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Holy Thursday

April 1, 2010

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.
As the greatest drama in the history of creation unfolds in all its tragedy and triumph,
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 brother priests (in this Year of the Priest!)
to renew their commitment to the ordained priesthood
which Christ instituted on this day when He commanded His first bishops,
“Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).
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)

Also at this Mass, our bishop 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 sufferer’s soul.

Next the oil of catechumens is blessed.
Those who are to be Baptized (past history for most of us) 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.

Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit
You anointed Your only Son Messiah and Lord of creation;
You have given us a share in His consecration
to priestly service in Your Church.
Help us to be faithful witnesses in the world
to the salvation Christ won for all mankind.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer from the Chrism Mass)

Readings for the 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,
the last Mass before we celebrate the resurrection–
there will not be another Mass anywhere until the sun sets on Holy Saturday.
At this Mass, Lent ends (which is why Mass begins with the “Gloria” and the ringing of bells)
and the curtain rises on our observance of the Easter Triduum (literally, “three days”).
We count these days as the Jewish people do, 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 that 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 year.
Come, let us worship…

God our Father,
we are gathered here to share in the supper
which Your only Son left to His Church to reveal His love.
He gave it to us when He was about to die
and commanded us to celebrate it as the new and eternal sacrifice.
We pray that in this Eucharist
we may find the fullness of love and life.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer from the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper)

Readings for the 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)

“As I have done, so you must do” (John 13:15).

What has He done? What must we do?

The answer unfolds in the three themes of this Mass
–Service, Priesthood and Eucharist–
which all flow from the one divine imperative: Love.
“He had loved His own in this world,
and would show His love for them to the end” (John 13:1)

In His great love, Jesus gathered His disciples for one last Passover,
one last celebration of Israel’s deliverance from the slavery of Egypt.
Like the Hebrews of old they re-lived the ancient drama,
sacrificing the lamb, telling the story, tasting the bitter herbs of slavery
and the unleavened bread of deliverance
as God had commanded (see Exodus 12:8, 24-27).

Jesus didn’t stop there, though. His story of deliverance was only beginning!
First, He laid the groundwork–literally.
He stripped to the garments of a slave to wash the dirt off of His disciples’ feet.
He demonstrated that there is no job too menial, too humiliating,
for the Creator of the Universe.
He showed His love for them to the end.
“As I have done, so you must do” (John 13:15).
St. Paul took this very literally.
In advising Bishop Timothy to confirm a widow’s piety,
he asked, “Has she washed the saints’ feet?” (I Timothy 5:10).
There must be no job too menial, too humiliating for us.
We must demonstrate divine love by washing feet.

After this, Jesus took the unleavened bread, pronounced the blessing over it and declared,
“This is My Body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.
In the same way, after the supper, He took the cup, saying
‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood.
Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me’” (I Corinthians 11:23-25).
In commanding this, Jesus gave these chosen men
the power as well as the responsibility to do what He had just done–
to change unleavened bread and wine into His Most Precious Blood.
He instituted the priesthood of the New Covenant.
As He has done, so His priests must do,
perpetuating His holy sacrifice in every corner of the globe, in every age,
until the end of time.

The Lamb of God (John 1:29) became the Paschal sacrifice.
He fulfilled the Passover, taking His place as Priest and Victim, Host and banquet,
transforming it from a re-living of Israel’s deliverance from the slavery of Egypt
into a re-living of our deliverance from sin and death,
a timeless immersion in the mystery of His redemptive sacrifice upon the Cross.

As He has done (and commanded!), so we must do,
celebrating the new Passover feast, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
eating the Paschal Lamb under the appearance of unleavened bread.
That’s where we receive His love–receive Him
empowering us to love as He loved
(“love one another as I have loved you”, John 15:12),
serving as He served.

This is what we must do.

Yours, indwelt by Eucharistic love,

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