April 04, 2007

This is a big day in the Church calendar, packed with theological significance: On one night, Jesus held His last dinner with His apostles, washed their feet, said the first Mass, established the priesthood and episcopate, offered up His perfect obedience to His father in the garden of Gethsemane, rebuked His disciples for napping, and was betrayed by Judas and arrested. Whew! Where to begin to mark such a feast? Too many Catholics feel overwhelmed by its sheer solemnity, and discreetly spend the evening at home watching Law and Order reruns. We don”€™t believe in criticizing popular devotions, but we”€™d like to suggest a few alternatives.

The Church celebrates two liturgies on this feast”€”one “€œchrism”€ Mass in the morning, when the bishop consecrates all the holy oils which will be used to sanctify church buildings, automobiles, motors and hinges throughout the year. At night, parishes offer the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, a particularly festive event which often includes the “€œGloria of the Bells,”€ after which the pastor joyously gets to switch off the church’s electronic carillon system until Easter Sunday. The plaster statues are draped in purple Dacron, and electric candles unplugged. The celebrant of the Mass ceremoniously washes the (carefully pre-washed) feet of 12 laymen in the sanctuary”€”an act of service and humility, which commemorates both the 12 Apostles and the 12 people who actually go to Confession in the parish every week. The rest of the congregants wrinkle their noses and wriggle their toes, as the priest towels dry.

After the liturgy, the Eucharist is removed from the tabernacle and transferred to a side “€œaltar of repose,”€ which in many parishes is made to look like a tomb and surrounded with lilies and candles. It’s customary for the devout to spend an hour or so before the Blessed Sacrament, “€œwatching with”€ Christ as he prepares for His passion. Another old tradition, credited to St. Philip Neri, is to visit seven churches on this night, stopping in to say some prayers at each. This commemorates the historic pilgrimage the pope used to make on this night to seven churches in Rome. 

CELEBRATE: Mark this multifaceted feast by making a pilgrimage to seven churches in your city”€”preferably visiting congregations you wouldn”€™t normally see, in neighborhoods you might avoid, to remind yourself of the universality of the Church, and why you moved to the sterile suburbs in the first place. Since the authors dwell in New York City, it’s easy for us to make this trip on foot. Each year, we go from a Russian Catholic liturgy to a cathedral built by the Irish, a parish in Little Italy, a Slovenian and then a Polish church, then to a succession of parishes populated by Catholics from Ecuador, China, Peru, and Puerto Rico, ending up at a Gothic church full of devout Filipinos. Chances are that your own city has almost as many ethnic opportunities, though you might have to do some driving. Pile the kids in the minivan,  and stock up in advance with a good supply of sangria, the drink that Spaniards traditionally chug on this feast (sangre=blood). A few sips should quiet down the most rambunctious five-year-old. Eat heartily”€”there’s a strict fast starting at midnight, and the fun should certainly end as Good Friday begins.

Holy Thursday Sangria
(Recipe by Denise Matychowiak)

1 bottle Spanish red Penedes
¼ cup brandy
¼ cup sugar
1 Valencia orange
2 clementines
1 lemon
1 Golden Delicious apple, quartered and thinly sliced
1-2 cups sparkling Apollinaris, chilled

Scrub citrus with vegetable brush and slice into thin rounds. Combine all ingredients except mineral water and stir. Lightly 24 hours. To serve, add water and pour over ice.
This recipe can be multiplied to serve as many rounds as you need to prepare for Good Friday.

Excerpted from The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living.


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