Thursday, April 13, 2006

This is the Night (Holy Thursday homily)

This week, our elder brothers and sisters
in the Covenant, the Jewish People,
celebrate the Passover of the Lord.

When Jewish families celebrate the Passover,
it is traditional for the youngest son to ask,
“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

The first reading tells us why:
It describes the first Passover.
Celebrated in Egypt, that place of slavery,
on the night before they were delivered by YHWH
out of their long centuries of bondage.

They took a lamb without blemish.
It was “slaughtered
during the evening twilight.
”They took some of its blood
and applied it to the doorposts and lintel.

The blood marked the homes
of those who trusted in YHWH.
And the Lord God promised:
“Seeing the blood,
I will pass over you;
thus, when I strike the land of Egypt,
no destructive blow will come upon you.”

This is the Night.
Tonight begins our Passover.
Why is this night unlike all other nights?
This is the night when Jesus—
YHWH, our Deliverer—
gathered his Apostles,
and celebrated the Passover with them.

We often call it “the Last Supper”—
but that’s misleading!
This is not the last Supper of the Lord,
But the first—and the one and only.

On this night, Jesus—who is the Lord God—
revealed to his Apostles
the New Passover that would unfold:
that night,
Jesus the Lamb would be taken;
the next day,
he would be slaughtered;
His Blood would consecrate
the wood of the Cross!

He allowed the blows to fall on him,
so that no destructive blow
would strike us!

Our Passover begins tonight,
but it won’t be complete tonight.
It continues over
“Three Nights”—the SacredTriduum:
this night,
tomorrow, the “evening twilight”
when the Lamb is slain,
and Saturday night,
which is really the beginning
of Easter Sunday.

Three things are special about this night.
First, we have the washing of feet.

Everyone remembers this
about Holy Thursday!
You see it done
different ways in different places.
I know last year we did a different way;
I want to explain why
we’ll do it the way we will this year.

On that first Holy Thursday night,
Our Lord created his new priesthood,
in his Apostles.

Jesus is the one, true Priest.
He sanctifies his people
through the one Sacrifice—
of himself!—to the Father.

And this is the night
when He gave a share
of his eternal priesthood
to his Apostles.

It would not be long
before they, in turn,
called other men
to share that ministry.
At that next stage is when we began to have
deacons, priests and bishops—
the familiar ordained ministries we recognize.

This is the night when that began.

And that is key to the meaning
of the washing of the feet.

He did this to show his Apostles
how to be his priests.
It is a lesson
we priests never get enough of!

So while it’s admirable
to have you wash each other’s feet,
can you see why it’s so important
that I, your pastor, wash your feet?

If the Lord God got down on his knees
to wash his Apostles’ feet,
Then his priests
must get down on their knees
and wash yours.

There’s a second thing we do tonight.
We celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass.
But we do that every day, every Sunday.
Yes—but this is the night when it began.
So, we do it with great solemnity.

As I told you; it was not “the Last Supper,”
But the First Supper—the first of many.

This night, throughout the world,
this Mass is celebrated everywhere.
I watched it earlier today from Rome!

Many celebrate it in full freedom,
and in beautiful churches,
as we do here;
But many do so amidst violence—
we think of Iraq;
Or in secret,
as in Saudi Arabia;
Or in poverty—
we think of so many places.

But it is the same Supper,
the same Sacrifice.
Many places, times, and people—
but truly One.
Indeed, we are all one
with that First Supper.

Christ who presided at that table then,
presides here—
he is truly as present now as then!

They celebrated the Meal,
which Christ revealed was one
with what would happen
the next day: the Cross!
The Lamb was sacrificed,
and the Cross was his altar.

Notice this cross here?
Our Lord is dressed like a priest.
It represents the mystical reality
of the Cross and the Mass—which are one!—
where he is both priest
and the Lamb that is offered.

That’s precisely what this night,
and these Three Nights, are about,
so I incensed that cross at this Mass.

Our sanctuary gives us a perfect summary
of what the Mass is:
Under the high altar,
that First Supper—that’s tonight;
over that, of course, the crucifix—
that’s tomorrow;
the altar—the sacrifice is renewed,
and yet the same;
and the tabernacle:
“I am with you always, until the end of time.”

The Sacrifice begun
at that First Supper,
was accomplished
on that First Good Friday.
In one way, it was certainly complete:
Our Lord said, on the Cross,
“It is finished!”

Yet, in another sense, it is not complete:
year upon year,
our High Priest continues to plead
for each of his brothers and sisters.

The Blood poured out at Calvary
continues to be applied
as our protection and deliverance.

This Eucharist, this Sacrifice
will only be truly complete when,
at the time of his choosing,
Christ returns at last,
and gathers all his Elect,
living and dead,
into the Kingdom:
a new heavens and a new earth!

Only then will the Priest say,
“The Mass is ended!”
But for now, our Mass does not end.

So, the third, special feature of this night
is that tonight,
we don’t end Mass in the usual way.
There is no end;
I won’t say, “the Mass is ended”;
tomorrow’s liturgy for Good Friday
is a continuation of this night’s liturgy;
the Good Friday liturgy doesn’t end, either—
it continues with the Mass on the Vigil.

So, instead,
after we all receive his Body and Blood,
we depart here
and accompany the Lord to the chapel,
just as the Apostles
accompanied Christ to the Garden.

They didn’t know what was happening;
they waited in fear and doubt.

But we know!
We pray with the Lord, this night,
with no fear or doubt.
We know what he did that Friday.
We feel the sorrow
of what our sins cost the Lord;
but we wait in hope, knowing what he did!

So, I invite you to join
the procession from here,
around on Miami, to the chapel.
Of course, we won’t all fit
in the chapel at once,
but as always, the chapel
will remain open all night.

This is the Night:
the Night when our Redemption began.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Martin,

Happy Anniversary!! And thank you for being a priest.

It's a perfect homily.