Twenty-three years ago I experienced my first Holy Thursday liturgy. I remember parts of it, other parts are beginning to fade. I decided to record what I still remember and post it here tonight on this Holy Thursday. Technically, it’s Good Friday now but only by five minutes.
After the Holy Thursday liturgy a few people stayed in the pews to watch with Him. Fr. — had stripped the altar, had set up the tabernacle, palm fronds around it in the dimly lit, darkened nave. Hushed voices became softer and softer until they fell silent as the last stragglers left, leaving just three of us there. In the tabernacle the Lord was preparing to face the ordeal of ordeals. In the pews were His three disciples, fighting to stay awake, nodding off, not understanding what was taking place then, having no idea what would be taking place in a matter of hours.
I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to take in everything, everything I saw or heard or felt. I wanted to hold onto it, to remember. I heard snores behind me. I grew more determined to stay awake and watch.
At nearly midnight, the priest entered the sanctuary with two altar servers, one on either side of him, holding long-handled candle lighters which, in the dimlit darkness, looked exactly like spears. They’ve come to arrest Him! I watched, unable to stop them. I looked around to see if anyone else saw what I did, but they were sound asleep. I was alone, beholding the unfolding scene.
The altar servers stood holding their spear-candlelighters while the priest stepped forward and bent down to open the tabernacle door and lifted the Lord from His place of repose. Then he walked slowly away, the two trailing behind with their spears. They left through the sacristy door. The tabernacle door was left open, exposing the emptiness within. All was silent—except for the snores behind me. I wanted to turn and shake them awake. They arrested Him! They took Him away! Did you not see? Why didn’t you help me? Why didn’t we stop them, why didn’t we help Him?
Ah, get behind me, Satan! “Christ was obedient unto death.” And so must we all be.
I’ve been Catholic now since April 1996 and all I can say is thanks be to God and praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ! Lord, have mercy on us. Make our hearts like unto Thine. Amen!
Image credits: The Agony in the Garden, Luca Giordano; The Taking of Christ, Caravaggio, c. 1602. Wikimedia Commons, public domain.