Thursday, March 29, 2018

'The Mystery of Faith' (Holy Thursday homily)

Whether you realized it or not, 
all of Lent has been a journey to this moment. 
We have prayed, fasted and shared our blessings with others, 
so that we, like the Apostles, 
can prepare to celebrate the Passover with the Lord.

Normally the Passover was celebrated as a family event; 
instead, Jesus was keeping the Passover with these chosen men. 
No one else was present.

That alone would have caused the Apostles to ponder.
Then he takes the task of a servant, and washes their feet.
Next Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.”
Judas leaves, and the Gospel of John says, “it was night.”

The Passover, remember, was first celebrated in Egypt.
God’s People were slaves; and on the night of the Passover, 
God executed judgment against Egypt, and Israel left in haste.

But in order to understand fully the Sacrifice of the Mass, 
it helps to remember what happens 
when God brings his People to Mt. Sinai.

There, God instructs Moses not only in the Ten Commandments, 
but also in all the details of how they are to worship God; 
how the tent of worship is to be arranged,
how the altar is to be constructed, 
and how all the sacrifices offered.

After all this, Moses leads the elders of Israel up Sinai, 
to ratify the covenant. And the Scripture says, 
“They saw God, and they ate and drank” the sacrifice.
All this is background to what happened at the Last Supper, 
and what happens in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass.

Did you ever wonder why the altar traditionally was elevated?
As at Sinai, we go up to see God.

In a few minutes, I will go up this altar, and as your priest – 
on your behalf – I will address our 
“Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God” – the God of Sinai.
You and I will join the armies of angels that cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

As I said on Sunday, there is a sense in which the priest is alone before God; 
and yet he is not alone at all. He stands for you. 
And he comes not in his own name, but in the name of Christ, 
who is the true Priest.

What you and I offer – ordinary bread and wine – 
is brought before Almighty God.
And in that moment, the priest prays for the whole Church, 
including “all gathered here.”

It is fitting that before going any further, the priest acknowledges first of all, 
the Virgin Mary, the Queen Mother.
Traditionally, the priest bows his head to the left toward Mary; 
and then forward, toward Christ. 

And in heaven, that is precisely the seating arrangement. 
Psalm 45 says, “the Queen stands at your right hand.”
Then the priest acknowledges the Apostles – the first priests.

The priest then says, “Graciously accept this oblation” –
 what is an oblation? 

An oblation is an offering of food and wine, from the people to God.
It stands for you. You, and your prayers, works, joys and sufferings, 
go to the altar in that bread and wine.

The priest extends his hands like this. 
That is meant to suggest a dove – that is, the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament, God’s Fire would come down upon the sacrifice. 
On the Day of Pentecost, God’s Fire came down upon the Church.
In the Mass, it is the Holy Spirit that makes our human offerings
“become for us the Body and Blood of [the] beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”

The priest then recalls the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.
And what becomes so clear when the priest and the people 
face the same way, 
is that every word of this prayer is addressed to God.

Yes, at the Last Supper, Jesus spoke these words to the Apostles.
But the next day, on the Cross, 
he actually offers his Body and Blood to the Father. 
His Body is broken; his blood is poured out.

Very important: the Mass is not a recreation of the Last Supper.
Rather, the Mass is the representation of the whole Sacrifice, 
Which in Jesus’ own words, was completed on the Cross.

Sunday I referred to the roots of the Eucharistic Prayer.
The Roman prayer – which is the one we use most of the time – 
goes back to the early Church. And there is one tantalizing detail.
Notice the priest refers to “this precious chalice.” 
What would make a chalice “precious” to the Church?

Bishop Peter Elliot of Australia suggests that perhaps Peter 
kept the chalice used at the Last Supper; 
and so brought it to the early Christians of Rome – 
and our prayer refers to it.

At the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples would not have been surprised 
had the Lord pointed to the body of the lamb – on the table – 
to talk about covenant and sacrifice.

Yet when he takes up the bread, and the wine, and refers to his Body, given for you, 
his Blood of the new and eternal covenant – 
which they were to eat and drink – this must have been puzzling; 
even if they had heard him say things like this before.

However: after his death on the Cross; 
and then, after his Resurrection, the Gospel of Luke tells us 
he met two disciples on the road to Emmaus, 
and along the way he explains to them “beginning with Moses and all the prophets…
what referred to him in all the scriptures.”

That’s when the Apostles understood; and our Holy Mass is the result.

Notice the priest lifts up the Body, and then the Blood.
While this allows you to adore the Lord, that is not the primary reason.
Rather, the Body and Blood are lifted up to the Father.
Remember, this is a Sacrifice.
Christ offered himself to the Father.
The priest offers Christ – and us – to the Father.

And this – this moment – is “the mystery of Faith.” 
This is why he came. This is what saves us. 
This is how we come before the throne and behold God face to face.

Notice after this, the priest’s gaze is no longer upward, 
but toward the altar. Why? Remember what Jesus said to Philip:
“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

And so, from the moment the bread and wine become Christ, 
the priest’s gaze – and words – are on the Body and Blood, 
even when the priest leads us in saying, “Our Father.” 
Jesus is the Face of the Father.

After we sing, “Mystery of Faith,” 
the priest’s gaze is on Jesus on the altar, 
but he begs the Father to accept this “pure victim, this holy victim.”
We know there is no doubt the Father will accept this Sacrifice; 
and yet this summarizes the whole drama of salvation.

Without Jesus, none of us can be saved. 
Everything in the Old Testament led to this.
This moment is the pivot point of all human history.
Kings and conquerors, scientists and statesmen, 
think they are doing great things; 
but nothing is more powerful than this: this Mass!

That is why it is astounding that anyone can say, 
“I have better things to do” than be here.

When the Jewish people keep the Passover, 
they believe it unites them to that moment of deliverance in Egypt, 
and the sealing of the covenant at Mount Sinai.
It is God who “remembers,” and in so doing, brings them there.

And so Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” – 
and we quote those words to his Father in heaven. 
And we know: God remembers!

And so, tonight, you and I are there in Jerusalem.
We are there at the Cross.
The Blood of the Lamb protects us. 
The flesh of the Lamb is our salvation.

2 comments:

Eileen Krauss said...

Great homily! Makes sense. Thanks for sharing for us who could not attend Mass tonight. Hopefully you will have something about Good Friday, again for us who can’t be at church tomorrow. Have a happy & Blessed Easter.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Eileen:

Thanks, I'm glad you found it helpful.

I won't have a homily to post today, because our deacon is giving the homily. But you've given me the idea of posting an old one, so stay tuned.