1. In the language of the Church, this day is called Coena Domini, the Lord's Supper. It reminds us of the great mystery of Christianity, which is presented to us by many characteristic ceremo- nies.
On this day Christ partook of the Jewish Paschal
lamb, a figure of that which was soon to be accomplished by His death on the Cross. He washed the feet of His disciples and to fulfill the type of the Paschal Lamb of the Old Law gave them Himself, His Body and Blood, under the appearances of bread and wine, and commanded them to do the same in commemoration of Him. By this command He established the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacrament of the Altar and the priesthood. He prayed for them, and on Mount Olivet in His agony sweat blood, was betrayed by Judas, made a prisoner, and throughout the whole night was maltreated.
2. The priest wears white vestments, white being the color of joy, but the psalm ''Judica me" is omitted the same as in Masses for the dead. At the Gloria all the bells are rung, and then remain silent until Holy Saturday, wooden clappers being used instead.
The Church wishes to express her joy on the institution of the Blessed Sacrament by the glad ringing of the bells even in the middle of Holy Week; on the other hand, the deep silence of all the bells is a sign of her deep sorrow; it also reminds us of the sorrow of the Apostles and their concealment during the Passion of Christ, for bells are emblematic of the Apostles. The wooden clappers may remind us of the tumult that reigned in Jerusalem
during these days.
3. If there are more priests at a Church on this day, only one of them says Mass; the rest receive Communion from his hand. The single Mass celebrated in each church, the Communion distributed to the clergy and the faithful, present to us the Gospel scene when Jesus Christ, the only Consecrator of the last supper, and the Apostles were seated at the Eucharistic table. Formerly all the faithful were obliged to receive Holy Communion on this day.
4. In the Mass of this day, the Bishop consecrates the Holy Oils; namely, the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of the Catechumens and Holy Chrism. According to the testimony of Pope St. Fabian and St. Basil, the consecration of the Oils dates from the time of the Apostles. Of all the ceremonies of the year it is one of the most beautiful and mystical. Even in the fifth century it was a decree of the Church to consecrate the Holy Oils on Holy Thursday. This day is chosen because on this day Christ instituted the Blessed Sacrament which is the center, yea, even the very source of all the Sacraments, and because at the same time He established the priesthood, thereby making the Apostles and their successors the dispensers of the Sacraments and all the graces that flow therefrom. The Oils are blessed with great solemnity; the Bishop is surrounded by twelve priests, seven deacons, seven subdeacons, and many others of the clergy. The Bishop and priests breathe three times upon the Oil of the Catechumens and the Chrism, meaning by this action that the power of the Holy Spirit is about to descend upon the Oils; after the consecration is complete they salute the Holy Oils three times, with the words: ''Hail, Holy Chrism! Hail, Holy Oil!''
The prayers and blessings, as well as the breathing upon the Oils, in fact the whole form of this consecration, was used by Gregory the Great in the sixth century and for the greater part may date back to apostolic times.
The Holy Oils are used in administering some of the Sacraments, and in consecrations of greater importance, such as altars, churches, chalices, bells, etc. Wherever oil is used it has the property of strengthening, healing wounds, or of, at least, alleviating pain; it is also used for illuminating purposes therefore is a fitting symbol of the different effects produced by the holy Sacraments and canonical consecrations. Balsam which is mixed with oil to form the chrism is also significant, on account of its sweet odor and its property of healing as well as preserving from corruption. Even in the Old Testament oil was often used as a symbolic sign; and the New Testament testifies, plainly enough, that the Apostles also anointed with oil when administering the Sacraments; and ever since, anointing with oil has been in use, and the Holy Oils carefully preserved and held in veneration.
The Holy Oils must be distributed from the Episcopal See on the same day to the different parishes of the diocese. This shows that it is from the bishop that the sacramental graces of the whole diocese emanate; he is the head, and the cathedral is the mother church of the diocese.
5. Two Hosts are consecrated on Holy Thursday, one of which is reserved for the following day.
Good Friday, because no real Mass may be said on this day. This Host with all the small, consecrated Hosts that are in the tabernacle, at the close of the ceremonies are carried in procession to the repository adorned with flowers, where they are preserved until the following day. This, as well as many other ceremonies on this day, reminds us of early Christian times. In those days the Blessed Sacrament was not reserved on the main altar, but every day after the Divine Service was carried to a place especially prepared for it, and then the altar was stripped. This custom, no doubt, is retained on Holy Thursday only to remind us that Christ, after His last supper, retired to Mount Olivet with His Disciples to begin His Passion, and was there forcibly dragged from their midst. It is customary for the faithful to visit the churches on Holy Thursday and adore our Lord hidden in the Blessed Sacrament.
6. After the Blessed Sacrament has been removed to the repository, the altars are stripped. Everything is removed excepting the candlesticks and the veiled crucifix; the tabernacle is left open, all lights are extinguished. While stripping the altar the priest prays the twenty-first psalm; the bare altar mourns because our Lord has been taken away, and reminds us of the desolation and deep sorrow of the Disciples, on having lost their Master. It is also a figure of our Lord Himself, Who after being stripped of His garments, despoiled of His beauty, yes, even of all human resemblance, suffered a most cruel death.
7. In some Cathedral churches, and Monasteries, the closing ceremony on Holy Thursday is the washing of the feet, called ''Mandatum'' from the words of the first antiphon sung during the ceremony—-''Mandatum novum,'' etc. ''A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another," whence our English name, "Maundy Thursday.''
The Apostles also followed this command, and the custom has been retained to the present day. The priest or prelate of the Church, assisted by deacon and sub-deacon washes the feet of twelve old men. Girt with white linen, kneeling, he washes the right foot of each, then dries it and kisses it. The Pope washes the feet of thirteen, all of whom are priests. This ceremony is in grateful remembrance of the washing of the Apostles' feet by our Lord, and represents that bond of union and love which should exist in the Church between the shepherd and his flock; it admonishes the faithful to imitate the example of our Lord by the practice of humility.
Many Christian princes, and superiors of convents,follow this custom, by washing the feet of twelve of their subjects.