According to an old tradition, the first three days of Holy Week– Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday–are dedicated to spring cleaning. In the days before the invention of the vacuum cleaner, this was a spectacular undertaking: sofas, easy chairs, and all mattresses would be carried out of the house and beaten mercilessly with a “Teppichpracker” (carpet-beater).
Walls were dusted, curtains were changed–a thorough domestic upheaval. There is little time for cooking, and meals are made of leftovers.
By Wednesday night the house looks spick and span. And now the great “Feierabend” begins. “Feierabend” is an untranslatable word. It really means vigil–evening before a feast, the evening before Sunday, when work ceases earlier than on any other weekday in order to allow time to get into the mood to celebrate.
“Feier” means “to celebrate,” “Abend” means “evening.”
From now on until the Tuesday after Easter no unnecessary work will be done on our place. These days are set aside for Our Lord. On Wednesday, with all the satisfaction of having set our house at peace, and after the dishes of a simple early supper are finished, we go down to the village church in Stowe for the first Tenebrae service.
In the sanctuary, a large wrought-iron triangular candlestick is put up, with fifteen dark candles. We take our places in the choir, and the solemn chanting of matins and lauds begins.
This is the first part of the Divine Office, which has been recited daily around the world by all priests and many religious since the early times of the Church.
In the cathedrals and many monasteries it is chanted in common. For the last days of Holy Week, it is performed in public, so to speak–not only in cathedral churches, but in any church, so that the faithful may take part in it.
We always consider this the greatest honor for us, the singing family, the greatest reward for all the trouble that goes along with life in public, that we can sing for all the Divine Offices in church.
Matins has three nocturnes, each one consisting of three psalms with their antiphons and three lessons. The first nocturne is always the most solemn one. We sing all the psalms on their respective “tonus”. We sing the antiphons, some in Gregorian chant, some from the compositions of the old masters such as Palestrina, Lassus, Vittorio.
The lessons were sung last year by Father Wasner, Werner, and Johannes.
In the second and third nocturne we only recite the psalms in “recto tono” in order not to make it too long. Some of the antiphons and all of the lessons, however, are sung.
After each psalm the altar boy extinguishes a candle, reminding us of how one Apostle after the other left Our Lord. Matins is followed by lauds, consisting of five psalms and antiphons which we recite. At the end of lauds there is only one candle left–the symbol of Our Lord all by Himself crying out, “Where are you, O My people!” And we, in the name of all the people, recite now the “Miserere,” the famous penitential psalm, while the altar boy is carrying the last candle behind the altar and the church is now in complete darkness.
At the end of the “Miserere” we all make a banging noise with the breviary books. This custom is quite ancient. It is supposed to indicate the earthquake at the moment of the Resurrection. After this noise, the altar boy emerges from behind the altar with the burning Christ-candle and puts it back on the candlestick. This is a ray of hope anticipating the glorious Easter night. (In Austria the Tenebrae service is called “Pumpernette,” or “noisy matins.”)
The congregation is following closely with booklets in which the whole service, which we sing in Latin, is given in English. This is the most moving evening service of the whole year. When we sing “Tenebrae factae sunt,” an awesome silence falls upon the whole church, and when we sing the famous “Improperia `Popule meus'” by Palestrina we all are moved to the depths.
Is there anything more heartrending than to listen to the outcry of the anxious Redeemer: “My people, what have I done to thee, or in what have I grieved thee, answer Me. What more ought I to do for thee that I have not done?”
On the morning of Holy Thursday, the Church in her service tries most movingly to combine the celebration of the two great events she wants to commemorate “Who lives in memory of Him,” Our Lord had said on the first Holy Thursday when He gave Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist; and, “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
This cry He uttered only a few hours later. Therefore, as the Solemn Mass begins, the festive strains of the organ accompany the chant of the Introit and Kyrie, and when the priest intones the Gloria, all the bells on the steeple, as well as in the church, ring together once more for the last time because, right afterwards, Holy Church, as the Bride of Christ, goes into mourning as she accompanies the Bridegroom through His hours of unspeakable suffering. The organ remains silent when she reminds the faithful in the Gradual: “Christ became obedient unto us to death, even unto the death of the Cross….”
The Gospel of this day tells of the lesson Jesus gave us in brotherly love and humility as He first washed the feet of His disciples, afterwards saying: “Know you what I have done to you? You call me Master, and Lord; and you say well, for so I am. If then I being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also.” Therefore, in all cathedrals and abbey churches the bishops and abbots go down on their knees on this day after Holy Mass and wash the feet of the twelve oldest members of their communities.
It is wonderful that in our days more and more parishes are adopting this beautiful custom, which brings home to us better than the most eloquent sermon that we should remember this word of Our Lord “For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also,” which should become increasingly the watchword in our daily life.
This is what the Church wants us to take home with us on that day the attitude of washing one another’s feet; and, because we Catholics have not awakened to this fact, we are rightly to be blamed for all wrong and injustice and wars going on in the world!
As Good Friday has no Mass of its own, but only the “Mass of the Pre-Sanctified,” an extra big host was consecrated by the priest during Mass on Holy Thursday, which is put into a chalice and covered up with a white cloth. This chalice is now incensed immediately after Mass and carried in solemn procession to the “Altar of Repose,” while the “Pange Lingua” is chanted solemnly.
This repository should remind us of the prison in which Our Lord was kept that terrible night from Thursday to Friday. Unlike that first night, where He was all alone after all the Apostles had fled, the faithful now take turns in keeping watch.
There is an old legend circulating in the old country, still fervently believed by the children, that all the bells fly to Rome on Holy Thursday, where the Holy Father blesses them; they return in time for the Gloria on Holy Saturday.
Another custom still alive in the villages throughout Austria is this: As the bell cannot be rung for the Angelus on these three days, the altar boys man their outdoor “Ratschen” (a kind of rattle looking like a toy wheelbarrow, whose one wheel grinds out deafening noise) and race through the streets, stopping at certain previously designated corners, lifting up their “Ratschen” and chanting in chorus:
Wir ratschen, ratschen zum englischen Gruss,
Den jeder katholische Christ beten muss.
(We remind you by this noise of the Angelus,
Of a prayer to be said by every faithful Christian.)
Needless to say, many a little boy’s heart waits eagerly for these three holy days. While he might be too young to understand the great thoughts of Holy Week, he certainly is wide awake to his own responsibility of reminding his fellow-men, “Time to pray!”
My son Werner is living with his family just a little way down the road. When his little boys, Martin and Bernhard, are big enough to shoulder the responsibility, their father will make them such an old-world “Ratschen” and their mother will teach them the rhyme going with it.
In the house also, the bells have to be silent. The bell rung for the meals or for family devotions is replaced by a hand clapper worked by the youngest member of the family, who announces solemnly from door to door that lunch is ready.
Holy Thursday has a menu all its own. For the noon meal we have the traditional spring herb soup (Siebenkraeutersuppe).
Spring Herb Soup
The mixture of the above herbs should total about 7 ounces. Whether bought at the market or picked, they should be washed well. Steam in butter with finely chopped onions and parsley. Press through a sieve into a flour soup and let it boil. You may put in one or two egg yolks, one to two tablespoons of cream, or 1/4 cup milk. You also may use sour cream.
Afterwards there is the traditional spinach with fried eggs. In Austria, Holy Thursday is called “Gruendonnerstag” (Green Thursday). Many people think that the word “gruen” stands for the color, but this is not so. It derives from the ancient German word “greinen,” meaning “to cry or moan.” Nevertheless, “Gruendonnerstag” will have its green lunch.
The evening of Holy Thursday finds us in our Sunday best around the dining-room table. Standing, we listen to the Gospel describing the happenings in the Upper Room. On the table is a bowl with “bitter herbs” (parsley, chives, and celery greens), another bowl with a sauce the Orthodox Jews use when celebrating their Pasch, and plates with unleavened bread (matzos can be obtained from any Jewish delicatessen store, but can also be made at home).
1-1/2 cups flour 1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 tsp. salt 1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup warm water
Mix salt, flour, and egg (and butter). Add the water, mix dough quickly with a knife, then knead on board, stretching it up and down to make it elastic until it leaves the board clean. Toss on a small, well-floured board. Cover with a hot bowl and keep warm 1/2 hour or longer. Then cut into squares of desired size and bake in 350-degree oven until done.
Then comes the feast-day meal of a yearling lamb roasted, eaten with these bitter herbs and the traditional sauce. Each time we dip the herbs in the sauce, we remember Our Lord answering sadly the question of the Apostles as to who was the traitor: “He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, he shall betray me.”
Afterwards the table is cleared and in front of Father Wasner’s place is put a tray filled with wine glasses and a silver plate with unleavened bread. While breaking up portions of bread, he blesses the bread and wine individually and hands it to each one around the table and we drink and eat, remembering Our Lord, Who must have celebrated such a “love feast” many times with His Apostles.
This was the custom in His days; just as we in our time will give a party on the occasion of the departure of a member of the family or a good friend, the people in the time of Christ used to clear the table after a good meal and bring some special wine and bread, and in the “breaking of the bread” they would signify their love for the departing one.
The first Christians took over this custom, and after having celebrated the Eucharist together, they would assemble in a home for an “agape,” the Greek word for “love feast.” To share bread and wine together in this fashion therefore, was not in itself startling to the Apostles, but the occasion was memorable on this first Holy Thursday because it was Our Lord’s own great farewell.
As we thus celebrate the breaking of the bread around our table at home, we keep thinking of the words He had said immediately before: “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you….”
Every Holy Thursday night spent like this knits a family closer together, “careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith…” as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians.
“Who shall blame a child whose soul turns eagerly to the noise and distraction of worldliness, if his parents have failed to show him that love and peace and beauty are found only in God?” – Mary Reed Newland, http://amzn.to/2mTKR3w (afflink)
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