The Church intends, on this day, to renew, in a most solemn manner, the mystery of the Last Supper: for our Lord Himself, on this occasion of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, said to His Apostles: Do this for a Commemoration of Me (St. Luke, xxii. 15). Let us, therefore, resume the Gospel narrative.
Jesus is in the Supper chamber, where the Paschal Lamb is to be eaten. All the Apostles are with Him; Judas is there, also, but His crime is not known to the rest. Jesus approaches the table, on which the Lamb is served. His Disciples stand around him. The ceremonies prescribed by God to Moses are religiously observed. At the beginning of the repast, Jesus speaks these words to His Apostles: With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you, before I suffer (St. Luke, xxii. 15). In saying this, He does not imply that the Pasch of this year is intrinsically better than those that have preceded it; but, that it is dearer to Him, inasmuch as it is to give rise to the institution of the new Pasch, which He has prepared for mankind, and which He is now going to give them as his last gift: for as St. John says, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end (St. John, xiii. 1).
The Mass of Maundy Thursday is one of the most solemn of the Year; and although the Feast of Corpus Christi is the day for the solemn honouring the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, still, the Church would have the anniversary of the Last Supper to be celebrated with all possible splendour. The colour of the vestments is white, as it is for Chrismas Day and Easter Sunday; the decorations of the Altar and Sanctuary all bespeak joy: and yet, there are several ceremonies during this Mass, which show that the holy Spouse of Christ has not forgotten the Passion of her Jesus, and that this joy is but transient. The Priest entones the Angelic Hymn, Glory be to God in the highest! and the Bells ring forth a joyous peal, which continues during the whole singing of the heavenly Canticle: but, from that moment, they remain silent, and their long silence produces, in every heart, a sentiment of holy mournfulness. But why does the Church deprive us, for so many hours, of the grand melody of these sweet bells, whose voices cheer us during the rest of the year? It is to show us, that this world lost all its melody and joy when its Saviour suffered and was crucified. Moreover, she would hereby remind us, how the Apostles, (who were the heralds of Christ, and are figured by the Bells, whose ringing summons the Faithful to the House of God,) fled from their Divine Master and left him a prey to His enemies.
The Holy Sacrifice continues as usual; but at the solemn moment of the Elevation of the Holy Host and the Chalice of Salvation, the Bell is silent, and, outside the Church, there is not given to the neighbourhood the usual signal of the descent of Jesus upon the Altar. When the time of the Holy Communion is near, the Priest does not give the Kiss of Peace to the Deacon, who, according to the Apostolic tradition, should transmit it, by the Subdeacon, to those that are about to communicate. Our thoughts turn to the traitor Judas, who, on this very day, profaned the sign of friendship by making it an instrument of death. It is out of detestation for this crime, that the Church omits, today, the sign of fraternal charity, it would too painfully remind us of sacrilegious hypocrisy.
Another rite, peculiar to today, is the Priest’s consecrating two Hosts during the Mass. One of these he receives in Communion; the other he reserves, and reverently places it in a Chalice, which he covers with a veil. The reason of this is, that, tomorrow, the Church suspends the daily Sacrifice. Such is the impression produced by the anniversary of our Saviour’s Death, that the Church dares not to renew, upon her Altars, the immolation which was then offered on Calvary: or rather, her renewal of it will be by the fixing all her thoughts on the terrible scene of that Friday Noon. The Host reserved from today’s Mass, will be her morrow’s participation. This rite is called the Mass of the Presanctified, because, in it, the Priest does not consecrate, but only receives the Host consecrated on the previous day. Formerly, as we shall explain more fully further on, the holy Sacrifice was not offered up on Holy Saturday, and yet the Mass of the Presanctified was not celebrated, as it was on the Friday.
The Stripping of the Altars
As soon as Vespers are over, the Celebrant returns to the Sanctuary, assisted by the Deacon and Subdeacon. He goes to the altar, and takes off the cloths and ornaments. This ceremony signifies the suspension of the Holy Sacrifice. The altar should be left in this denuded state, until the daily offering can again be presented to the Divine Majesty…. He is now in the hands of his enemies.. who are about to strip him of his garments, just as we strip the Altar. He is to be exposed naked to the insults of the rabble…
(Source: New Liturgical Movement)