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100 years ago: Maundy Thursday today

by
14 April 2022

April 13th, 1922.

THE ceremonies which will to-day be observed in Westminster Abbey, exceptional and picturesque as they are, serve but to remind Catholics of those which have disappeared, and to awaken regret that those which survive are not attended by the King in person. The pedilavium or washing of the feet has long been disused. Yet it lasted beyond the Reformation, and if the example of James II., who was the last King to perform it, be rejected on the ground that he was but a Papist, it should be remembered that so late as 1572 a proud Queen humbled herself to wash the feet of thirty-nine poor persons in the hall at Greenwich. Of that ancient ceremony there is now but the shadow of a shade; the Lord High Almoner and his assistants are girded with towels, but they are not for use, and only the giving of alms survives. Yet though the royal ceremonies have become a brief formality, there is kept almost everywhere to-day the very oldest of the Maundy Thursday observances, the commemoration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, which formerly gave to the day the name of the Birthday of the Chalice; and though there is now no public reconciliation of penitents, countless sinners will hear the absolving words. We may endure, though with regret, the disuse of ancient and moving ceremonies if the essentials are being recovered.

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