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Holy Thursday

April 5, 2007

Blessed Holy Thursday!

Drum roll, please…

This is it, folks.  The day for which we’ve been watching and waiting
and fasting and praying these past 40 days has finally dawned.  The
stage is set.  The lights go down.  A hush falls over the assembly.  The
greatest drama in the history of creation is about to unfold in all its
tragedy and triumph, and we do not merely watch.  We become immersed.
We will not only see, but also hear, touch, smell and even taste the
wonders of our salvation.

We begin at noon, at the cathedral, as our successor to the apostles,
our bishop, gathers his priests to renew their commitment to the
ordained priesthood which Christ instituted on this day roughly 2000
years ago when He commanded His first bishops, “Do this in remembrance
of Me” (Luke 22:19).  We celebrate God’s intimate gift to us, in which
He pours His graces upon us in tangible forms through the hands of men
who lay down their lives in service to God and to us.  Without the
priesthood, there is no Eucharist, no sacramental Confession, and no
anointing of the sick.  Access to our most personal, powerful encounters
with our risen Lord hinges on this most vital ministry.  We praise God
for holy priests!  And we pray that God will stir up the graces of
ordination in all priests, that they may be more fully equipped to live
up to their high calling.

Also at this Mass, our successor of the Apostles will bless the sacred
oils which will be used in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation,
received by new believers at the Easter Vigil, just two days from now,
and at other sacramental anointings throughout the year.  These oils
will take on a special significance in our parish this year as we
celebrate our first two adult Baptisms ever (as far as I know), and as 7
of our RCIA candidates are anointed with sacred Chrism in the Sacrament
of Confirmation.

The first oil to be blessed is the Oil of the Sick, used in the
anointing of those who are seriously sick, going in for serious surgery,
or suffering from the frailty of old age.  The sacramental use of this
oil (which, by the way, should not be delayed until death is immanent)
strengthens the sick, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to unite
their sufferings to the suffering of Christ for the salvation of the
world.  It renews trust in God, gives peace and guards against
discouragement.  It forgives even the temporal punishment due to sin,
minimizing or even eliminating the sufferings of Purgatory.  It may also
bring about the healing of the body, if this would be best for the sick
person’s soul.

Next the oil of catechumens is blessed.  Those who are to be Baptized
(including babies, so this we’ve all received this anointing) are
anointed with this oil, which strengthens them (us) to reject Satan and
evil in all its forms for the rest of their (our) lives.  When the
bishop blesses this oil, he asks that through it God will give us wisdom
and strength, that He will bring us to a deeper understanding of the
Gospel, will help us to accept the challenge of Christian living and
will lead us to the joy of new birth in the family of His Church.

Finally, the chrism, for which this Mass is named, is consecrated.
Chrism is a perfumed oil, usually a mixture of olive oil and balsam,
which is used to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism,
Confirmation and Holy Orders; the three sacraments which leave an
indelible (non-removable) spiritual mark upon our souls.  The word
“Christ” means “anointed”.  As “Christians”, we are “anointed ones”,
inwardly anointed with God’s Holy Spirit, which is outwardly signified
by the anointing with sacred chrism.

This anointing, foreshadowed by Old Testament anointings of priests,
prophets and kings (see Exodus 29: 1-9, I Kings 19:16, Samuel 10:1),
gives us a share in Christ’s threefold mission of priest, prophet and
king.  Priests offer sacrifice, and while the priesthood of the laity is
fundamentally distinct from the ordained priesthood, we are called to
offer the sacrifices of our lives in union with Christ’s perfect
sacrifice on Calvary, re-presented in the Mass.  Prophets speak God’s
word.  Through this anointing, we are commissioned to bring God’s
encouraging, comforting, enlightening and challenging message to
everyone we encounter in our daily lives.  Kings exercise authority,
bringing God’s sacred order into the chaos of our fallen world.  As
kings, we live self-discipline and service.  We rule ourselves,
disciplining our own choices, thoughts and actions based on what God has
told us will bring lasting happiness and fulfillment.  We serve others,
taking to heart Jesus’ words in Luke 22:25, where He explained that
those who are the greatest must be as the least.  We must be selfless
servants, laying down our lives the way He did, for the eternal benefit
of those over whom we have authority.

Readings: (Mid-day Chrism Mass)
Isaiah 61:1-9 (God’s Servant comes to anoint us with us oil of gladness
and to name us 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 Lent ends
(which is why Mass begins with the singing of the “Gloria” and the
ringing of bells) and the curtain rises on our three-day observance of
the Easter 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
rest, 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)

We begin in Egypt, on the night of deliverance, sacrificing a lamb in
the evening twilight and marking the doors of our houses with its blood
to guard our first-born from the blow of the destroying angel. We eat
the sacrificial meal in haste with unleavened bread (there’s no time to
let it rise), staff in hand, poised for flight.  We are still slaves…
for now.  We’re about to make the break for freedom.
And God has promised that we will succeed.

Centuries melt away.  We find ourselves in Jerusalem, still around the
Passover table, listening to the words of deliverance.  The bondage of
Egypt is behind us, replaced by the bondage of Rome.  We long for our
own earthly kingdom, never dreaming that God is preparing a kingdom for
us beyond anything we could ever ask or imagine.  The bondage of sin is
so much a part of our lives that we don’t even notice.  It doesn’t even
occur to us to beg deliverance from that.

Jesus leads our celebration, telling the story, answering the questions,
and guiding our ceremonial actions:  washing hands, dipping herbs in the
salt water of symbolic tears, tasting the bitterness of slavery in
bitter herbs, eating a paste of nuts, apples and dates that resembles
the mortar with which we laid bricks in Egypt, savoring the goodness of
freedom represented by unleavened bread.

This year, Jesus breaks tradition.  When the main part of the meal is
over He rises from the table, wraps a towel around His waist and begins
to wash His disciples’ feet.  Peter, the spokesman, protests.  Jesus
shouldn’t be doing slaves’ work!  Jesus insists: “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–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 is also preparing them for the
next stage of the Passover, one which would forever transform this holy
night.  He explains 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 (and which He also provides to us in sacramental Confession).

Then, taking the unleavened bread, He prays the Passover blessing over
it, breaks it, and passes it to them, commanding them to eat this, His
Body, broken for them in the eternal sacrifice of Calvary (Luke 22:19).
Taking the third ceremonial cup of wine, He pronounces the Passover
blessing over it and distributes it to them, commanding them to drink
this, His Blood, the Blood of the New Covenant.  “Do this in remembrance
of Me” (Luke 22:20).  They’re marked with the blood of the spotless
Passover Lamb.  The angel of death has passed over.

The Passover has just become the Mass,
the Mass in which we unite ourselves to Him tonight.

The Apostles have just become priests.

Continuing the seder with songs of praise taken from the Hallel, or
praise Psalms (Psalms 113-118), Jesus leads His disciples out into the
moon-washed night (the timing of Passover is based on the phase of the
moon–it’s full tonight), across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of
Olives (Matthew 26:30), directly across from the temple.  Here they
enter the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Matthew 26:36) as Jesus has so
many times before (John 18:2).

We are invited to keep vigil with Him tonight, to watch and pray with
Peter, James and John as Jesus begins His agony in the garden.  “Could
you not keep watch with Me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40).  In another
garden, long ago, our freedom was lost when our first parents failed the
test (Genesis 3:1-6).  Jesus urges us to pray that we will not undergo
the test (as we pray in the Our Father, “Lead us not into temptation”),
for though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41, Mark
14:38).

Come, let us watch and pray, keeping vigil with our champion
as He contends for our salvation.

May God bless your prayerful love

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