In my view it is perhaps the Maundy Thursday Vigil that is the single, most prayerful and spiritual acts of worship that takes place each year in this Church. It begins with the celebration of Holy Communion and moves through to the stripping of the Altar when, quite literally, everything is removed from the Church and put away – the Processional Crosses, then Hymn boards, the brasses, the books in the Choir stalls, the frontals, then the Altar cloth is properly folded up, the Reserved Sacrament is taken from the Aumbry and placed in the safe, the door is left open and the Sanctuary lamp is extinguished. “The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinful men”.
A Crucifix is placed upon the Altar with a candle burning in front that casts shadows of the broken figure that hands upon it. We who gather sit in a building lit by another seven candles and listen to the story of Jesus with his disciples on that night when he instituted the first Holy Communion and said to them, “Do this in remembrance of me”. We reflect upon His betrayal at the hands of Judas, Peter’s denial and finally Jesus is ‘Led away’.
After each reading a candle is extinguished, a piece of sacred music is played, and there follows a period of silence. By the time that the final candle is extinguished, the only light comes from the Crucifix – and that is solemnly put out by the Vicar, as the Lord’s Prayer is collectively recited. We all then leave in silence.
This is not theatre, but a way in which those present engage both with the most sacred events in the Church Year and pray around them in reflective silence. It is a time when we think very seriously about the bedrock of our faith, Jesus, the extent of His love for us in sacrificial self giving and our commitment to Him and His Church. I would commend this service to everyone as the most appropriate and meaningful way in which to spend an hour and a half in Holy Week. Having done so I am sure that we will find ourselves so much more in tune with Easter Day and what it meant to those first disciples when their sadness turned to joy – for love had truly conquered death.