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Stripping of the Altars?

Why does the altar at church look different on Holy Thursday? Find out here.

On Holy Thursday, Mass certainly looks different. Often, the church’s statues and icons are covered, and at the end of Mass, the priest leaves the tabernacle empty. This traditional practice is known as the Stripping of the Altars. During this event, the priest also recites Psalm 22, which begins with the same words of Jesus on the cross: “O God, my God…why hast Thou forsaken me?”

Psalm 22 was written before the time of Jesus, but prophesies the events on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. In his book Holy Thursday: The Night That Changed the World, Francois Mauriac writes a devotional connecting Psalm 22 and the Stripping of the Altars.

While the Son of God always knew what would happen to Him, none of the scribes at His passion seemed to draw the connection between this prophecy and what was happening right in front of them. The scribes, chief priests, and rulers ridiculed Jesus, calling to mind the image in Psalm 22:8: “All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me.”

However, Francois Mauriac reminds us about the hope that Jesus’s death and resurrection give us, which is also stated in Psalm 22:

And this [twenty-second] Psalm, which begins with a cry of doubt and distress, ends with the promise of a triumph that the Crucified alone was to achieve. “All the ends of the earth shall remember and shall be converted to the Lord; and all the kindred of the Gentiles shall adore in His sight. For the Kingdom is the Lord’s and He shall have dominion over the nations.”

After the Stripping of the Altars, the church looks eerie and sad throughout Holy Thursday and Good Friday. We feel solemn, especially as we reflect on Psalm 22:1-2 during the Mass. At the same time, we rest knowing that on Sunday the church will be redecorated in celebration of Christ’s rising from the grave, just as promised at the end of Psalm 22 and throughout salvation history.

For more Holy Thursday devotions, check out Francois Mauriac’s Holy Thursday: The Night That Changed The World, sold here.

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