By Anne Metz
Hands down, Holy Thursday is my favorite mass. As far as once-a-year masses go, I think it beats Palm Sunday and Ash Wednesday. Believe it or not, Holy Thursday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, but for me, it’s a can’t miss mass. If you aren’t a regular attendee of the Holy Thursday mass, make some time in your schedule and get yourself there this year.
So many exciting things happen during the Holy Thursday Mass. We receive the holy oils that will be used in the Sacraments for the year: the oil of the sick, the oil of the catechumens and the holy chrism oil. We commemorate the institution of the priesthood and hear the priests re-state their ordination vows. We witness the priest washing the feet of the faithful, just as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.
But most importantly, Holy Thursday is the anniversary of the Last Supper, the evening Jesus gave us the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the most precious gift of Himself.
We see the Last Supper played out in front of us at each mass we attend. The priest recounts the words of Jesus in the upper room holding up the bread and wine saying, “This is My Body; This is My Blood,” and we line up to receive Him. A miracle happens in front of our eyes weekly, daily if we are able, but so often we zone out. We hear the words, “Body of Christ” but in the familiarity of the scene do we really recognize what is happening or do we simply murmur “Amen” and head back to our seats?
Where Sunday mass can become rote, Holy Thursday is anything but. The differences in this once-a-year mass awaken our senses and help us to pay attention to what really happened at the Last Supper.
The biggest difference (and my favorite part) happens at the end of mass. The priest strips the altar, removing all the linens and any ornamentation. Then he removes the Eucharist from the tabernacle and processes out of the church with the Lord. The congregation leaves in silence.
As a child my family and I would stay a while after the conclusion of Holy Thursday mass. I remember feeling a little confused about this mass. This mass was different. I could feel it. It made me sit up and take notice, especially since staying behind to pray was not something we did on Sundays. I mean, my mom had the perfect “get away spot" in the church parking lot and would even get there early to claim it. But my mother was not in a hurry to leave on Holy Thursday. I clearly remember watching her, kneeling in her pew, openly weeping. My father didn’t console her; we all just left her to her sorrow.
Thinking back now on the scene, it brings to mind John 20:13, when Mary Magdalene returns to Jesus’ tomb and finds the stone rolled away:
“Woman, why are you crying?” they asked her.
She answered, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!”
“They have taken my Lord away.” I can almost hear the words coming from my mother’s tears.
Jesus was taken away, betrayed, arrested, beaten, and ultimately killed for us. But before He allowed Himself to be taken, He gave us the gift of the Eucharist, His Presence, spiritual food for our journey.
The mass concludes in sorrow, but we know the end of the story and it is full of hope.
Each year, when I kneel at the end of the Holy Thursday Mass, as I breathe in the incense and watch as the altar is stripped, and finally, when I witness the priest leave the church with my Lord, I am brought again to the realization that this is true, this is real.
Jesus suffered and died for us, for me, for you, He became the last sacrifice needed. He rose from the dead. He ascended to Heaven, but did not leave us alone. He feeds us with the Eucharist, His very presence. This is it-the foundation of our faith. The consecration of the Eucharist is THE miracle that God gives us.
And Holy Thursday is the yearly mass I need to remember truly what a miracle it is and to help me not to take it for granted.
When she’s not writing about faith, Anne Metz works for Growing Catholics, whose mission is to bring Scripture to all, especially tweens and teens.