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Holy Thursday

April 9, 2009

Blessed Holy Thursday!

This is it. 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).
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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)
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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.

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.

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 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)

Tonight we make our break for freedom.

We begin in twilight, in sin-swept Egypt, behind blood-stained doors. Our loins are girt, our staff in hand, sandals on our feet, as those in flight. We gather around the sacrificial lamb (whose blood marks our homes against the destroying angel), eating it with unleavened bread (no time to let it rise) and slavery’s bitter herbs.

Time dissolves into eternity. We gather around the Lamb of God as He takes off his cloak (“He emptied Himself”, Philippians 2:7), ties a towel around His waist (“He took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men” Philippians 2:7), and bends before His priests to wash their feet. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news!” (Isaiah 52:7) Jesus purifies beautiful priestly feet to carry His Gospel to every nation…

No Lord! “You shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8) I should be washing Yours!

We’ve heard that before…“John the Baptist tried to refuse Him with the protest, ‘I should be baptized by You, yet You come to me!’” (Matthew 3:14)

“Give in for now. We must do this if we would fulfill all of God’s commands” (Matthew 3:15). “If I do not wash you, you will have no share in My heritage” (John 13:8).

In fulfilling His Father’s will, Jesus has given us a share in His heritage. He’s made it possible for us to “wash and be clean” (II Kings 5:13), not only on the outside, but soul-deep; not only through the waters of Baptism, hallowed by His touch, but also through Sacramental Confession, symbolized in this washing of feet.

“What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you also must do” (John 13:15). Jesus commands our priests–“other Christs”–to wash our feet in the confessional. He commands us too. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may find healing” (James 5:17). We must pray for one another, forgive one another, as Christ has forgiven us through the ministry of His priests.

This example of humbly washing feet is also meant to be taken literally. When St. Paul advises Bishop Timothy to confirm a widow’s piety, he asks, “Has she washed the saints’ feet?” (I Timothy 5:10). If no service is too menial for the Son of God, then surely no service is too menial for me! Nor dare I balk at washing the feet of one who “has raised his heel against me” (John 13:18). Jesus washed Judas’ feet, ugly feet steeped in unrepentant treachery.

Finally, the Lamb takes His life in His hands. “This is My Body, given up for you. Do this in remembrance of Me … This cup is the new covenant in My Blood” (I Corinthians 11:24, 25). The fulfillment of the Passover has begun. Signs give way before resplendent Reality! The Lamb is sacrificed; His priests commissioned to perpetuate this Sacrifice to the end of time. As we take Him, physically, into our very being, we are set free. The Blood of the Lamb, fully Present in even the tiniest speck of the sacred Host, marks the doors of our house. The destroying angel will pass over us.

Not so the Lamb, God’s firstborn Son. The sacrifice He has begun at this table continues in the Garden, across the Kidron valley where another broken-hearted king of Israel had fled the murderous plot of one he loved (see II Samuel 15). His Sacred Heart nearly broken with sorrow and distress, Jesus bids us stay awake with Him (Matthew 26:38). “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

In the sorrow of this blessed night, let us watch and pray with Him.

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