I’ve casually mentioned my plans this week to several people and almost every time I’ve been asked what I mean by Maundy Thursday.
It is the anniversary of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.
And so it is the anniversary of the giving of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament or ordinance. It’s also known as the Eucharist, or Communion, or the Mass, or the Liturgy. The alternate term Great Thanksgiving deserves use, too.
Some churches — I’m thinking of the Unitarians and Universalists here — who might not have the Lord’s Supper at any other time might have it on Maundy Thursday.
It was especially beloved by Universalists, who would welcome members at the service.
Some churches wash feet at the service.
The term maundy comes from the Latin mandamus, “commandment” from Jesus’ new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
This one might be more for my Independent Catholic/Independent Sacramental readers than Unitarian Universalists (or Quakers).
I found these Back Oblaten — baking wafers — at a specialty store over the weekend. They’re used to keep cookies from sticking to a pan. A Christmas favorite is lebkutchen — a kind of light gingerbread — cookies with glaze or chocolate on one side and a wafer on the other.
A wafer like, perhaps exactly like that used in the Mass.
So a mental calculation. A hundred — I think — large (70 mm) hosts for $2.50, and easy to get. Say for low masses? A good deal.
It is like a dear home-meal, a family supper, where the Elder and the younger brothers meet around their Father’s table. It is like a farewell meal just before a dear one goes away from home on a perilous journey. The breaking of bread together, the cup of wine together, the beautiful words of remembrance that will stay in their hearts all their lives that will stay in the heart of the world forever.
Wonderful words follow. The promise[of] “many mansions”, the new commandment of love, the new name of friend, the gift of his own peace, the prayer for the “little children’s” safe keeping. Under the sorrow of parting is the joy of returning; with his going away the spirit of truth will come. “It is better tor you that I go.”
The uplifted face seems to smile back into God’s face the voice is tremulous with joy as it whispers, “I go to my Father.”
Pivoting from the Unitarians, and looking forward to Maundy Thursday. I’ll go into the Universalist laws of fellowship (and how they changed) later, but suffice it to say now that state conventions, parishes and ministers were subject to them or risk losing their standing. For a few decades, at least, one of these laws concerned who could be admitted to the Lord’s table, or Communion.
From the 1946 Laws of Fellowship
In every church the Communion of the Lord’s Supper shall be statedly observed at such times as the laws thereof prescribe; and at every such service all persons present, whether members or not, who may feel it to be a duty or privilege to do so, shall be invited to participate.
This formulation goes back at least as far as 1891. It also appears in the 1951 version, but disappears in the next (1953) version when, with other specific rules related to Christianity, it was removed. (As for the reference to church laws, even today Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington requires it on “Thursday of Holy Week and at such other times as the Pastor and Diaconate may determine. At every such service all present shall be invited to partake.”)
The reading of the law matches what is printed as an invitation to communion in the “red hymnal” Hymns of the Spirit service for communion, even though it was a joint Unitarian-Universalist production:
A Communion Service will be held in this Church at (stating the time). It is a service of commemoration, consecration and fellowship, open to all who desire to take part in it.
Interestingly, no such preface exists for the Communion service before the last solely Universalist hymnal, Hymns of the Church.
Though I respect our history, I respect the institutions more. And there’s something sad when a communion cup or psalter becomes so valuable as an artifact that it loses its intended use; it’s like the Velveteen Rabbit in reverse. As treasure, the silver and the printed pages become less real. They were real because they were instruments of praise and thanksgiving. Better then, I think that they can be sold, conserved and placed on display, as indeed the new Psalm Book’s owner, David Rubenstein, intends to do. (He owns two of the eleven.)
Better still to keep the Great Thanksgiving at table, and our praises in song. And if you want to pray from the Bay Psalm Book… well, then thank God: you can read it online, in this 1903 facsimile reprint.
Last month I read Unitarian biblical scholar Clayton R. Bowen’s “The Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper” “a lecture given at the Meadville Summer Institute on June 29, 1914.”
… Jesus be remembered, that the unswerving faith, the boundless hope, the sure hope, the boundless love, that made him our supreme Master and our supreme Servant, may somehow be kindled in us also, through this simple act that we do in remembrance of him.
I wonder if he wrote it in a self-consciously liturgical way. In any case, I’m going to hold on to it for possible later use.
In the joint Unitarian and Universalist 1937 Hymns of the Spirit the shorter communion service has a provision where “there is to be no distribution of the elements” “the communion being wholly symbolic.” I’ve never seen this ever done myself; has anyone?
Autumn Thanksgiving Day, keyed to Michaelmas, is one of the four times a year the Hungarian Unitarian have communion, and that’s today. Let us remember them in prayer, and see this video (from the same festival five years ago) which demostrates how it is distributed. The use of two cups in tandem and the refilling flagon is very smart. Note the bread and cup are given hand to hand.
Years ago, at a prayer breakfast, I received communion with others at our table, the bread and wine (juice, of course) from handmade trays. These were “smaller than a breadbox”. The individual cups rested in dimples in the base. A handle ran lengthwise, padded feet under the base and a groove through the base allowed them to stack, like these seen at a church supply house. (So much for illusions of a quaint English workshop.) At the breakfast, a small oblong plate covered the groove and made the apparatus self-contained. The “breakfast model” was smaller — 8 or 10 served, I think — so perhaps more modular for small congregations.
I would love to see plans and a buying list for these, either vintage or new.