Last night's post, The Dutch Who Don't Touch, included some photos of the St James's Spanish Place liturgy for Maundy Thursday, one of which is reproduced below. However, to counter its slightly flippant tone, here is an eyewitness report of last night at St James's, provided by another member of the Marylebone group. Before going into the report, we'd just like to note that yesterday, our blog passed the milestone of having received 13,000 hits - what an appropriate day for that to have occurred.
At the end of the report, there is the organ piece that preceded the Mass, the extraordinary Le Banquet Céleste by Olivier Messaien, which meditates on the text of John 6:56 "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in Him."
Maundy Thursday is one of the very few religious occasions in England widely reported by the media. Alas, it is inevitably reported not as a religious but as a regal occasion, being the day on which the Queen distributes the Maundy money. Time was when the royal connexion emphasised rather than obfuscated the religious significance of the start of the triduum. The monarch would not only distribute alms but also kneel to wash the feet of the poor. In 1689 William III refused such close contact with his subjects (as we mentioned last night, a case of “the Dutch don’t touch” perhaps) and ended the tradition, which his Protestant successors have shown no inclination to reinstate.
Certainly the Catholics of Marylebone were in no doubt about the religious importance of the day as they crowded into St James's Spanish Place for the evening mass to commemorate Our Lord’s Last Supper with his Apostles.
The choir sang Palestrina’s setting of the Introit, Nos autem gloriari oportet in cruce Domini nostrae Iesu Christi (Let our glory be in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ) and as the priests of the parish entered the sanctuary it was suddenly illuminated by sunlight bursting through the stained glass windows as if in anticipation of Fr Colven’s reminder in his homily that today we were gathered, in spirit, in the Upper Room where Jesus commanded us to love one another, where He gave us the Holy Eucharist and where He instituted the priesthood.
It was on the priesthood that Fr Colven asked us to concentrate. When Our Lord knelt to wash the feet of his disciples, God knelt before all he had made and all Christian ministry was thus defined in terms of service. Karl Rahner had written, “You are only what you should be as a priest if you bring your whole life into your vocation. You are only a priest such as a priest must be, if you drain all the strength of your life in carrying out the duties of your office in faith, hope and love. Your life-work is to establish an ever closer intimacy between yourself and your office. Your vocation is your life and your life your vocation. …………..The candle on the candlestick in the house of the Church that you are to be must burn by the oil of your own heart, must burn all your life away. Only then will it burn, as it must. One can only discharge this office by paying one's life for it”.
Those of us in the Ordinariate have particular reason to give thanks for the gift of priesthood. On Monday we had gathered with the priests of the Ordinariate for the Chrism Mass. These were priests who had shown great courage and faithfulness in their response to Pope Benedict’s call to unity and in their ministry to the laity who had responded to that same call. Today we gathered with the priests of St James, all of whom had made that same brave journey at earlier times and who have been most generous in welcoming the Marylebone Ordinariate Group. We do indeed give thanks for these men and for, in St John Vianney’s words, their “love of the heart of Jesus”, as we begin our first Triduum as Catholics.