal comfort to the ears in some parts of Rome?being prescribed in ancient rituals, is thus enforced as one of the old customs of the church.

Feet Washing at St. Peter's: The Pope, who officiates at this and other ceremonies, is this day dressed very plainly, in white, with a red cope, and a small white skull-cap; and instead of being carried he walks, for the object of the usages in which he is concerned is to typify the humility of Christ on the night of the Last Supper. After mass at the Sistine chapel, his Holiness, about one o'clock, proceeds to the balcony over the central door of St. Peter's, and there pronounces his general benediction. As this is repeated in grander style on Easter Sunday, there is usually no great concourse of spectators.

Descending to the church, the Pope proceeds to the northern transept, which is fitted up for the occasion. On the north is his chair of state; on the west and ranged along the draped wall, embellished with a tapestry picture of the Last Supper, is a bench or seat elevated on a platform so as to be conspicuous. The other parts of the transept are fitted with seats for distinguished persons, also for ladies who are suitably dressed and provided with tickets. Just as the Pope is about to take his seat, there enter from a side door thirteen bishops dressed in high white caps and white garments. Twelve of these represent the apostles, whose feet were washed by Christ, and the thirteenth represents an angel, who, according to the legend, appeared to Gregory the Great (590-601), while he was performing an act of charity to poor persons.

These thirteen bishops, who are all habited alike, take their seats gravely on the bench along the wall, and are the objects of general attention; for it is their feet which the Pope is about to wash. After some singing and reading of passages of Scripture, the Pope's cope is taken off, an embroidered apron is put on, and a towel is fastened to his waist by the assisting cardinal deacons; and then he washes and kisses the right foot of each. of the thirteen priests. It is to be understood that the washing is of the slightest possible kind. Little time is occupied. The ceremony terminates by each receiving from the Pope a towel and a nosegay, besides a gold and silver medal which are presented by the treasurer. The Pope now washes his hands, is re-invested in his red cope, and proceeds immediately to the next act of humiliation.

The Pope Serving at Supper: Conducted in procession from the northern transept, the Pope walks across the nave of St. Peter's to a stair which leads to a large apartment above the portico. Here a table is laid, as for a regular meal, the recipients of which are the thirteen priests who have just been honoured by having their feet washed. He gives them water to wash their hands, helps them to soup and other dishes, and pours out wine and water for them to drink. The plates are handed to him by prelates. During the ceremony, one of his chaplains reads prayers. He then blesses them, washes his hands, and departs. The priests who are the objects of these attentions are selected from different countries by the favour of diplomatic agents. Some of them, however, are Italians, selected by officials on the spot, the captain of the Pope's Swiss guard having the privilege of appointing one.

The Grand Penitentiary: Among the remarkable things in St. Peter's, are the number of confessionals, in which are seated clergymen ready to hear the confessions of those who apply to them, and who seem so many religious sentinels at their posts. Still more to accommodate applicants, the confessionals, as is seen by inscriptions on them, are for the French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and. Greek, as well as Italian languages. Besides this usual arrangement, the Grand Cardinal Penitentiary sits in a confessional in the afternoon of Holy Thursday to give absolution for mortal sins which are beyond the sphere of ordinary confession, and which cannot other-wise be absolved. This day, the altars of St. Peter's are all stripped, the hundred lamps that usually burn round the tomb of St. Peter are extinguished, and with the chanting of the Miserere a general gloom prevails.

Washing the Feet of Pilgrims: The ceremonies connected with the so-called pilgrims, take place at the Trinit'a de' Pellegrini, an establishment adapted for accommodating pilgrims and situated in one of the populous parts of Rome. Poor persons are admitted to the benefit of the charity, who have come to visit the holy places from a greater distance than sixty miles, and who bring certificates from their bishop. The ceremonies on the evening of Holy Thursday consist in washing the feet of pilgrims of both sexes, the men in one place, and the women in another.

To the female department ladies only are admitted as spectators. After the feet-washing, each class is entertained at supper. The following account of the affair is by an eye-witness in the present year:? 'I went to the feet-washing of the male pilgrims about eight o'clock. On entering a passage, I saw a tremendous crush at the further end, where there was a door opening on a lower floor, in which the ceremony takes place. With some little squeezing, I got through the doorway, down a few steps, and found myself in a hot and close apartment, crowded nearly to suffocation. Along one end and side was a bench to be used as a seat, with a foot-board raised off the floor. A paling and guards kept back the crowd. In half an hour, a troop of poor-looking people, very much resembling the ragged beggars whom one sees in the streets of Rome, entered by a side door, and ranging themselves along the bench, proceeded to take off their shoes and stockings. Several priests now appear, and one of them having read some prayers, they join the body of operators.

These are gentlemen and persons in business in Rome, who form a confraternity devoted to this and other acts of charity. They are habited in a red jacket, a little cravat, and apron, and sit chatting and laughing till the tubs with warm water are brought in, and set, one before each poor person. They now begin the operation of washing, the general remark of the on-lookers being that to all appearance the feet had previously been cleaned, so that the act of voluntary humiliation does not seem particularly nauseous, nor does it last long. The priests get their hands washed by having hot water poured on them, along with a squeeze of lemon, and another prayer ends the ceremony, which, to say the least of it, is not pleasing.

The pilgrims afterwards adjourn to a hall, where, at long tables, the same operators wait upon them at supper. To my mind, the whole thing had a got-up look, and one wonders how it should be perpetuated. Similar ceremonies take place in the female department, where the operators are ladies of distinction. These ceremonies are repeated on Friday and Saturday evenings. The pilgrims arc lodged and otherwise entertained during this period, and are dismissed with small money presents.'

At Rome, on the evening of this day, the shops of sausage-makers, candle-makers, and pork-dealers are decorated and illuminated in a fantastic way. The most prominent object in each is a picture of the Virgin and Child, enshrined amidst flowers and candles, as on a sort of altar. Festoons of flowers and evergreens are otherwise stuck about, and there is a profusion of patches of divers colours on the pork, candles, and other articles on the shelves: These grotesque illuminations draw crowds of strangers and others to witness them; the shops so lighted up doing apparently a little more business than usual.



Queen Elizabeth still distributes the Maundy money at a different Anglican cathedral each year, although no one's feet are washed. This year's ceremony was at Liverpool Cathedral. This site has some pictures if you click on the "Maundy Monarch" link in the middle of the page.