Category Archives: Holy Thursday

Stripping of the Altars: Holy Thursday & the English Reformation


-by David Warren

“As Christ was stripped of his garments, so the altars are stripped of their coverings in the traditional Maundy Thursday celebration. “They parted my garments amongst them: and upon my vesture they cast lots.” (Ps 22:18) Following hard upon this antiphon is the recitation of Psalm XXI (or, 22), the Deus meus: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”…”


-written 1086 AD, in both Irish Gaelic & Latin. The first and last line of each verse are in Latin, while the middle lines are in Irish (Gaelic). Written by the Donegal monk Maol Iosa O Brolchain.

Deus meus adiuva me
Tabhair dom do shearch,a Mhic ghil Dé
Tabhair dom do shearch,a Mhic ghil Dé
Deus meus adiuva me.

In meum cor, ut sanum sit,
Tabhair, a Rí rán, do ghrá go grip;
Tabhair, a Rí rán, do ghrá go grip,
In meum cor, ut sanum sit.

Domine da quod peto a te,
Tabhair dom go dian a ghrian ghlan ghlé,
Tabhair dom go dian a ghrian ghlan ghlé,
Domine da quod peto a te.

Hanc spero rem et quaero quam,
Do shearc dom sonn, do shearc dom thall;
Do shearc dom sonn, do shearc dom thall,
Hanc spero rem et quaero quam.

Tuum amorem, sicut vis,
Tabhair dom go tréan, a déarfad arís;
Tabhair dom go tréan, a déarfad arís,
Tuum amorem, sicut vis.

Quaero, postulo, peto a te,
Mo bheatha i neamh, a mhic dhil Dé;
Mo bheatha i neamh, a mhic dhil Dé,
Quaero, postulo, peto a te.

Domine, Domine, exaudi me,
M’anam bheith lán de d’ghrá, a Dhé,
M’anam bheith lán de d’ghrá, a Dhé,
Domine, Domine exaudi me.

Rough translation

My God, help me.
Give to me Your love,
O son of my God

Into my heart/soul, that it be healthy
Give, O noble king, Your love swiftly

Lord, give what I beg of You
Give, give swiftly, O clear bright sun

This thing I hope and which I seek
Your love to me in this world, Your love to me in the next world

Give me your love, as fully as You wish.
Give me strongly what I ask of You again.

I search, I desire, I beg of You
My life in heaven, dear Son of God
My God, hear me
My soul may (it) be full of love, O God

“…It is an arresting Psalm, with its shockingly exact prevision of the Crucifixion, centuries before the event took place. It was very much in my thoughts, about the time I “lost my faith” in Atheism, some forty-one years ago while crossing a footbridge in London, England – curiously enough on a Maundy Thursday.

On the first anniversary of that event, or more precisely, the next Maundy Thursday, I found myself in Saint Ives, Cornwall, with the great studio potter, Bernard Leach, then approaching his ninetieth birthday. (I, approaching my twenty-fourth.) He was a Baha’i, deeply committed to the marriage of East and West. Much of our conversation, which went on through Easter, was about “art,” about “religion,” and about “art and religion.”

Strangely, for a man who had fallen away from his Christian upbringing, he decried the loss of Christian belief in modern England, including particularly faith in the literal Resurrection of Jesus Christ. While saying this, he began reciting passages from that Psalm, dwelling with special emphasis on, “The assembly of the wicked have inclosed me. They pierced my hands and my feet.”

Now, in the teaching of Baha’u’llah, as Leach understood it, the New Testament is factually correct, and moreover, anyone who faithfully follows Christ’s teachings is ipso facto a Baha’i. This is not my understanding, but we will let it pass. I was struck by the sudden bold defense of Christian belief, from a most unlikely source.

“Without faith,” Leach argued, “art is a monkey’s game.” Conversely, I supposed, without art, religious ideas cannot be adequately expressed. This can be seen in all cultures: this departure from the commonplace, in the midst of the commonplace. Everywhere the divine is instinctively acknowledged in elevated language, and gesture. Liturgy – art – is essential to it.

It is more than mnemonic; the Last Supper itself is not merely “remembered” in the liturgical events of the Triduum, or in the repetitions of the daily Mass. As the Catholic Church has continued to teach, the Real Presence transcends the historical event. Yet the historical event remains true within it. These things really happened; and by their nature continue to happen in a world that was altered by the coming of Our Savior.

They remain true even if the truth is rejected, as it was in Christ’s time, is, and will be. We do not have “progress” in the profane sense; we do not have a progressive revelation. We have the truth of Christ, at the center of history and of our being, now and forever. He is what lifts us out of our mundane sinful lives, and conducts our attention to what is changeless, pure, and in every sense, higher. We return to this, or try to get away.

To escape: into a world of our own making, and into a life where in our vanity we think that we can make the rules. Hell, which is discernible from Earth, is the putting of the greatest possible distance between ourselves and God. It is the reason Pride is the queen bee in the hive of the deadly sins; and in humility, Love becomes its opposite, theological virtue. It is the reason Love is expressed in acts of holy obedience, as we are resplendently told in the Magnificat. The return, to truth, begins in the acceptance of God’s will, even in denial of our own.

“The Stripping of the Altars” was used as the title of a book by Eamon Duffy, which has now been in circulation for a quarter century. It is a remarkable revisionist history of the English Reformation, which to my mind has grown in significance over this time. It challenges the myth and propaganda that has guided our thinking in the English-speaking realms, and beyond them wherever our influence has been felt.

It is a variation, I think, on the pagan myth of Prometheus, who stole the divine fire, and put it at the service of his fellow man. In our variation, we have believed that the Catholic Church was tired and failing through the generations prior to a kind of “liberation”; that the Protestant faith emerged as a rekindling, a maturing, a coming of age in a spiritual Magna Carta. Henceforth we would no longer be captive to the authority of a dark and conniving priesthood, but free – to read the Scriptures for ourselves, to strip the churches of their encrusted decorations; to form our own judgments, and write our own prayers.

We all share in this history, going back to Henry VIII, and striding forward through the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I, when the medieval order was turned upside down, and the Catholic faith made capitally illegal. What Duffy showed, for this generation, as for instance Philip Hughes for an earlier one (in the three volumes of his Reformation in England, 1950 and 1963), was the evidence proving a huge, enduring, historical lie.

The old order was robust to the eve of this revolution, which was imposed by force. The resistance to it from the people was profound; yet it failed – in England as elsewhere – under the violence of an emerging political power, directing theology to its own ends. Liturgical destruction at every level, extending to the dissolution of monasteries, the smashing of images, the torching of medieval libraries – was necessary to the creation of a brave new world in which the Church was placed at the disposal of Caesar.

Yet all this is also prefigured, in the Psalm, and in Maundy Thursday’s stripping of the altars.”

Blessed Holy Thursday,
Matthew

Holy Thursday, Tenebrae, III Responsory of I Nocturn – Vere Languores Nostros

Isaiah 53:4-5

Vere languores nostros ipse tulit,
et dolore nostros ipse portavit;
Cujus livore sanati sumus.
Dulce lignum, dulces clavos,
dulcia ferens pondera,
quae sola fuisti digna
sustinere Regem coelorum et Dominum.

Truly He bore our griefs,
and carried our sorrows;
by His wounds we are healed.
Sweet cross, sweet nails,
sweetly bearing the weight,
you alone were worthy
to bear the King of heaven and the Lord.

Love,
Matthew

Holy Thursday – “If it’s a symbol, then the hell with it.” – Flannery O’Connor

Monstrance

I, exquisitely, as a life-long Catholic have the privilege, too, of struggling with the literality of the Lord’s words, “This IS my body.  This IS my blood.”  Imho, I don’t think Jesus meant these specific words to be a “no-brainer”.  I believe He wanted humanity to spend the rest of its existence intently contemplating them, more than anything else He ever said, the centrality of it is such.  Recall the Catholic definition of mystery, infinitely knowable.

One of the most important and soothing, palliative things a Catholic can receive just before death is viaticum in the last rites.  For as much critique as the Church may unjustly endure for not taking the Scriptures more literally, this she takes exquisitely literally.

-by Jennifer Fulwiler is a host on the Catholic Channel on SiriusXM, and the author of Something Other than God, a memoir about her journey from atheism to Catholicism. Her website is ConversionDiary.com.

“How could a reasonable person living in the 21st century actually believe that at the Catholic Mass, bread and wine are truly (like, not symbolically) changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ?

This was one of my biggest stumbling blocks when considering Catholicism. When I first heard that the Church still believes that the Mass makes Christ’s one sacrifice at Calvary present here and now, that on Holy Thursday the Lord made it possible that bread and wine could be turned into the flesh and blood of God himself, I prayerfully thought: “Are you kidding me?” I’d never heard a bolder, more audacious claim made by a modern religion.

There was a part of me that kept hoping I’d find that it was all a misunderstanding, that Catholics were only required to believe that the consecration of the Eucharist was a really, really, really important symbolic event. I was a lifelong atheist, after all. It was enough of a feat that I even came to believe in God in the first place. It was enough of a leap of faith for me to believe that some miracles might have happened a few times throughout history. But to ask a former militant atheist to believe that a miracle happens at every single Catholic Mass, that bread and wine are actually changed into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ despite the fact that they look exactly the same… it seemed too much to ask.

It is surprising, then, that when I consider how much my life has changed since my husband and I both became Catholic at Easter Vigil in 2007, I find that there is really only one thing to talk about: the Eucharist.

I could try to pen a great ode proclaiming my joy at having come to know God on a level I never imagined possible for someone like me. I could write about the challenges we’ve faced, and the oasis that our newfound faith provided for us when we felt cast out into the desert. I could talk about the freeing power of Confession. I could say something about how my life is unrecognizable from what it was a decade ago. But when I started to write on each of those topics, I realized that each one of them — everything, really — comes back to the Eucharist.

By the time I received my first Communion I had come to accept that the teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is true. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was willing to accept on faith that it was not false. I was undoubtedly being led to the Catholic Church, and found its defense of this teaching to be compelling, so I trusted that it was true in some mysterious way, even though I didn’t really get it. That was the best I could do, and I never expected to understand it any more than that.

Even as the years have rolled by, after receiving Communion week after week, I still don’t know how it works. I don’t often have a visceral reaction when I first see the consecrated host held above the altar, and don’t think I ever felt the Holy Spirit hit me like a ton of bricks the moment the consecrated host was placed on my tongue. Yet, despite the lack of immediate emotions, despite the fact that I can’t tell you exactly how it all works, I now believe with all my heart that it is true. I know that I eat the flesh and drink the blood of God at the Mass, and that it is the source of my strength.

I know it for the same reason a baby knows that its mother’s milk is the source of its nourishment: the baby can’t tell you how the milk is created by the release of prolactin and the cells in the alveoli. He can’t tell you about the importance of immunoglobulin IgA and fat-to-water ratios. He couldn’t even begin to understand how and why the milk nourishes him if you tried to explain it. He just knows how very much he needs it. He knows that the mysterious substance that his mother gives him is the source of his strength as much as he knows anything at all in his little life. And so it is with the Eucharist and me.

This belief in and love of the Eucharist is one of the most surprising things that’s ever happened to me. Never in my dreams would I have thought that I could believe such an outlandish claim. In the first months after my conversion, I would sometimes ask myself if this was all in my head, if perhaps I am eating bread and drinking wine at the Mass, but that its great symbolic value has led me to put myself in a different state of mind. And all I could come up with is this:

If this is a symbol, then I am insane.

It’s not a particularly eloquent defense of the Eucharist, but that’s about the best I can do. The way this Sacrament has slowly transformed my soul and given me a connection to God that I never knew before, the way I could easily move myself to tears at the thought of not being able to receive it, the strength I have drawn from having this direct communion with God – if these things are not real, then nothing is.

As I reflect back on my journey from atheism to Catholicism, the whole story of my life comes together in a very simple way: I realize now that my entire conversion process — really, my entire life — was one long search for the Eucharist.”

Love & Blessed Triduum,
Matthew