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Holy Thursday

March 24, 2005

Blessed Holy Thursday!

There are two Masses today, each with its own purpose and atmosphere. The first, the “Chrism Mass”, is held during the day, usually around noon, at the cathedral. At this Mass the bishop blesses the holy oils (including the chrism, hence the name of the service) that will used throughout his diocese in administering the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Sacrament of the Sick. The blessing is done today so that these oils will be ready for the Baptisms and Confirmations which will be celebrated during the Easter vigil (since there is no Mass on Good Friday or Holy Saturday at which to consecrate them). Three oils are blessed, all of which are based on olive oil or another plant oil.

The first is the oil of the sick (blessings copied from _The Rites of the Catholic Church_):
Lord God, loving Father,
You bring healing to the sick
through Your Son Jesus Christ.
Hear us as we pray to You in faith,
and send the Holy Spirit, man’s Helper and Friend,
upon this oil, which nature has provided
to serve the needs of men.
May Your blessing +
come upon all who are anointed with this oil,
that they may be freed from pain and illness
and made well again in body, mind and soul.
Father, may this oil be blessed for our use
in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ
who lives and reigns with You for ever and ever. Amen

Next the oil of catechumens is blessed:
Lord God, Protector of all who believe in You,
bless + this oil and give wisdom and strength
to all who are anointed with it
in preparation for their baptism.
Bring them to a deeper understanding of the Gospel,
help them to accept the challenge of Christian living,
and lead them to the joy of new birth
in the family of Your Church.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen

Finally we come to the consecration of the chrism. Chrism is a perfumed oil, which “signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one ‘anointed’ by the Holy Spirit [“Christ” means “anointed”], incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet and king.” (_Catechism of the Catholic Church_, paragraph 1241). Priests, prophets and kings in the Old Testament were all anointed with oil when they were set apart for their new mission (see Exodus 29: 1-9, I Kings 19:16, Samuel 10:1). Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38), and we share in His anointing (which is why we’re called “Christians”, or “anointed ones”). Chrism is also used during Confirmation, to “confirm and complete the baptismal anointing” (_Catechism_, paragraph 1242) and during Holy Orders as “a sign of the special anointing of the Holy Spirit who makes [the new priest’s] ministry fruitful” (_Catechism_, paragraph 1574).

Let us pray that God our Almighty Father
will bless this oil
so that all who are anointed with it
may be inwardly transformed
and come to share in eternal salvation.

(then the bishop may breathe over the opening of the vessel of chrism. With his hands extended, he sings or prays the following)

God our Maker,
Source of all growth in holiness,
accept the thanks and praise we offer in the name of Your Church.

In the beginning, at Your command,
the earth produced fruit-bearing trees. From the fruit of the olive tree
You have provided us with oil for holy chrism.
The prophet David sang of the life and joy
that the oil would bring us in the sacraments of Your love.
After the avenging flood,
the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch
announced Your gift of peace.
This was a sign of a greater gift to come.
Now the waters of baptism wash away the sins of men,
and by the anointing with olive oil
You make us radiant with Your joy.

At Your command,
Aaron was washed with water,
and Your servant Moses, his brother,
anointed him priest.
This too foreshadowed greater things to come,
After Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
asked John for baptism in the waters of the Jordan,
You sent the Spirit upon Him in the form of a dove
and by the witness of Your own voice
You declared Him to be Your only, well-beloved Son.
In this You clearly fulfilled the prophesy of David,
that Christ would be anointed with the oil of gladness
beyond His fellow men.

(all the celebrants extend their right hands toward the chrism, without saying anything, until the end of the prayer.)

And so, Father, we ask You to bless + this oil You have created.
Fill it with the power of Your Holy Spirit
through Christ Your Son.
It is from Him that chrism takes its name
and with chrism You have anointed for Yourself priests and kings,
prophets and martyrs.

Make this chrism a sign of life and salvation
for those who are to be born again in the waters of baptism.
Wash away the evil they have inherited from sinful Adam,
and when they are anointed with this holy oil
make them temples of Your glory,
radiant with the goodness of life
that has its source in You.

Through this sign of chrism
grant them royal, priestly, and prophetic honor,
and clothe them with incorruption.
Let this be indeed the chrism of salvation
for those who will be born again of water and the Holy Spirit.
May they come to share eternal life
in the glory of Your kingdom.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Also at this Mass, priests renew their vows. This is done today because we believe that Jesus instituted the Christian priesthood, by which Christ’s mission and sacrifice are perpetuated in the world, during the Last Supper, which we celebrate tonight (_The Liturgy Documents, A Parish Resource_). Here are their promises:
Bishop: At your ordination you accepted the responsibilities of the priesthood out of love for the Lord Jesus and his Church. Are you resolved to unite yourselves more closely to Christ and to try to become more like Him by joyfully sacrificing your own pleasure and ambition to bring his peace and love to your brothers and sisters?
Priests: I am.
Bishop: Are you resolved to be faithful ministers of the mysteries of God, to celebrate the Eucharist and the other liturgical services with sincere devotion? Are you resolved to imitate Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church, by teaching the Christian faith without thinking of your own profit, solely for the well-being of the people you were sent to serve?
Priests: I am.
(_New St. Joseph Sunday Missal_)
Readings: (Mid-day Chrism Mass)
Isaiah 61:1-9 (God’s Servant comes to anoint us with us oil of gladness and to name priests of the Lord)
Psalm 89:21-27 “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord”
Revelation 1:5-8 (Jesus made us a royal nation of priests to serve God)
+Luke 4:16-21 (Jesus is God’s Servant, the anointed One)

Now we come to the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, at which point Lent ends (which is why Mass begins with the singing of the “Gloria” and the ringing of bells) and we enter into the three-day observance of the Easter Triduum (you may also hear it referred to as the Paschal Triduum or the Triduum–“Triduum” means “three days”). We count these days as the Jewish people did, from sundown to sundown, so Triduum extends from sundown today to sundown Easter Sunday evening. Together, these three days form one single celebration of the Passion, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. There are significant intermissions in this one celebration, so we can go home and sleep, but the celebration we begin tonight will not end until Easter Sunday. This is the culmination, the highest point, of the entire liturgical year. Come, let us worship…

Readings: (Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper)
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14 (the first Passover)
Psalm 116:12-14 “Our blessing-cup is a communion with the blood of Christ”
I Corinthians 11:23-26 (the institution of the Eucharist)
+John 13:1-15 (Jesus washes His disciples’ feet)

The day of Passover has arrived. Jesus and His disciples gather in a festive upper room to celebrate the seder (Passover supper), the high point of the religious year, with ritual, with questions and answers and songs. They gather to eat roast lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, to share in four ritual cups of wine. They gather to enter into the deliverance God won for them from the slavery of Egypt, to retell and to put themselves into the story of slavery in Egypt, of plagues, of the sparing of the Jewish first-born, of the first Passover, of the escape through the night, the parting of the Red Sea and the journey to the Promised Land. They gather to anticipate the deliverance still to come, ready to cry out at the end of the meal, “Next year in Jerusalem! Next year, may all be free!”

This year, Jesus broke tradition. When the main part of the meal was over (at which point there are still several rituals to be observed), He rose from the table, wrapped a towel around His waist and began to wash His disciples’ feet. Peter protested. Jesus shouldn’t be doing slaves’ work! Jesus insisted: “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me” (John 13:8). Our Holy Father explains, “He seems to be saying: ‘Submit! Let Me serve! Let Me begin the Great Service.’ In this service is contained the New Order. The New Testament. The New Covenant. Let Me begin the Service of the New Covenant with this washing of feet. It will be followed by the sacramental Sacrifice of My Body and My Blood. The Sacrifice of the Cross and of death. The great, unending service of the New Covenant. Through this service, you shall have: ‘a share in My heritage’ (John 13:8). You and all the others. You shall all have ‘part with Me’. You will be in communion with Me. Through Me, you shall be in communion with the Father and with the Spirit. Let Me serve you now” (John Paul II, homily, March 31, 1983).

Service and submission go together. Jesus has called these twelve men to be leaders, and has explained that leadership is service (Luke 22:25-30). Now He gives them an object lesson, modeling the kind of service He expects, service to which they must submit. He gives them a taste of how difficult it can be to submit even to service (it’s amazingly humbling to have someone wash your feet!) so they will have empathy for those who struggle to submit to their servant leadership. He’s also emphasizing that as leaders, they must always submit themselves to His leadership, to His service.

In washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus was also preparing them for the next stage of the Passover, one which would forever transform this holy night. He explained that He washed only their feet because only their feet were soiled (with the sole exception of Judas, see John 13:10-11). They were generally clean, but He wanted them to be spotless (Ephesians 5:26-27) because He was about to unite Himself to them in unspeakable intimacy. The purity required of them was a purity that only He could provide.

Then, taking the unleavened bread, He prayed the Passover blessing over it, broke it, and passed it to them, commanding them to eat it and solemnly declaring that what looked like bread was now His Body (Luke 22:19). Taking the ceremonial cup of wine, He pronounced the Passover blessing over it and distributed it to them, commanding them to drink and declaring that what looked like wine was now His Blood, the Blood of the New Covenant. “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:20).

The Passover had just become the Mass.

The Apostles had just become priests.

Concluding the seder with songs of praise, Jesus led His disciples out of Jerusalem to the East, across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30), directly across from the temple. Here they entered the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Matthew 26:36) in preparation for the arrival of the traitor.

Let us keep watch with Him and pray, that we may not enter into temptation (Matthew 26:41).

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