Triduum #1 – The Maundy Thursday

Every year I make the promise to people that if you keep the Triduum at St Mary’s (or any church that keeps it) then it will change your life and change your faith. Indeed, I usually say that it is like a lens through which we should see everything else that we do in church through the year. I can guarantee that Easter Day is radically different as an experience if you keep it as part of the Triuduum.

So, firstly, what’s a Triduum when its at home? Well, it just means three days and the three days we are talking about here are the Paschal Triduum which starts with the service in the evening of Maundy Thursday and ends with the Easter Day services. In some ways the services add up to a whole and are better thought of as one whole service than a series of bits that you opt in and out of. Its a rollercoaster of a journey, mind. Emotions all over the place.

So, what to expect. I’m going to try to blog a bit in advance of it all, if I can. I’ll not be giving a line by line explanation as I recognise the wisdom of someone who once said to me that once you explain liturgy it kind of disappears before your eyes. Some things just have to be experienced.

Well, we begin on Maundy Thursday. There are several distinctive features about this service. In St Mary’s we have the joy of the Cathedral choir with us and the music on Maundy Thursday is always lush. This year its a mass setting by Rheinberger which is gorgeous.

Apart from the music, the first thing you might notice that’s out of the ordinary – there’s no spoken sermon. Instead you get an act – we wash feet instead of a sermon, remembering that Jesus washed the feet of his friends. Actually, I said that we wash feed instead of a sermon but that’s not quite right – the footwashing is the sermon. You don’t have to have your feet washed, but it does take you right into things in a very particular way. By the way, I have the ugliest feet in Christendom (apart from Mother Ruth’s of course, which are famous). Its not about having nice neat feet. Few of us like our feet. But that’s rather the point. If there’s a medical condition for not bearing your feet to the world, then washing hands is an option but its foot washing that really carries the symbolism of the day. (And as I’ve said before, its about intimacy and love much more than about power).

We then proceed with the Communion service as usual – bread and wine for all. (Instead of saying that we remember the night on which Jesus did these things, we say, “This, this is the night!”).

After communion, all is peaceful. All is as it should be. But not for long.

We recite Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted on the cross and whilst that is going on, the church is stripped of everything that is lovely. All the gold and tassels disappears. The whole church is stripped quite bare as we remember Jesus having everything stripped from him when he was arrested. The paschal candle which has burned for us at funerals and baptisms for the year past, connecting us with last Easter Day is broken. The font is closed – there will be no more sacraments now, Jesus is taken from us.

The last thing to leave the sanctuary is the bread from the reserved sacrament. This is taken in solemn procession to an altar of repose – a place where we remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. All is hushed as we hear him say to his disciples, “Can you not watch with me one more hour”. A quiet watch of prayer is kept until midnight. (Its an Open Silence – anyone can come for shared silence during this time). Some people creep away early on. Others stay until later either in prayer or doing some quiet reading. Some people like to read one of the gospels through from beginning to end through this time.

All is still in church. Its part of our tradition not to speak whilst leaving this part of the triduum and people are asked not to speak in the car park or anywhere around the building to preserve the silence for those who are watching and waiting and praying.