The Stripping Of The Altar On Maundy Thursday2
On Maundy (Holy) Thursday the Mass is concluded with the ceremony of the Stripping Of The Altar. Why is this done? The Stripping of the altar, the removing all ornaments, linens, and paraments, is an ancient custom of the Roman rite done on Maundy Thursday. It is symbolic of the humiliation of Jesus at the hands of the soldiers. After the Last Supper, less that twenty-four hours remained in the earthly life of our Lord. Events moved rapidly: prayer in Gethsemane, betrayal by Judas, arrest, mock trial, beating, crowing with thorns, spitting, mockery, the trudge to Golgotha and shameful death.
As His life was stripped from Him, so we strip our altar of the signs of life to symbolize His purposeful, redemptive suffering and death "for us men and for our salvation". Plants are new life springing forth. In the passion and suffering of Christ, human life ebbs from Him. In recognition of this we remove the palms from our altar. Thus things remain for Good Friday, and Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil, which is the church's first Service of the Resurrection (keeping in mind that the liturgical day begins at sunset [or 6 PM] of the previous day).
This being our first Easter in our new sanctuary (God be praised!) we are not yet fully organized. But it should be our goal for next year to include the restoration of the altar as part of the Easter Vigil. Not the whole restoration, but the changing of paraments from Good Friday Black, to Easter White.
However, as important as ritual and ceremony is to our faith, let us never take our eye off the ball, which is the Holy Communion the we, the baptized, enjoy with our God, through the crucified, risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ. "This is life eternal," says Jesus, "that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17:3)
God grant that we know him well, and know him always!