The Maundy Thursday Eucharist Service is peculiar to Durham Cathedral. It’s the one in the year that’s a bit different from the others. But that’s perhaps why I have thoroughly enjoyed the two I have attended in Durham Cathedral, the most recent being just last year.
I typically split my Holy Week between Durham Cathedral and Holy Island, where my oldest friend is a priest. Lent is the one time a year she cannot really leave her congregation, so it makes sense for me to journey to the Island to see her, soaking up the atmosphere endemic to a village church – and especially one on Holy Island – as opposed to the much larger community of the Cathedral. Yet, last year, car trouble meant that I spent the week in Durham and attended the special Maundy Thursday Service.
I, like many others, try to spend more time in church during Lent, in particular during Holy Week. The chance to attend the Maundy Thursday Service is thrilling, especially given the unique nature of the service. The Cathedral still performs the ‘Judas Cup’ ceremony, a record of which survives in the sixteenth century Rites of Durham. After falling into disuse following the Reformation, the practice was revived two decades ago, and is also known as the Mazer Cup ceremony.
During the Service, the Dean washes the feet of the youngest Choristers, echoing similar scenes from the Last Supper. The members of the Chapter also gather around Colin Wilbourn’s Last Supper Table, which usually sits in the Galilee Chapel. Just for Maundy Thursday, the table is opened up and transformed into an altar. The Dean takes a sip of wine from the Mazer Cup, before addressing the individual members of the Chapter saying to them: ‘One of you will betray me’. Each member replies with ‘Surely not I’ as they, too, take a sip of wine from the cup. It’s terrifically dramatic, made more so when the altars are stripped and the lights go out – the Cathedral is plunged into complete darkness afterwards.
I love the Cathedral; and feel totally at home within its walls. I’ve been a volunteer for many years, and the Cathedral is my place of regular worship. I was grateful for the chance to experience the Maundy Thursday Service last year, especially considering it is a ceremony one can only witness within the walls of Durham Cathedral, once a year. For me, Lent is a time for reading and reflection; and this year I was inspired by Canon Rosalind Brown’s suggestion during Advent of daily readings for the year ahead. Whilst I don’t manage to read every single night, I make sure I do so during Lent. It is a time for reflection after all, seen no more obviously than in the silence that envelopes the closing moments of the Maundy Thursday service.
This year’s Maundy Thursday services take place on Thursday 29 March. A Sung Eucharist and Blessing of the Oils is at 11.00am, and a Sung Eucharist and the Stripping of the Altar is at 7.30pm.