Holy Thursday Service
The Day: Just as Ash Wednesday begins Lent so Maundy Thursday marks the end of Lent proper and the beginning of the Three Holy Days of Christendom (the Triduum). The theme of the celebration is the Lord’s new command (mandatus, Latin, became Maundy in Old English) to his disciples of all time to love each other as he has loved. The institution of the Lord’s Supper sets forth the depth of Jesus’ love and gives power to the church to live out his command. As with Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday occupies a unique place in the church calendar. It is a festival in which reconciliation is solemnly expressed and in which the congregation makes its transition from preparation for the celebration of the mystery of the Passion and Resurrection, to the celebration itself.
The Service: Vespers is an ancient rite of the Church. For centuries, compline was the service held in the late hours of the day. This is a meaningful order of worship for all who have interrupted their busy routines to join with one another in quite reflection on the triune God. Its mood is one of sublime joy, yet somewhat subdued, humbly grateful, and definitely prayerful. Its purpose is to portray the comforting and ever-present light of Christ as daylight disappears and to give Christians a form to raise their voices in thankful prayer and praise.
The Stripping of the Altar: The post-communion action of the stripping the altar has its roots in the early Church. The congregation sings a hymn as the communion vessels, cross, and candles are carried from the chancel. Once the communion vessels and appointments are removed, the altar, which represents the body of Christ, becomes the focus. The altar is solemnly stripped of its vestments in token of the abandonment of Jesus in Gethsemane. The altar is left completely bare for Good Friday.
The Dismissal: The service concludes after the stripping of the altar. There is no closing blessing or closing hymn. Rather, the services of the Three Days flow into one another, as the congregation leaves to reassemble on Good Friday for our service of Tenebrae. Dismiss yourself when you are finished with your prayers and meditation.