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BY POPE'S GRAVE ERROR -
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AT CHRIST LUTHERAN CHURCH.

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The Stripping Of The Altar On Maundy Thursday

2

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!

2 Comments

I agree with Zaihita. In addition to skewing the chronology of the Passion, it seems to me that the stripping of altar on Maundy Thursday tends to displace contemplation of the agony of Christ's prayer in Gethsemane. The drama of the stripping of the altar is emotionally gripping and (perhaps for that reason) has become important for people. Maundy Thursday is immensely rich for contemplation: the Eucharist, the washing of feet, Gethsemane. I think, contemplation of the institution of the Eucharist and contemplation of the prayer in Gethsemane are crucial to the life of the Church. In the garden, our Lord is weighing the ultimate surrender of himself for the glory of his Father and for our salvation. Here we see the depths of the destiny we were spared by his struggled "yes" to give himself for us. I have heard very few sermons based on the drama in the garden since we have been engaged by the drama at the altar. I agree that the stripping of the altar belongs chronologically and theologically on Good Friday.
I am a Lutheran myself, but I want to see a convincing perspective that we all can agree and apply. It doesn't make sense to me to follow the old tradition of stripping altar on Maundy Thursday while it's clear that the stripping of the alter is as "symbolic of the humiliation of Jesus at the hands of the soldiers". In fact, it started from his arrest which continued through the mock trial, beating, crowing with thorns, spitting, mockery and ended at his shameful death. But the culmination of the humiliation is the stripping of his cloths from him on Friday, which followed by the stripping of his life. So, if it's stated here that "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", why then the altar is stripped on Maundy Thursday, instead of on Good Friday, the day when the cloths and fife of our Lord stripped from him?

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