18  April 2019Holy Thursday

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Holy Thursday
Holy Thursday - Mass of the Lord's Supper - Cycle C
1Corinthians 11, 23-26 and John 13, 1-15

A friend of the incomparable Mark Twain was trying to explain why he had stopped going to church. "There are too many things," he said, "in the Scriptures which I just do not understand." Mr Twain with nary a twinkle in his eye responded, "You know, it's not the stuff that I do not understand that bothers me. It's all those things I do understand." I must confess I must add St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians to my own personal list of the latter. The Apostle to the Gentile's teaching on the Eucharist is so unqualified and so clear. I cannot understand how people after reading St Paul and the Gospels can believe the Eucharist is to be taken as a symbol. And, if they genuinely believe that the Christ is present only symbolically under the appearance of bread and wine, I do wonder why they really remain at all. The most effective homily on Holy Thursday that I have heard was in a small college chapel. The elderly priest reminded his listeners, principally students, of the rebuttal writer Flannery O'Connor made to the once Catholic Mary McCarthy. Breezily Ms McCarthy dismissed the Eucharist as nothing more than a symbol. The young Ms O'Connor to her amazement heard herself say to McCarthy, "If the Eucharist is nothing but a symbol, to hell with it!" The priest then sat down to allow his young congregation a few moment's reflection.

I was tempted to stand up and applaud him. Yet, one woman religious present took great umbrage at the celebrant's brief homily. She considered the priest's words too flippant and frivolous for such a solemn occasion. Her anger I cannot comprehend to this day ten years later. It strikes me that the campus minister took his cue from the famous letter of Paul of Tarsus to the small Christian colony at Corinth in Greece. He forcefully told it like it was. As the students would say, the Holy Thursday preacher let it all hang out. They clearly appreciated his pointed message. After all, what can be clearer than the words of the Master Himself that St Paul quotes, "This is my body..." and "This is the new covenant in my blood."! If St Paul wanted to tell the Corinthians that the Eucharist is nothing but a symbol, then he chose very poor words. Yet, as we know, Paul is acknowledged as a master of language. Indeed anthologies down through the centuries prove he has very few peers. St Paul's teaching on the Eucharist was certainly not lost to our fathers and mothers in the faith. The celebration of today's Liturgy of the Lord's Supper on this Feast of the Holy Thursday can be traced back to the early Middle Ages. Some argue one can find evidence of it as early as the fifth or sixth centuries. One can hardly posit that the ancients were celebrating but a symbol.

Rather, they were convinced that the Eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus was, as one put it, "what God desired and we required." It was for them the genuine article. One Catholic pastor in the small city in which I live in New York State's beautiful Hudson Valley told me an interesting tale. A Methodist minister, stationed in that city, comes to his noon Liturgy each week-day. One day I was rushing into that parish's soup kitchen to serve lunch with some college students. I chanced to meet him. He was wearing his Roman collar. He was under forty. We chatted for a few moments. I did not want to presume to probe into his soul in the parish parking lot. So I did not ask him what motivated his daily rendezvous with the Teacher. But I wager he was not coming to that Liturgy each noon to honor but a symbol. Rather, I take it he gave a quite literal interpretation to Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Where he will go from here is between him and the Holy Spirit. If this Methodist minister takes the words of Jesus the Christ at their face value, should any Catholic do less? Perhaps we should all reflect on the words of Padre Pio, "If we only knew how God regards this Sacrifice, we would risk our lives to be present at a single Mass."

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Holy Thursday
Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper: Consuming Mercy

This evening's readings began with the institution of the Passover meal. The deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt was the great act of God's mercy in the Old Testament. God used his Power against the Egyptians, but spared His people. The first reading describes what was happening as the final plague came upon the Egyptians. Moses had given God's message to Pharaoh. The first born of all the land of Egypt would die unless Pharaoh let God's people go free to worship him. Pharaoh refused. The Angel of Death was summoned. As the Angel of Death came upon the land, the Israelites ate a special meal of lamb and unleavened bread. They were not to eat this meal in their leisure clothes, or even banquet clothes. They were to be dressed ready for a journey. You remember, blood from the sacrificed lamb was put on their doorposts. As the Angel of Death made its way throughout Egypt, it passed over the homes of the Israelites marked with the Blood of the sacrificed lamb. This is the Passover. The early Church Fathers would ask: "What was it about the Jewish homes that caused the Angel of Death to pass over them? It was the Blood of the Lamb that the angel saw as the Blood of Christ, the Eucharist."

God's mercy had come upon each house in anticipation of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. By Jesus's time, the Passover took place in two stages. The first stage was the sacrifice of the lamb in the Temple in Jerusalem on the afternoon of 14th day of the Hebrew month, Nissan. The second stage was the eating of the Passover lamb during the supper the evening the lamb was slain. This sacred meal was more than just a remembrance of the meal that took place in Egypt, the first Passover. It became a remembrance of the four most important nights for the Jewish people: the night of creation when God's light shone in the darkness, the night of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, the night of the Exodus from Egypt and the night still to come when the Messiah would lead the people out of darkness. During the Passover meal Jesus celebrated in the Upper Room, the Lord said, "Do this in remembrance of me." A new Passover would now take place with a new sacrificial lamb, a new passage into light and a new all consuming mercy.

As I mentioned there were two stages of the Passover meal, the immolation or sacrifice of the lamb in the Temple and the eating of the sacred meal that evening. We find a discrepancy in the time line between the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the Gospel of John. John focused on the first stage, the sacrifice of the lamb, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, focus in on the second stage, the Passover Meal. For the Gospel of John, the Christian Passover, the Eucharist, is initiated on the Cross. The Gospel of John has a precise count down to the Passover. Jesus dies on the cross on the precise day and at the precise time that the lambs are sacrificed. Like the sacrificial lambs, not a bone was to be broken. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world as he is proclaimed to be in the first chapter of John. Jesus came to take away sin; He came to bring mercy.

The Synoptics, Matthew, Mark and Luke, focus in on the second stage of the Passover, the sacred meal. These gospels are not as concerned with the precise time of the death of the Lord. They are concerned with the institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper as the supreme symbolic and prophetic action in history. In giving the Eucharist, Jesus announced and anticipated with the sacrament that which would shortly follow: his death for his people and his gift of eternal life through his resurrection. Some of the ancient teachers in the Church, following the Synoptic time line, even counted the three days in the tomb from the Last Supper, "For," they said, "Christ's sacrificial death began when he broke his body for his disciples in the sacrament of the Eucharist." Historically, there was only one sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Sacramentally, Jesus is sacrificed on the cross as often as the Eucharist is celebrated. When we come to Mass we are present as the Son is offered to the Father to obtain mercy for His people.

When we receive communion, we consume this mercy. The method of the sacrifice, the death of the Lord by crucifixion, was terrible. It demonstrated the extent that hatred and evil will go to destroy love and goodness. But, beneath the horrors of that day was the conscious decision of the Lord to be the sacrificial victim. It is the all consuming mercy of our Lord that made that Friday Good. Jesus Christ came for the forgiveness of sins. He came for mercy. He allowed himself to be sacrificed; he allowed evil to do its worse to him and then used evil's very actions as a means of redeeming mankind. He conquered death through death. And He did this for us. In this year of Mercy, we remember that Jesus is the Gift of Mercy. "Daughters of Jerusalem," he said, "Do not weep for me, but weep for your sins and sins of your children." It is sin that caused his death. It is sin that was conquered by his death. Union with Jesus' suffering, dying, and rising, was given to us at the Last Supper. This is my body which will be given up for you. This is my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which shall be shed for you and for all until sins are forgiven. Through the sacrament of the Eucharist that we celebrate every day on our altars, we are mysteriously present at the death of the Lord. The ancient Jews would say on the Passover night, "In every generation let each of us see himself or herself as the one that came out of Egypt that night."

Applied to us Christians, we say, "Yes, I also am present at the New Passover. I am in that Upper Room. I am present when the Lord gives his Body and Blood during the Mass. I am present under the cross with Mary and John." "Were you there when they crucified the Lord?" the spiritual asks. "Yes," we reply. "I am there whenever I participate in the mystery of the Eucharist." But why "Body and Blood?" Why did Jesus transform bread and wine and specifically say, ‘This is my Body, This is my Blood." We read in the Gospel of John that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Body is human. The body indicates the whole of life. Jesus gives us his body, his whole life, not just a piece of his life. When we receive communion, we receive the totality of the Lord's life from his presence within Mary at his conception to his birth in Bethlehem, to his labors during the period of his private life, to his public ministry, his healing and teaching, his warmth and friendship, and to his determination to give all to his Father for his people.

The body of Christ is the sum totality of his life. And the Blood? The Blood is the Lord's death. In the Bible, flowing blood indicates death. His Blood flows out for us. Jesus dies for us. At the Last Supper Jesus gives us his life and his death. "Having loved his own in the world," the Gospel of John begins the Passion Account, "he loved them to the end." When we receive communion we receive the Life and Death of the Lord. Far more than a meal of fellowship, we are in communion with the life and death of Jesus. Hebrews 4 proclaims, "Let us be confident in approaching the throne of Grace, that we shall have mercy from Him and find grace when we are in need of help." Come, now, join the disciples in the Upper Room. Join Mary and John beneath the Cross. Join Jesus who emptied himself in humble service. This evening and throughout our Christian lives may we be united to the Tremendous Lover who by his life and death has given us the Gift of Mercy. Come and receive communion. Come and consume mercy.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Holy Thursday
Central Issue (April 18, 2019)

Bottom line: Tonight we draw inspiration from Benedict's prayerful reflection. Yes, the sixties and seventies evidenced a terrible collapse for our society and our church, but the problem is our tepid response - especially to the great gift of the Eucharist. The homily will be mainly in English but I begin with a summary in Spanish. Esta noche sacamos inspiracion de la refleccion del papa jubilado, Benedicto Dieciseis, sobre la crisis de abuso sexual de menores por sacerdotes. A pesar de lo que dicen los medios de comunicacion, no echa la culpa a los anyos sesenta. Es cierto que los decadas entre 1960 a 1980 ven un colapso de nuestra sociedad y nuestra iglesia. Sin embargo, el problema es nuestra respuesta tibia - especialmente al gran don de la Eucaristia. Esta noche podemos renovar nuestra reverencia y gratitud por Jesus Sacramentado. On Palm Sunday I mentioned the essay by Benedict XVI.

The pope emeritus gives his reflections on "the crisis experienced throughout the world after the shocking revelations of clerical abuse perpetrated against minors." Before becoming pope in 2005, Benedict served as theology professor, cardinal archbishop of Munich and later as head of the congregation that dealt with abuse cases. His reflections come from a depth of experience. They deserve careful reading, more than headlines which announce that he "blames the sixties" or "blames homosexuals" or "is criticizing Pope Francis." On the last point, far from criticizing his sucessor, Bendict contacted Pope Francis before publishing his essary. If Pope Francis had objected, Benedict surely would have remained silent. In his final paragraph Benedict praises Pope Francis concluding, "Thank you, Holy Father!" Benedict does mention homosexual cliques in the 70's but hardly lays blame at their feet. Nor does he blame the sixties. Like many people he observes that in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980 "previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely." The problem is that Catholic leaders, rather than standing up to this devastation, simply went along. As we used to say, "go with the flow." I say this to my own shame as well. More about that tomorrow when we focus on how our sins caused Jesus' suffering and death.

Tonight I want to focus on what Benedict identifies as "a central issue" - lack of reverence for the Eucharist. Benedict tells how after the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965) he hoped for "a new reverence for Christ's death and resurrection". In stead we fell into "a way of dealing with Him (Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament) that destroys the greatness of the mystery". To restore that sense of mystery we need to return to our roots. St. Paul tells us, "I recieved from the Lord what I also handed on to you...that Jesus took bread and after giving thanks, said, 'This is my Body'". Tonight let's receive Communion with reverence.

As the person ahead of you receives Jesus, bow your head, come forward with focus on Our Lord. Do the same with Jesus' Precious Blood. At the end of Mass I will place the ciborium of Hosts on the altar. After incensing our Savior, I will cover the ciborium with the humoral veil for a procession inside the church. Those who are able, please kneel. The Blessed Sacrament, Jesus himself will remain on the chapel altar until midnight. Stay for some time of adoration or return at 10 or 11. This night above all we want to show reverence and gratitude. You who are here tonight are my core parishioners. You can model reverence and gratitude. We do have a lot to be grateful for as we will see tomorrow when we focus on the depth of Jesus love and self sacrifice for us. Tonight we draw inspiration from Benedict's prayerful reflection. Yes, the sixties and seventies evidenced a terrible collapse for our society and our church, but the problem is our tepid response - especially to the great gift of the Eucharist. We can, however, renew our reverence. In the our processional hymn we sing these words: "Canta, lengua jubilosa el misterio del altar". "Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory of his flesh the mystery sing." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Holy Thursday

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Holy Thursday
Maundy Thursday

This evening at mass we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper on the night before he died for us. This is, of its nature, a very solemn occasion but don't think of solemnity as stuffiness for it is indeed the very opposite. What we celebrate tonight is something truly joyous and enriching, for the Eucharist is the very life-blood of the Church. At the table in the Upper Room Jesus took the bread and gave it to his disciples saying, 'This is my body which will be given up for you' and he did the same with the wine saying, 'This is my blood which will be poured out for you.' To the Apostles at first hearing all this might have sounded extremely gory; after all who but a cannibal eats flesh and drinks wine. Remember though that Jesus had already taught the Apostles in advance that they must eat his body and drink his blood. At the time he gave them this teaching we know that it puzzled them greatly but now in the Upper Room all becomes clear to them at last. Here at the Last Supper the flesh is hidden in the form of bread and the blood is contained under the guise of wine.

Here in the Eucharist we are enabled to come as close as it is possible to get to Christ because we consume his body and blood in the form of sacramental signs. Here in the Eucharist it is truly possible to become one with him. We are all well aware that when we celebrate the Eucharist we are calling to mind not just the Last Supper but in fact the whole Pascal Mystery; the entire sequence of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. And since this is a sacrament that we are celebrating we are not just reminding ourselves what happened all those years ago but, through the action of Jesus, we are actually making it present on our altar. When we celebrate the Eucharist it is as if all of time has suddenly telescoped and we are taken back to the Upper Room and we are enabled to witness the action of Jesus taking and blessing and distributing the bread and the wine. We become present there in that Upper Room and share in his body and blood alongside the Apostles gathered there. What happens then on our altar in this Church is that we become one with the events of the Last Supper. The priest stands in for Jesus and says the words that he said, and the rest of the people stand in for the Apostles and receive the gifts of his body and blood which renew and reinvigorate them. Spiritually we become one with the Apostles and one with Christ our beloved Saviour.

Here is a sacrament beyond all others. Here is a sacrament which actually feeds our souls and brings us ever closer to the Divine Saviour in whom we put our trust. Here is a sacrament which is our true pledge of eternal life. On this special feast day we not only remember the institution of the Eucharist but also the commencement of the priesthood because these two things are inseparable. The Apostles become the priests who are commanded to continue to celebrate the Eucharist for the rest of their lives; theirs is the task of bringing the Eucharist to the people enabling them to become united to Christ in this special way. And so tonight priests throughout the world are particularly reminded of their solemn duties as ministers of word and sacrament and are invited to renew their promise to faithfully minister to the People of God. In the Eucharist we are also celebrating service. In the Liturgy of the Word we are always given for our consideration tonight the extract from the Gospel of John which recounts the Washing of the Feet that took place in the Upper Room. Jesus gives his Apostles this wonderful example of loving service, an example that is repeated throughout the world on this holy night as in every Church during the liturgy the priest washes the feet of the people. The point is that there is no love without service. It is totally useless to celebrate love without doing anything loving. And Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is as good an example of loving service as you could get.

In our liturgy tonight it might be slightly embarrassing for those concerned, but they should regard themselves as privileged to participate in this ritual because of the wonderful example of service it gives. Ideally we should wash feet at every mass but I suppose for reasons of expedience this was something that has only ever been part of the liturgy on this most holy night. I say the washing of the feet should be done on a daily or weekly basis because I believe we need to be constantly reminded that the essence of our Christian commitment is service. It is of the very nature of Christianity that we should serve one another. There is certainly plenty of scope here for creativity because all of our needs are different. There are lots and lots of ways that we can help one another, there are numerous things we can do to assist our neighbours. It can include anything from passing the salt to giving evidence in court. Let me suggest that one of the very simplest things we can do is to give people praise when it is deserved. All this would involve is opening our mouth to say something positive and encouraging at the right moment. And yet so often we hold back and we fail to assist others even when it is obvious that they really need our help.

A Christian should always be looking for opportunities to give aid to other people. It is surprising therefore that we are frequently very diffident and extremely reluctant to serve others. Let us resolve to do better in this regard in the coming year. Of course, we must also realise that it is not always easy to accept the service of others particularly when they don't always fully understand what our needs really are. There is a certain graciousness that is required when it comes to accepting help from others. We need to be very careful not to rebuff those who offer us help in case we discourage them from helping others. Let us go back to briefly consider once again the Liturgy of the Eucharist before concluding; it deserves serious attention since it is at the very heart of our life of worship. We need to be very careful not to take the mass for granted; we need to be attentive that we do not get lost in the routine of the weekly celebration.

By being open to every aspect of the mass we will over the course of our lives gradually grow in appreciation of it. The mass is a ritual; it is a set way of reciting sacred words and performing sacred actions in a holy place. But while it is a ritual it can in no way be considered routine. The important thing about a ritual is that it is full of meaning; it is a sequence of words and actions that gives life and purpose to its participants. Our task then as Catholic Christians is gradually over the course of our lives to enter into the Eucharist and to progressively uncover its meaning. Little by little we will grow in appreciation and love of the mass until that day when we are invited to step out of this world and into the next world where we will be able to take our place at the greatest liturgy of all, the liturgy of heaven.

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