HOLY THURSDAY/MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
THE BEGINNING OF THE SACRED TRIDUUM (2020)
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalms 116:12-13, 15:16bc, 17-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
There was one experience of the Sacred Triduum that changed my life forever. It was the invitation of my dormitory’s Residence Director to several of us students to spend the rather brief vacation of Holy Week (Thursday through Monday) as guests of the monastic community, something that was made possible by the total lack of monastic novices. The opportunity was sold on the precious time it would give us to study, and on the much better quality of food we would experience as opposed to the college cafeteria. None of us expected that it would bring all of us extraordinarily closer to God, and to the mystery of salvation made manifest in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The sacred three days that begins with the evening celebration of the Lord’s Last Supper with His disciples, celebrates not only Jesus’ precious gift of the Eucharist, but it commonly celebrates the institution of the priesthood. It is a day for Catholics everywhere to acknowledge the preciousness of Jesus’ gift of the Eucharist, a gift that comes to us through the loving consecrated hands of priests everywhere. As our second reading proclaims: “the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” After Jesus offered up the cup, “the new covenant in my blood,” He reminded His disciples and us, that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
Holy Thursday an evening to remember that Jesus, through His priesthood, in which we all share, gave humans the power in sign and symbol to make Jesus present on altars everywhere. Nowhere, whether in the pageantry of a Mass in Rome, or on the most rustic and simple of altars in a third world country, can we draw closer to the God who made us and everything around us.
Our gospel reading this evening is always taken from the Gospel of John, a gospel so unlike the Synoptic gospels. The Synoptic gospels, like our second reading, include the details of bread and wine. But there is no bread and wine in John’s account of the Last Supper. At the center of John’s account, and something that will be dramatically missing from any celebration during the time of a pandemic, is the washing of the feet, an action by Jesus that is laden with meaning. It was the humblest of actions at the time of Jesus, so humble in fact that Peter protests “You will never wash my feet.” But Peter misses the point. The act of service shown by the “master and teacher,” is Jesus modeling good behavior for His disciples: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” Who could have imagined that the modern ecclesiastical descendants of the apostles, would appear to be more like princes than servants?
The closing words of tonight’s gospel challenge and remind us that we are meant to be servants to all our brothers and sisters. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” The extent of Jesus’ service will only become obvious when He is raised up on the cross. Our service also stems from our obedience to God, a God who asked His Son to empty Himself and embrace suffering and death, even death on a cross. Our service, too, may very well involve hardships of all kinds, suffering and even death. The lessons of these three days should give us the courage to do as Jesus does, and in that way we will be drawn closer to God than we could have ever imagined.
Those three college freshman from that first monastic retreat would one day enter the monastery and become priests. Indeed, it would be safe to say that like St. Augustine, their hearts were restless after that retreat, and they would not rest until they answered Jesus’ invitation to follow Jesus in the most special of ways. I can speak for all three when I admit that there have been hardships and difficulties for all of them along the way, but not one of them would ever regret that they had the privilege of modeling Jesus’ life as priests.