Great and Holy Thursday

Today we celebrate three mysteries of the church.

The Mystery of Holy Oil for Anointing the Sick. The Eastern Church has a much broader interpretation of the sick. Ordinarily, those who are suffering the crisis of physical illness receive to anointing to strengthen their whole being – body and soul – by renewing our faith in Christ the Messiah – the Anointed One. When we were baptized we received a holy anointing as a part of our Christian decision to reject evil and commit ourselves wholly to Christ. When the sick were anointed, not only the sick person him/herself but those who were to give care and those present were also anointed, a sign of our solidarity in fighting illness through faith. Perhaps the Holy Anointing of the whole congregation on Holy Thursday is because of the epistle for this day: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). The anointing is a response to our unworthiness to receive Communion.

The Mystery of Reconciliation. In the ancient church, Holy Thursday —before the baptisms of Holy Saturday – was the time for the reconciliation of those who were in public penance. This is why Judas is presented in the liturgical texts as one who did not repent. He is contrasted with Peter, who denied our Lord but repented. Judas did not repent. “The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24). The constantly repeated hymn in the Divine Liturgy of this day proclaims that we should not follow Judas, but remain ever faithful to our commitment to Christ. “Accept me today as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God, for I will not reveal your mystery to your enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas.”

We now repeat this every time we receive the mysteries of our Lord’s Body and Blood.