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Holy Thursday

April 21, 2011

Blessed Holy Thursday!

This is it.
The day for which we’ve been 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 the successor to the apostles, the bishop,
gathers his brother priests 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

He also calls us to pray for our priests–and our bishop.

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.
Then the bishop addresses the people:
My brothers and sisters, pray for your priests.
Ask the Lord to bless them with the fullness of His love,
to help them be faithful ministers of Christ the High Priest,
so that they will be able to lead you to Him,
the fountain of your salvation.
People: Lord Jesus Christ, hear us and answer our prayer.
Bishop: Pray also for me that despite my own unworthiness
I may faithfully fulfill the office of apostle
which Jesus Christ has entrusted to me.
Pray that I may become more like our High Priest and Good Shepherd,
the teacher and servant of all,
and so be a genuine sign of Christ’s loving Presence among you.
People: Lord Jesus Christ, hear us and answer our prayer.
Bishop: May the Lord in His love keep you close to Him always,
and may He bring all of us, His priests and people, to eternal life.
R: Amen.
(New St. Joseph Sunday Missal)

Also at this Mass, the 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 ill, 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 need for the purification 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 liturgy, one single celebration of the Passion,
Death and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There are significant intermissions 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)

This month shall stand at the head of your calendar;
you shall reckon it the first month of the year.
-Exodus 12:2

The Passover, the re-living of Israel’s passage from slavery to freedom
was the high point of the Jewish year,
the central event of history.

That’s about to change.

God predicted as much.

days will surely come, says the Lord,
when it will no longer be said,
“As the Lord lives, Who brought the Israelites out of Egypt”
-Jeremiah 16:14, 23:7

The Passover is about to be definitively fulfilled, brought to new heights,
by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
History is about to hit a new high!

As a real historical event, the Passover pointed forward to something far greater.
There is a slavery far worse than that of Egypt;
an escape far more pivotal than the slaying of the firstborn
and the path through the Red Sea.
Those are temporary.
This is forever.

As Jesus gathers with His chosen band
in fulfillment of God’s command (see Exodus 12:8, 24-27)
to re-live the dramatic escape with the ceremonial reading of the story,
the sacrificial lamb, the unleavened bread, the cups of wine,
symbols become Reality!

History turns a corner
as the ceremonial reading of the story becomes the Liturgy of the Word.
The sacrificial lamb, unleavened bread and ceremonial wine come together
in the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity,
the Lamb of God (see John 1:29),
broken and poured out for our salvation from sin.
Like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly,
every detail is brought to a perfection far beyond our wildest imaginings.

The unleavened bread and ceremonial wine have become the Eucharist.
The Passover has become the Mass!

Do this in remembrance of Me
-I Corinthians 11:24

How can that be?!
How can mere mortals turn bread and wine into God?!

Jesus washed their feet.

bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the meeting tent,
and there wash them with water.
Clothe Aaron with the sacred vestments and anoint him,
thus consecrating him as My priest
-Exodus 40:12-13

Moses and Aaron and his sons used to wash their feet there,
for they washed themselves
whenever they went into the meeting tent or approached the altar,
as the Lord had commanded Moses.
-Exodus 40:31-32

This was part of the Exodus, a follow-up of the Passover!
For the first time in history, God commanded an ordination rite–
with the washing of feet!

Jesus fulfilled that too.

He ordained His Apostles the priests of the new covenant,
priests empowered to make Present and to offer the new sacrifice–Himself.

He emphasized its necessity
by alluding to yet another element of the Old Testament priesthood when He said to Peter:

If I do not wash you, you will have no part in My heritage
-John 13:8

Then the Lord said to Aaron,
You shall not have any heritage in the land of the Israelites
nor hold any portion among them;
I will be your portion and your heritage among them.
-Numbers 18:20 (see also Deuteronomy 10:9)

As it was in the old covenant,
so it is in the new.
God Himself is the heritage of His priests.

And He commanded them to pass it on.

As I have done, so you must do
-John 13:15

Now this, like most passages of Scripture, has more than one level of meaning.
It certainly has implications for ordination.
The apostles, now bishops of Jesus’ Church,
would themselves ordain new bishops and priests to offer sacrifice
–the holy sacrifice of the Mass–
in every corner of the globe, in every age, until the end of time.

It also has a very literal application in daily life.
In advising Bishop Timothy to confirm a widow’s holiness,
St. Paul asked,

Has she washed the saints’ feet?
-I Timothy 5:10

There must be no job too menial, too humiliating for any of us.
We must demonstrate divine love by washing feet.

We receive this divine love in the Eucharist, which Jesus first gave to us today, for

God is love
-I John  4:8, 16

In the Eucharist, divine love, Jesus Himself, takes up residence in our bodies,
uniting us to Himself in deepest intimacy.
Today He also ensured that we would always have the Eucharist
by instituting the priesthood to bring the Mass to every corner of the globe,
in every age, until the end of time.

Once we receive this Eucharistic love, then we pass it on.

The love of God always comes to us on its way to someone else.
It multiplies in receptive hearts.
It’s like zucchini–too much to keep to yourself.

But I digress.
Jesus is leading the final hymns of this sacred meal and getting ready to leave,
to lead us back to the garden where we’ve so often spent the night with Him.
There we will watch and pray with Him as the drama of the new Passover continues to unfold.

Come, let us worship…

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