Mandatum novum: Holy Thursday at St Augustine’s in Gainesville, Florida

Today marks eleven years since my full communion with the Roman Catholic church. In a fit of calendrical complicity, it is 11 years both liturgically and secularly: I received the eucharist and confirmation on Holy Thursday, April 1, 1999.

The parish where I received these sacraments (and the sacrament of matrimony, two years later) has a beautiful and much-missed Triduum celebration. If I were offered an all-expenses-paid retreat to anywhere in the world for the celebration of Holy Week, I could hardly pass up the opportunity to return there. (Hear this, grant people? I’m a cheap date!)

What makes the Triduum there exceptional is not performance quality, but participation quality: there is wonderful attendance at the Triduum, the assembly recognizes the candidates and catechumens, and they know and sing the music, including such subtleties as dynamics and assembly parts. In the song I’ve embedded, which can be found here on the parish’s website, the assembly is divided into two halves and transitions in the middle of the song from a unitive role singing the response to a round, each side following their own cantor. This is done without rehearsal, but it’s done every year, and there are enough people there from last year to clue the whole assembly in, even in a high-turnover university parish. The effect is beautiful. (This piece is the Holy Thursday processional.)

Mandatum novum

Holy Thursday at this church is also when Christian candidates for full communion and uncatechized Catholics are given the fullness of initiation according to the Roman Catholic liturgical tradition. These candidates attend formation with the unbaptized catechumens during RCIA, but the continuing conversion of catechists, sponsors, candidates, and catechumens is stressed. During the Triduum, baptized Christians wear white robes; catechumens wear gray robes until their baptism at the Vigil. Baptized Christians receive confirmation and communion on Holy Thursday and carry baptismal candles in the procession on Holy Saturday, from which they pass light from the Paschal candle to the assembly. They receive the newly baptized at the Vigil with heartfelt greetings of peace.

Liturgical practice creates liturgical interpretation. It is no wonder that one parishioner said to me, “You, the candidates and the catechumens, give us the gift of Christian identity. You are the sacrament of Christ’s life to the church.” I experience it every year when the Paschal mystery being offered to the baptized is offered to me as well.

May all of you, and all of us, live up to Christ’s new commandment so as to participate in his resurrection from the dead.

4 comments

  1. Why are the sacraments of initiation performed on Holy Thursday? What is done at the Easter Vigil? The Easter Vigil is the proper time for the initiation of the RCIA class, not Holy Thursday. You say “Holy Thursday at this Church…” as if each parish has the right to do as it wills. We belong to One Church and it is the Catholic Church. To take such strides as individual parishes is to fracture our unity as the Catholic Church.

  2. Mike, if you had read carefully, you would have seen that only those who are already baptized Christians are initiated on Holy Thursday, and catechumens are initiated at the Vigil. This parish is smart to perform the sacraments of initiation for these two groups on separate occasions, for they are at two different points in the initiation process. The lighting of candles at the Vigil by those initiated on Holy Thursday is a liturgical expression of their reception of the light of Christ at baptism, and actually emphasizes their new unity with the Catholic church. The Vigil is then reserved for those who have not yet received the light of Christ (catechumens), which is entirely appropriate both liturgically and canonically.

  3. Thank you, Clarey. That is right, at St Augustine’s there is not an “RCIA class,” but there are catechumens and candidates for full communion. Canonically, it is discouraged that candidates be initiated by the RCIA, as they are baptized Christians. Practically speaking, however, in general parishes use the RCIA for both groups of people, as both need adult formation. The solution at St Augustine’s is thoughtful, practical, canonical, theological, and beautiful. It is unique in my experience.

    RCIA “class” language should be avoided, too, in that it discourages catechumens who feel the need for more than one year of formation before initiation from choosing to fulfill that need. Making the distinction between candidates and catechumens is more important, however.

    I don’t have any pictures of that liturgy, but a few treasured from my wedding, which show the liturgical space during the Easter season:

    http://mattbelcher.com/gallery/wedding/P5260071

    The font in the foreground is used for adult and infant immersion.

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