Thursday, April 05, 2007

Thursday--Holy Thursday--Dr. Thursday

You may have wondered how I was going to handle this post, since I had already treated the five Sorrowful Mysteries. But today, Holy Thursday, the Fifth Luminous Mystery shold be contemplated. Yes, there must be those horrid last few notes to end one part of the Mysterious Suite (a descending pedal solo, played on a 32' flue, perhaps) as Judas leaves, signifying "It was night".

But just as there are other ways and others days in which we shall ponder this mystery - I mean the post-Pentecost feast of Corpus Christi, and September's Exaltation of the Cross - just so there must also be another theme to our suite, something old and exalted, solemn and homely, but also new...
Read more.
Yes, as the Good Steward who brings forth old and new, or St. Augustine's "Beauty": for today, on Spring's first Full Moon, on this feast day of the Old Covenant, the One Who commanded Moses now gives a new command: "this is the New Covenant, in My Blood..."

Here again is the Sacrifice and Holy Meal, and the Blood which liberates, but now the Priest is also the Victim.

Our Uncle Gilbert speaks of this great mystery with a large amount of care:
On an occasion when Holy Communion was brought to Frances at home he said, "I am a simple man and I am afraid when God comes to my house." [Ward, Return To Chesterton 293]
Something so amazing would clearly bring forth whole books from his prolific pen, but he knows that these words are the Division which Jesus brought. [see Lk 12:51] For when He told the Jews in six different ways how they would be obliged to eat His flesh and drink His blood, "many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him." [Jn 6:67] Here is one example, from his essays on Catholicism:
As to Transubstantiation, it is less easy to talk currently about that; but I would gently suggest that, to most ordinary outsiders with any common sense, there would be a considerable practical difference between Jehovah pervading the universe and Jesus Christ coming into the room. [GKC The Thing CW3:180]
But in his fiction he is far more bold:
"I want you to hate me! " cried Turnbull, in agony. "I want you to be sick when you think of my name. I am sure there is no God."
"But there is," said Madeleine, quite quietly, and rather with the air of one telling children about an elephant. "Why, I touched His body only this morning."
"You touched a bit of bread," said Turnbull, biting his knuckles. "Oh, I will say anything that can madden you!"
"You think it is only a bit of bread," said the girl, and her lips tightened ever so little.
"I know it is only a bit of bread," said Turnbull, with violence.
She flung back her open face and smiled. "Then why did you refuse to eat it?" she said. [GKC, The Ball and the Cross]
Of all the fiction of GKC, somehow that book seems the most appropriate for today. True, the famous picnic on the roof in Manalive has some resonance... and the grand theater as Lucian Gregory comes before the Council of the Seven Days...

But tomorrow is the paradoxical "feast day" of the Cross, and we must "enter into" that symbol, as much as Bastian Balthazar Bux enters into "Auryn" in The Never-Ending Story. For us, the Eucharist makes this possible: we enter into, and partake of, Calvary - which means the Cross.

I heard somewhere how the U.S. Army changed the boot-soles for those going to the Near East, as the old form of treads would leave the ground marked with signs of the cross. One wonders about such a view - is the ASCII character 00101011 (which looks like this: "+") likewise forbidden? Are draftsmen forbidden T-squares? Are geometers prevented from using angles measuring pi over 2? Are no picket fences permitted? Is star-gazing shunned when Cygnus (the "Northern Cross") is in the sky?

But Chesterton has a whole chapter exploring, and answering, this riddle. Here is just a sample:
[Professor Lucifer said] "What could possibly express your philosophy and my philosophy better than the shape of that cross and the shape of this ball? This globe is reasonable; that cross is unreasonable. It is a four-legged animal, with one leg longer than the others. The globe is inevitable. The cross is arbitrary. Above all the globe is at unity with itself; the cross is primarily and above all things at enmity with itself. The cross is the conflict of two hostile lines, of irreconcilable direction. That silent thing up there is essentially a collision, a crash, a struggle in stone. Pah! that sacred symbol of yours has actually given its name to a description of desperation and muddle. When we speak of men at once ignorant of each other and frustrated by each other, we say they are at cross-purposes. Away with the thing! [see Jn 19:15] The very shape of it is a contradiction in terms."

"What you say is perfectly true," said Michael, with serenity. "But we like contradictions in terms. Man is a contradiction in terms; he is a beast whose superiority to other beasts consists in having fallen. That cross is, as you say, an eternal collision; so am I. That is a struggle in stone. Every form of life is a struggle in flesh. The shape of the cross is irrational, just as the shape of the human animal is irrational." [GKC, The Ball and the Cross]
Indeed, we DO like contradictions in terms. Such is the whole story of the Incarnation: this case [of Bethlehem] it is rather heaven that is under the earth. And there follows in this strange story the idea of an upheaval of heaven. That is the paradox of the whole position; that henceforth the highest thing can only work from below. [Cf Jn 13:2-15] ... For those who think the idea of the Crusade is one that spoils the idea of the Cross, we can only say that for them the idea of the Cross is spoiled; the idea of the Cross is spoiled quite literally in the Cradle. [GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:313-4
Let us give Madeline, the heroine of The Ball and the Cross, the last word today, for her words give an almost Thomistic summary of today's Mystery:
"...the Mass is very long and tiresome unless one loves God. ...if you are really sorry it is all right. If you are horribly sorry it is all the better. You have only to go and tell the priest so and he will give you God out of his own hands."
Dr. Thursday


  1. Ah, very tricky here to have worked in another Holy Thursday reference:

    "henceforth the highest thing can only work from below." [Cf Jn 13:2-15]

    That quote is where Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles, and it is the gospel for tonight's Mass.

  2. Thank-you, Nancy, for your superb blog on the Eucharist - the main celebration on this High Holyday. Sadly, it probably beats the homily which I shall endure at Mass this evening; however, being a church musician paid by that parish I cannot skip out. [sigh]
    The Maestro.

  3. So long as that descending pedal solo is played in HALF-steps...

  4. Nancy posted it, but it was Dr. Thursday who wrote it, just FYI.

  5. But, Christopher, there's no music allowed (unless you're a singer), except for the "Gloria," during Holy Week! So why couldn't you "skip out," unless you think the ceremonies aren't worth enduring the sermon? (Personally (though our pastor is good at preaching) I'd go through much worse before I'd miss the Holy Thursday Mandatum.)


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