Today is Maundy Thursday and we recall the words of Christ, "A new commandment I give to you: love one another as I have loved you." [John 13:34] The English word 'Maundy' is generally held to be come from the Latin, "Mandatum novum" from this same passage of scripture. Love is the essence of our faith.
Today's liturgy is a powerful celebration of the depth of the love that Christ has for us and an invitation to us to respond to this love. The Church recalls his washing the feet of the disciples before his betrayal, the institution of the Eucharist and ends with a solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament to an altar of repose symbolising Christ's journey to the Garden of Gethsemense where he will be betrayed. It is for this reason that Christians will traditionally watch with Christ and pray at this time, perhaps for an hour in remembrance of his rebuke to the apostles, "Could you not watch with me one hour?" [Matthew 24:40]
In England to this present day, the monarch will give specially minted Maundy Money to the poor as a sign of Christ's care for all. In the past the King or Queen would also wash the feet of the poor in imitation of Christ although this practice stopped after the overthrow of the last Catholic King, James II.
Enjoy the haunting simplicity of the piece below thanks to two priests called Thomas. St Thomas Aquinas wrote the words in the 13th Century and the Spanish Renaissance composer, Tomás Luis de Victoria produced the Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae (Office of Holy Week of which this is part) in 1585.
The commandment we are given on this day, to love as Christ loves us, is not easy. The Pange Lingua reminds us that this literally means loving to death, the shedding of his precious blood. It is no coincidence that the Mass was instituted at the same time as this great commandment. The words, 'Ite Missa Est' from which we get the word 'Mass' do not just signify that it is time to leave but are a call for us to bring Christ's love to the world around us even if this involves sacrifice.
Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium,Sanguinisque pretiosi, quem in mundi pretium Fructus ventris generosi, Rex effudit gentium.
Tantum ergo Sacramentum veneremur cernui: Et antiquum documentum novo cedat ritui: Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui.
Genitori, Genitoque laus et iubilatio, Salus, honor, virtus quoque sit et benedictio: Procedenti ab utroque compar sit laudatio. Amen.
Sing, my tongue, the Saviour's glory,of his flesh the mystery sing; of the blood, all price exceeding, shed by our immortal King, destined, for the world's redemption, from a noble womb to spring.
Down in adoration falling, Lo! the sacred host we hail; Lo! o'er ancient forms departing, newer rites of grace prevail; faith for all defects supplying, where the feeble senses fail.
To the everlasting Father, and the Son who reigns on high,with the Holy Ghost proceeding forth from each eternally, be salvation, honour, blessing,might and endless majesty. Amen.