Thursday, April 17, 2014

It's all about priesthood (Holy Thursday)

When we come to this evening Mass, 
as well as Good Friday and the Saturday night Vigil, 
we are at the heart of our Faith. 
The living, pulsing heart.

Just looking at what we do at this Mass: 
the priest washes the feet of several people,
reflecting what we heard in the Gospel. 
That stands out—so much so, 
that sometimes it seems to be the main thing.

Then we “have Mass”—the same Mass we always have, 
except usually with more solemnity.

Then, we have a procession with the Holy Eucharist, 
and we adore the Lord on the side altar, until midnight. 
And then, of course, we then begin our Good Friday pilgrimage.

But what connects it all?

The key idea is “priesthood.” 
But I don’t primarily mean the priesthood 
Father John and I received in our ordination. 
I mean the priesthood—of our Lord Jesus Christ himself.

He, and this Night, these sacred days, 
are the origin both of the sacramental priesthood 
Father John and I were privileged to receive, 
as well as the priesthood all of us receive in baptism.

This reminds us that when God foresaw—
before he created the world—
that humanity would turn from him, 
and would need to be saved and healed, 
the choice of how God might save mankind was entirely his. 

Think about that. 
He did not have to save us in the way that he did.

The plan could have been that on a certain day, 
God would just announce salvation. 
With an angel, or one of the prophets. 
Or, he might still have become human, through the Virgin Mary; 
but again, simply to give us the good news: “you’re saved.”

In that alternative history, 
there’s no Cross. No resurrection. 
No Sacrifice; and no Priesthood.

There wouldn’t have been a Passover. 
No Temple with its sacrifices. 
And what Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel 
and the other prophets would have said, I don’t know. 

But all that and more, from Adam forward, 
was a foreshadowing of what we recall this night.

And when I say “this night,” 
I mean a kind of three-night night. 

The darkness falls as the Lord keeps the Passover with his Apostles; 
when the darkness falls again on Friday, 
the Lord’s broken body is taken from the cross. 
And the night is broken when, in the dark of Saturday, 
Jesus breaks free of the tomb. 
When we gather here Saturday—again in the dark—
the deacon sings, “this is the night!”

As the first reading illustrates, 
Jesus and the Apostles were looking back to recall the night 
when God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt. 

But our Lord was much more looking forward: 
Not only the next 24 hours; even more,
He was anticipating all of us who would gather, year by year, worldwide, on this night, 
not in fear but with joy to say, “we are saved!”

When God’s people kept the Passover, 
before they would share the meal, the lamb was slain; 
and the blood was smeared over the door of the house, 
so that death would pass them by.

Do you remember the reading on Sunday?
Where you, repeating what the mob cried out, 
“his blood be upon us and upon our children”?

Sadly, this has been misunderstood all these centuries as a curse. 
But it’s a blessing! 
With his blood upon us and our children, we’re saved!

When the Apostles heard the Lord say, “this is my Body”; 
“this is the new covenant in my blood,” 
they were troubled and anxious.
They would only understand after the Cross and the Resurrection. 
Only after did they realize why Jesus said—to them: 
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

This is the night—the “hour”—of his high priesthood. 
Our priest prepared the sacrifice; 
he brought it to the altar; 
and then, after the offering was made, 
he went into the most holy place—heaven!—
to make atonement for sin. 

What about the Apostles? 
This night they gain their part in his priesthood. 
By washing their feet, our Lord showed them 
how to be priests for others, as He was priest to them.

Tomorrow’s liturgy begins 
with the priest prostrating himself before the altar. 
It always reminds me of my ordination 
when I lay on the floor and prayed, 
and heard the people praying for us.

But notice where it happens: 
This reminds me, and you, 
that my priesthood makes no sense without the altar, 
and above it, the Cross. 

And of course, it’s not just “my” priesthood. 
What you see me do is not just for me. 
You are not spectators. 

Our Mass tonight only has power 
because it is one and the same with the Mass of Jesus Christ—
his first “Mass,” which began this night, long ago, 
and climaxed with his death and resurrection:

One Mass, offered in time and in eternity, 
by one High Priest, for all humanity, world without end! 

In the old days, this altar wasn’t here, 
and so you would see the priest 
ascend those steps to that altar. 
Most of you have never seen that; 
maybe you would like to, or maybe you wouldn’t. 

But this too is something that has been misunderstood. 
Even if it seemed the priest was going up by himself—
even if the church was empty—he is never “alone.”

And yet, when the priest ascends to the altar, 
it is a powerful sign—including for the priest himself—
that there is but one priest, and one sacrifice: 
Jesus Christ, who is both.

When Moses ascended the hill 
to pray for God’s People in battle, 
he needed Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms. 

When our Lord ascended the altar of the Cross, 
his Mother and John and Mary Magdalene were there. 

When every priest ascends the altar, 
we are alone in one sense, but never alone in another.

And if you’re wondering why I’m reflecting on this with you,
it’s because I am your priest;
and this, of all nights, is when I need to reflect on that with you.

Father John and I desperately need reminders 
of what our priesthood means, 
because there are constant temptations to get off-focus. 

If we forget that it is about the Cross, the altar, and sacrifice, 
God help us, and God help you.

So when Father and I approach this altar, 
ask the Holy Spirit to help you see. 
We don’t particularly want you to see us. 
See the sacrifice. See the Cross. See the High Priest.

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