Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Preparing for Maundy Thursday at St Severin Church in Paris

Setting up tables in central aisle

Preparing the central table for Maundy Thursday evening

Table down the central aisle, chair turned to face the aisle

Even chairs in the side aisles are oriented toward the central aisle.

Reading lecturn approached by climbing wine crates

Seminarians assist in preparations

Arranging new flowers behind the baptismal font
(the flowers were then removed on Good Friday)

Crucifix before it was covered in black

Seminarians drap crucifix in black cloth in the chapel reserved for prayer.

Statue covered in black for the remainder of Holy Week

Washing candles for Holy Week and Easter

Discussing preparations

Light shines through stained glass windows

Good Friday--the table is removed and chairs oriented normally for worship.

The central pillar in the double ambulatory represents The Tree of Life

Jeudi saint, Holy Thursday, is sometimes called "Maundy Thursday", from the Latin mandatum or command, referring to a statement made by Jesus after washing his students' feet as a sign of willingly serving them in life: This I command you, that you wash one anothers' feet. Some denominations still follow this request annually on the Thursday before Good Friday, but most churches are uneasy with invading personal space by touching other peoples' feet and so they readily find reasons for ignoring this explicit command, the last one given by Jesus.

I visited L'église Saint Séverin on the afternoon of Maundy Thursday. This old church is located in the Latin Quarter (where the monasteries and schools used to operate in Latin), close to (what is now) the Cluny Museum. I find that it is nearly impossibly to have a meaningful visit at the Cathedral of Notre Dame these days, with tourists lining up for blocks, but other charming churches just a few blocks away are wonderfully quiet. That afternoon, volunteers and seminarians were scurrying around St Séverin, setting up a table which ran down the centre aisle of the sanctuary, from the back of the church to the altar. The tables were covered with many white cloths and were being decorated with greenery. All of the chairs were then oriented 90 degrees from the altar, facing the table--and each half of the sanctuary facing the other half. This was in preparation for celebrating the Last Supper Jesus had with his students. The church remained open all that night for prayers and meditation.

I was impressed that this was a church with community involvement, able to get volunteers to look after flower arrangements, decorations, and that annual ritual of draping all the crucifixes and images in black until early Easter morning, when everything returns to brilliant splendor. The small church also relates closely to seven seminary students this year.