Stripping of an Altar
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On Holy Thursday the celebrant, having removed the ciborium from the high altar, goes to the sacristy. He there lays aside the white vestments and puts on a violet stole, and, accompanied by the deacon, also vested in violet stole, and the subdeacon, returns to the high altar. Whilst the antiphon "Diviserunt sibi" and the psalm "Deus, Deus meus" are being recited, the celebrant and his assistants ascend to the predella and strip the altar of the altar-cloths, vases of flowers, antipendium, and other ornaments, so that nothing remains but the cross and the candlesticks with the candles extinguished. In the same manner all the other altars in the church are denuded. If there be many altars in the church, another priest, vested in surplice and violet stole, may strip them whilst the celebrant is stripping the high altar. The Christian altar represents Christ, and the stripping of the altar reminds us how He was stripped of his garments when He fell into the hands of the Jews and was exposed naked to their insults. It is for this reason that the psalm "Deus, Deus meus" is recited, wherein the Messias speaks of the Roman soldiers dividing His garments among them. This ceremony signifies the suspension of the Holy Sacrifice. It was formerly the custom in some churches on this day to wash the altars with a bunch of hyssop dipped in wine and water, to render them in some manner worthy of the Lamb without stain who is immolated on them, and to recall to the minds of the faithful with how great purity they should assist at the Holy Sacrifice and receive Holy Communion . St. Isidore of Seville (De Eccles. Off, I, xxviii) and St. Eligius of Noyon (Homil. VIII, De Coena Domini) say that this ceremony was intended as an homage offered to Our Lord , in return for the humility wherewith He deigned to wash the feet of His disciples.
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