Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday

Last Thursday was Maundy Thursday, and the service at the Cathedral was remarkable on so many levels.  In addition to the usual readings and the concluding ceremony of stripping the altar, there were three extraordinary features:  First, in addition to the customary washing of the feet, the Cathedral took it beyond the usual symbolic gesture of washing the feet of only a few representatives from the congregation.  Usually, the excuse for doing that is that it is less time-consuming than including everyone.  Well, at the Cathedral, where there were probably well over a hundred people, everyone who wished to be included was welcomed to come forward.  The chancel area behind the altar had two rows of chairs with a kneeler in front of each chair and one of the servers standing by. People lined up at either side of the altar to be conducted to a chair.  One person knelt on the kneeler (a low cushioned stool) and washed one foot of the one on the chair.  Then, the one on the chair knelt and washed one foot of the next person who came to occupy the chair.  So it went on, so that after having your foot washed, you washed the next person's foot.  At each chair, there was a lovely ceramic bowl for the foot to rest over, and the server poured the water (tepid, not cold) over the foot and the foot-washer washed the foot.  Then the server provided a big white fluffy towel for the foot-washer to dry the other person's foot. The basin was emptied after each person's washing and the towels were fresh and clean. It was done slowly and reverently.  I would say that most of the congregation participated. 
The second extraordinary feature was the preacher.  He was the Bishop of Galilee, from Nazareth.  My friend had the privilege of washing the foot of the man from Galilee! 
The third extraordinary feature--at least new to my experience but not unique to the Cathedral, I'm told, was that after the altar had been stripped (to the singing of Psalm 22), the Dean and the Archdeacon proceeded to wash the altar carefully and reverently and thoroughly. 
As is the custom of the Anglican church (and other denominations, no doubt) people left the building in silence.  This is Day One of the Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday & Easter Sunday.

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