An excerpt fromTHE
RITUAL "REASON WHY"________
"WHAT MEAN YE BY THIS SERVICE?" --Exod. xxii.
Edited by CHARLES WALKERSecond Edition
Mowbray & Co., Oxford, 1868
The altars were formerly washed with wine and water on Maundy
Thursday, in memory of the act of St. Mary Magdelaine, who washed our Lord's
feet, and wiped them with the hair of her head, in preparation for burial
(Matt. 22:12). And it was customary for bishops and superiours of
religious houses to wash the feet of twelve or thirteen poor persons.
The Kings of England long performed this office, the last who did so being
King James II. It was afterwards performed in the Chapel Royal by
the Archbishop of York, acting for the sovereign; but since 1731 has been
suffered to fall into disuse. Doles, however, are still distributed
by the Sovereign on this day.
537. Will you explain to me why the altar in many churches
remains stripped on Good Friday?
The custom has reference to the stripping off of our Lord's garments
at the pillar, and to His hanging naked on the cross. Stripping was
also a sign of humiliation; and so just as the Church on festivals puts
on her "beautiful garments" (Isa. 52:1), makes her clothing of "wrought
gold" (Ps. 45:14): so on this day of sorrow and abasement she "lays her
robe from" her like the King of Nineveh in the great fast (Jonah 3:6).
But if the altar cannot be conveniently laid bare, or is richly ornamented
in colours, it is usual to cover it with a black frontal.
[Note: it brings to mind Psalm 99:5]