It’s Thirsty Thursday, wooo!
No I’m not rewinding back to my university days… I wasn’t quite that wild anyway. But we do have good reason, in the church, to think about wine on Thursdays.
Let’s think about the Christian conception of the week. On one level we received the concept of the seven day week from pre-Christ Judaism. The sabbath, or seventh, day was a day of rest to complete the week. It set ordinary life into the context of creation: as God was described to have worked for six days and rested on a seventh, we were to work for six days and rest on the seventh (cf. Genesis 2, Exodus 20). That sabbath was a day to replace the ordinary with the sacred, to gather with the community of the faithful and worship God. That sabbath was also forward-looking, anticipating God’s promised “rest” for his people (cf. Psalm 95, Hebrews 3).
In light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, this theological accounting for the week got expanded. The first day of the week was the day of Christ’s resurrection, and the apostles eventually dubbed it “the Lord’s Day” (cf. Acts 20:7, Revelation 1). And although that resurrection day, Easter in English, quickly became an annual festival and holiday, it was also the theological raison d’etre of the first day of the week (or Sunday). Some Christians also called it “the eighth day”, with a forward-looking anticipation of the new creation in Christ (cf. Justin Martyr’s First Apology ch. 67). Thus every Sunday is a sort of mini-Easter.
Fridays, too, were drawn into this Gospel-centric scheme. By the end of the first century Fridays were commonly considered a fast day (cf. Didache 8:1). This tradition, of remembering Good Friday on most Fridays of the year, endures even into the Anglican Prayer Books, which we’ve noted here before.
What does this suggest to us about Thursdays? Again, looking to the gospel narratives, we have Maundy Thursday, the day on which Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. Our “Thirsty Thursday” is a weekly remembrance of the institution of the sacrament of the altar! Now, to be fair, this particular tradition doesn’t have any echo that I’ve noticed in the classical Prayer Book tradition. The closest we get, these days, is the Collect for the Presence of Christ recommended for Thursdays in the Evening Prayer liturgy:
Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.
Apart from that little shout-out, taking on a remembrance of the gift of Holy Communion on Thursdays is entirely up to the individual worshiper or worship planner. You can keep it in heart and mind during the Office; you could read the Antecommunion service; you could choose Opening Sentences or Canticles that help you to reflect on the Sacrament in the midst of your daily worship.
How did this Maundy Thursday emphasis exist in the liturgical tradition before the Prayer Book? It was part of the cycle of Daily Mass. For centuries, every priest was expected or required to celebrate Mass every day. In cathedrals or other churches with multiple priests available, this meant that there were more masses to be said than there were masses needed for the people to come to attend, and so while one or two priests would celebrate the “public” masses, the rest would have to celebrate a “private” mass – not meaning that nobody else could show up, but just that he would be using a side altar and probably serving the bread and wine to nobody but himself. As the Western tradition flourished and grew more elaborate, more and more stipulations guided how this worked. The “mass of the day” was the principle service, but could only be celebrated once or twice, depending upon the number of the congregations attending them. For the rest of the priests, they’d be saying “votive masses”, that is, other topical devotions mostly divorced from the liturgical calendar. And part of that tradition included a particular “votive mass” for each day of the week, and for Thursday it was – you guessed it – a mass giving thanks for the gift of Holy Communion, essentially repeating the theological themes of holy days like Maundy Thursday and (later) Corpus Christi.
Obviously, much of that tradition and mentality is incompatible with the Anglican Prayer Book tradition. But the idea of taking on a different theological theme on different days of the week may well make its echo in our own private devotions, regardless of the potential excesses of medieval tradition. So perhaps, tonight, you can raise a glass to our Lord Jesus, and give a toast to his saving health!