Thursday of the Holy Mysteries
By: Elias Bejjani*
The Maronite Catholic Church celebrates today, "The Thursday of the Holy Mysteries", (Khamies Al Asrar), which is also known as the "Washing Thursday "(Khamies Al Kesiel), the "Covenant Thursday", and the "Great & Holy Thursday". It is the holy day feast that falls on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with His 12 Apostles as described in the gospel. It is the fifth day of the last Lenten Holy Week, that is followed by the, "Good Friday", "Saturday Of The Light (Sabet Al Nour) and "Easter Sunday".
Luke 22/1-30: "Now the feast of unleavened bread, which is called the Passover, drew near. The chief priests and the scribes sought how they might put him to death, for they feared the people. Satan entered into Judas, who was surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered with the twelve. He went away, and talked with the chief priests and captains about how he might deliver him to them. They were glad, and agreed to give him money. He consented, and sought an opportunity to deliver him to them in the absence of the multitude. The day of unleavened bread came, on which the Passover must be sacrificed. He sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.” They said to him, “Where do you want us to prepare?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered into the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him into the house which he enters. Tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ He will show you a large, furnished upper room. Make preparations there.” They went, found things as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. When the hour had come, he sat down with the twelve apostles. He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you, I will no longer by any means eat of it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” He received a cup, and when he had given thanks, he said, “Take this, and share it among yourselves, for I tell you, I will not drink at all again from the fruit of the vine, until the Kingdom of God comes.” He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.” Likewise, he took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it has been determined, but woe to that man through whom he is betrayed!” They began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing. There arose also a contention among them, which of them was considered to be greatest. He said to them, “The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so with you. But one who is the greater among you, let him become as the younger, and one who is governing, as one who serves. For who is greater, one who sits at the table, or one who serves? Isn’t it he who sits at the table? But I am in the midst of you as one who serves. But you are those who have continued with me in my trials. I confer on you a kingdom, even as my Father conferred on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. You will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Thursday of the Holy Mysteries (Secrets-Sacraments) is the heart of the last Lenten holy week, in which the Maronite Catholic Church lives with reverence and devotion the Lord's Last Supper spirit and contemplation through prayers and deeply rooted religious rituals and traditions:
*The Patriarch prays over and blesses the chrism (Al-Myroun), as well as the oil of baptism and anointing that are to are distributed on all parishes and churches.
*During the mass that is held on this Holy Day, the priest washes the feet of twelve worshipers, mainly children (symbolizing the apostles numbers)
Jesus washed His disciples feet and commanded them to love each other and follow his example in serving each other. “So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13/12-16).
*Worshipers visit and pray in seven Churches. This ritual denotes to the completion of the Church's Seven sacraments (Secrets) : Priesthood sacrament, Eucharist sacrament, Holy Oil sacrament, Baptism sacrament, Confirmations sacrament, anointing sacrament and Service sacrament.
This tradition also denotes to the seven locations that Virgin Mary's went to look for Her Son, Jesus, after she learned about His arrest. The detention place, The Council of the Priests, twice the Pilate's headquarters, twice the Herod Headquarters, till She got to the Calvary.
Some Christian scholars believe that this tradition was originated in Rome where early pilgrims visited the seven pilgrim churches as an act of penance. They are Saint John Lateran, Saint Peter, Saint Mary Major, Saint Paul-outside-the-Walls, Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls, Holy Cross-in-Jerusalem, and traditionally Saint Sebastian Outside the Walls. Pope John Paul II replaced St. Sebastian with the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Divine Love for the jubilee year of 2000.
*The Mass of the Lord's Supper is accompanied by the ringing of bells, which are then silent until the Easter Vigil. Worshipers used to kneel and pray the rosary in front of the Eucharist (Blessed Sacrament) all Thursday night. The Blessed Sacrament remains exposed all night, while worshipers are encouraged to stay in the church as much as they can praying, meditating upon the Mystery of Salvation, and participating in the “agony of Gethsemane” (Garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives) in Jerusalem where Jesus spent his night in prayer before His crucifixion on Good Friday.
*After the homily washing of feet the service concludes with a procession taking the Blessed Eucharist (Sacrament) to the place of reposition. The altar is later stripped bare, as are all other altars in the church except the Altar of Repose.
Thursday of the "Holy Mysteries", is called so because in His Last Supper with the 12 disciples, Jesus Christ established the Eucharist and Priesthood Sacraments when "He received a cup, and when he had given thanks, he said, “Take this, and share it among yourselves, for I tell you, I will not drink at all again from the fruit of the vine, until the Kingdom of God comes.” "He took bread, broke it and gave it to the disciples saying: This is my body which is given for you. Do this in memory of me. And when He Likewise, took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you".
Jesus ordained His disciples as priests of the New Testament when he said to them during the Last Supper: "But you are those who have continued with me in my trials. I confer on you a kingdom, even as my Father conferred on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. You will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Before Celebrating the Resurrection Day (Easter) worshipers live the "Paschal Mystery" through the Thursday Of the Sacraments, Good Friday and Saturday Of The Light (Sabet Al Nour).
Because He loves us and wants us to dwell in His Fathers' Eternal Heaven, Jesus Christ for our sake willingly suffered all kinds of torture, pain, humiliation and died on the Cross to pave our way for repentance and salvation.
Let us pray on this Holy Day that we always remember Jesus' love and sacrifices and live our life in this context of genuine, faith, love, meekness and forgiveness.
*Canadian-Lebanese Human Rights activist, journalist and political commentator
*Web sites http://www.10452lccc.com & http://www.clhrf.com
*Mailing phoenicia group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Phoenicia/.