The Mass of the Last Supper is, to me, the most beautiful service in Holy Week

The Cathedral of Mdina, Malta, decorated for the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul (courtesy of the New Liturgical Movement)

Today is traditionally known as “Spy Wednesday” – the day when, according to the gospel of the day, Judas “looked for an opportunity to betray him”.

Tomorrow the great Triduum begins. Some dioceses may well have had their Chrism Masses by now – I remember in Africa, where there were great distances to be traversed, and no proper roads, the Chrism Mass was held a full month before Easter. In my diocese it is this evening, and it represents more or less the only time of the year when the entire local church is invited to gather. So, if you are in any doubt about going along, it is well worth considering attending your local Chrism Mass.

I have heard it said that the Maundy Thursday Mass of the Last Supper is the least popular of the ceremonies of Holy Week. I have no idea why this should be, as it, to me, is the most beautiful of all the services. I will never, as a child, forget the wonderful sight of the Altar of Repose in the Cathedral in Malta, nor the spectacle of the frock-coated sacristan going from side altar to side altar, stripping them, not by removing the cloths and candles, but just by tipping the candlesticks over and rumpling the cloths.

Malta has, of course, three cathedrals, all of them beautiful; but the one I mean is not the stunning Anglican Cathedral, not even magnificent St John’s Co-Cathedral, but St Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina. I suppose everyone has a favourite church, a place where prayer has been valid. Mdina is mine, and the particular place is the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin
pictured here.

One of the glories of the Triduum is of course the long and silent adoration at the Altar of Repose that lasts until midnight. And one of the miseries of the Triduum, common in the city of Rome, is the attempt by misguided people to fill in this silence with paraliturgical hymns and prayers. This is one sure way to drive people away. Time and again I have seen people leave a church where they were praying in front of the Altar of Repose, on the entrance of some youth group armed with guitars and hymn books. I am not making this up.

Likewise, adoration should continue to midnight but not beyond. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved on Good Friday and Holy Saturday purely for the Viaticum, as the Missal makes clear. It is a pity that this is so often ignored, at least in Italy. For if I have a particularly favourite reading in the Triduum it is the second reading from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday.

It begins with the words: “Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep….” I think this silence is to be observed liturgically as well. You can find the whole reading, if you are unfamiliar with it, here.