Holy Thursday

(Courtesy: Fr Tony Kadavil)
Holy Thursday

 Holy Thursday Evening Mass (March 28): Homily Synopsis 

 
Introduction: On Holy Thursday we celebrate three anniversaries: 1) the anniversary of the first Holy Mass, 2) the anniversary of the institution of ministerial priesthood, in order to perpetuate the Holy Mass, to convey God’s forgiveness to repentant sinners and to preach the good news of salvation, 3) the anniversary of Jesus’ promulgation of His new commandment of love: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Today we remember how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the New Testament Passover.  The Jewish Passover was, in fact, a joint celebration of two ancient thanksgiving celebrations.  The descendants of Abel, who were shepherds, used to lead their sheep from the winter pastures to the summer pastures after the sacrificial offering of a lamb to God.  They called this celebration the “Pass over."  On the other hand, the descendants of Cain, who were farmers, held a harvest festival called the Massoth in which they offered unleavened bread to God as an act of thanksgiving.  The Passover feast of the Israelites (Exodus 12:26-37) was a harmonious combination of these two ancient feasts of thanksgiving, commanded by the Lord God and celebrated yearly by all Israelites, to thank God for the miraculous liberation of their ancestors from Egypt and their exodus to the Promised Land.
Scripture lessons:  In the first reading, God gives the Hebrews two instructions: prepare for the moment of liberation by a ritual meal and make a symbolic mark on your homes to exempt yourselves from the coming slaughter. In the second reading, Paul suggests that the celebration of the Lord's Supper was an unbroken tradition from the very beginning of the Church by which Christians reminded themselves of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Today’s gospel describes how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the Eucharistic celebration. After washing the  feet of his apostles and commanding them to do humble service  for each other, Jesus concluded the ceremony by  giving his apostles his own Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine as spiritual food and drink, in addition to serving the roasted Pascal lamb.
 
Life Messages: 1) A challenge for humble service.  Our celebration of the Eucharist requires that we wash one another’s feet, i.e., serve one another, and revere Christ's presence in other persons. In practical terms, that means we are to consider their needs to be as important as our own and to serve their needs, without expecting any reward. 2) A loving invitation for sacrificial sharing and self-giving love.  Let us imitate the self-giving model of Jesus who shares with us His own Body and Blood and who enriches us with His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.  It is by sharing our blessings – our talents, time, health and wealth - with others that we become true disciples of Christ and obey his new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” 3) An invitation to become Christ-bearers and Christ-conveyers: "Go forth, the Mass is ended," really means,  “Go in peace to love and serve one another’’ We are to carry Jesus to our homes and places of work, conveying to others around us the love, mercy, forgiveness and spirit of humble service of Christ Whom we carry with us. 


HOLY THURSDAY-2013: EVENING MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPE
(Exodus. 12: 1-8, 11-14; I Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15)
Anecdote: # 1 The Stole and the Towel is the title of a book, which sums up the message of the Italian bishop, Tony Bello, who died of cancer at the age of 58.  On Maundy Thursday of 1993, while on his deathbed, he dictated a pastoral letter to the priests of his diocese.  He called upon them to be bound by "the stole and the towel."  The stole symbolizes union with Christ in the Eucharist, and the towel symbolizes union with humanity by service.  The priest is called upon to be united with the Lord in the Eucharist and with the people as their servant.  Today we celebrate the institution of both the Eucharist and the priesthood: the feast of "the stole and the towel," the feast of love and service.  
# 2 “Jesus Christ gave a lasting memorial”: One of his Catholic disciples asked the controversial god-man Osho Rajneesh about the difference between Buddha the founder of Buddhism and Jesus Christ.  He told a story to distinguish between Buddha and Christ. When Buddha was on his death bed, his disciple Anand asked him for a memorial and Buddha gave him a Jasmine flower. However, as the flower dried up, the memory of Buddha also dwindled. But Jesus Christ instituted a lasting memorial without anybody’s asking for it by offering his Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine and commanding his disciples to share his divinity by repeating the ceremony. So Jesus continues to live in his followers while Buddha lives only in history books. On Holy Thursday we are reflecting on the importance of the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood. [Osho Rajneesh claimed himself to be another incarnation of God who attained “enlightenment” at 29 when he was a professor of Hindu philosophy in Jabalpur University  in India. He had thousands of followers for his controversial “liberation through sex theology,” based on Hindu, Buddhist and Christian theology.]
 # 3: Why is the other side empty? Have you ever noticed that in Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper everybody is on one side of the table? The other side is empty. "Why's that?" someone asked the great artist. His answer was simple. "So that there may be plenty of room for us to join them." Want to let Jesus do his thing on earth through you? Then pull up a chair and receive him into your heart (Fr. Jack Dorsel).
Introduction: On Holy Thursday, we celebrate three anniversaries: 1) the anniversary of the first Holy Mass, 2) the anniversary of the institution of ministerial priesthood, in order to perpetuate the Holy Mass, to convey God’s forgiveness to repentant sinners and to preach the good news of salvation, 3) the anniversary of the promulgation of Jesus’ new commandment of love: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Today we remember how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the New Testament Passover.  In its origins, the Jewish Passover was, in fact, a joint celebration of two ancient thanksgiving celebrations.  The descendants of Abel, who were shepherds, used to lead their sheep from the winter pastures to the summer pastures after the sacrificial offering to God of a lamb.  They called this celebration the “Pass over."  On the other hand, the descendants of Cain, who were farmers, held a harvest festival called the Massoth in which they offered unleavened bread to God as an act of thanksgiving.  The Passover feast of the Israelites (Exodus 12:26-37), was a harmonious combination of these two ancient feasts of thanksgiving, commanded by the Lord God and celebrated yearly by all Israelites to thank God for the miraculous liberation of their ancestors from Egypt and their exodus to the Promised Land.  
The Jewish Passover was a seven-day celebration, during which unleavened bread was eaten.  The Passover meal began with the singing of the first part of the “Hallel” psalms (Ps 113 &114), followed by the first cup of wine.  Then those gathered at table ate bitter herbs, sang the second part of the “Hallel” psalms (Ps 115-116), drank the second cup of wine and listened as the oldest man in the family explained the significance of the event, in answer to the question raised by a child.  This was followed by the eating of a lamb (whose blood had previously been offered to God in sacrifice), roasted in fire.  The participants divided and ate the roasted lamb and unleavened Massoth bread, drank the third cup of wine and sang the major “Hallel" psalms (117-118).  In later years, Jews celebrated a miniature form of the Passover every Sabbath day and called it the “Love Feast.” 
 
 The first reading from Exodus, gives us an account of the origins of the Jewish feast of Passover. God gives the Hebrews two instructions: prepare for the moment of liberation by a ritual meal [to be held annually in later years] and make a symbolic mark on your homes to exempt yourselves from the coming slaughter.  In the second reading, Paul quotes another source for this tradition that was handed to him upon his conversion.  He says he received this "from the Lord,” suggesting that the celebration of the Lord's Supper was an unbroken tradition from the very beginning of the church. Paul implies that the purpose of this celebration was to “proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.”  Paul may simply mean that Christians, by this ritual act, remind themselves of the death and resurrection of Jesus; he may also mean that Christians prepare themselves for the proclamation of Christ to the world at large.  In harmony with these readings, today’s gospel describes how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the Eucharistic celebration.  First he washed His Apostles’ feet - a tender reminder of his undying affection for them; then he commanded them to do the same for each other.  The incident reminds us that our vocation is to take care of one another as Jesus always takes care of us. Finally, he gave his apostles his own Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine as food and drink, so that, as long as they lived, they'd never be without the comfort and strength of his presence.   Thus, Jesus washed their feet, fed them and then went out to die.
Exegesis: Jesus’ transformation of his last Seder meal (Last Supper) into the first Eucharistic celebration is described for us in today’s Second reading and gospel. Jesus, the Son of God, began his Passover celebration by washing the feet of his disciples (a service assigned to household servants), as a lesson in humble service, proving that he “came to the world not to be served but to serve.” (Mark 10:45). He followed the ritual of the Jewish Passover meal up to the second cup of wine.  After serving the roasted lamb as a third step, Jesus offered his own Body and Blood as food and drink under the appearances of bread and wine. Thus, he instituted the Holy Eucharist as the sign and reality of God’s perpetual presence with His people as their living, heavenly food.  This was followed by the institution of the priesthood with the command, “Do this in memory of me."   Jesus concluded the ceremony with a long speech incorporating his command of love:  “Love one another as I have loved you.” Thus, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at a private Passover meal with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-30; Luke 21:7-23).  He served as both the Host and the victim of a sacrifice.  He became the Lamb of God, as John the Baptist had previously predicted (John 1:29, 36), who would take away the sins of the world.  
The transformation of Jesus’ Passover into the Holy Mass: The early Jewish Christians converted the Jewish “Sabbath Love Feast” of Fridays and Saturdays (the Sabbath), into the “Memorial Last Supper Meal” of Jesus on Sundays.  The celebration consisted of praising and worshipping God by singing psalms, reading the Old Testament Messianic prophecies and listening to the teachings of Jesus as explained by an apostle or by an ordained minister.  This was followed by an offertory procession, bringing to the altar the bread and wine to be consecrated and covered dishes (meals) brought by each family for a shared common meal after the Eucharistic celebration. Then the ordained minister said the “institution narrative” over the bread and wine and all the participants received the consecrated Bread and Wine, the living Body and Blood of the crucified and risen Jesus.  This ritual finally evolved into the present day Holy Mass in various rites, incorporating various cultural elements of worship and rituals. 
Life Messages: 1) We need to serve humbly.  Our celebration of the Eucharist requires that we wash one another’s feet, i.e., serve one another, and revere Christ's presence in other persons.   To wash the feet of others is to love them, even when they don't deserve our love. It is to do good to them, even if they don't return the favor. It is to consider others' needs to be as important as our own. It is to forgive others from the heart, even if they don't say, "I'm sorry." It is to serve them, even when the task is unpleasant. It is to let others know we care when they feel downtrodden or burdened. It is to be generous with what we have. It is to turn the other cheek instead of retaliating when we're treated unfairly. It is to make adjustments in our plans in order to serve others' needs, without expecting any reward.
2) We need to practice sacrificial sharing and self-giving love.  Let us imitate the self-giving model of Jesus who shares with us his own Body and Blood and enriches us with his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.  It is by sharing our blessings – our talents, time, health and wealth - with others that we become true disciples of Christ and obey his new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
3) We need to show our unity in suffering. The bread we partake of is produced by the pounding of many grains of wheat, and the wine is the result of the crushing of many grapes.  Both are thus symbols of unity through suffering.  They invite us to help, console, support, and pray for others who suffer physical or mental illnesses.  
4) We need to heed the warning: We need to make Holy Communion an occasion of divine grace and blessing by receiving it worthily, rather than making it an occasion of desecration and sacrilege by receiving Jesus while we are in grave sin.  That is why we pray three times before we receive Communion, "Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us," with the final "have mercy on us" replaced by "grant us peace." That is also the reason we pray the Centurion's prayer, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." And that is why the priest, just before he receives consecrated Host, prays, "May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life," while, just before drinking from the Chalice, he prays, "May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life."
5) An invitation to become Christ-bearers and Christ-conveyers:  In the older English version of the Mass, the final message was, “Go in peace to love and serve one another,” that is, to carry Jesus to our homes and places of work, conveying to others around us the love, mercy, forgiveness and spirit of humble service of Christ whom we carry with us. That message has not changed, though the words are different. (L/13)



Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (akadavil@gmail.com) and published in the CBCI website by the Office for Social Communications. You may contact akadavil@gmail.com for weekday homilies, and a dozen more additional anecdotes.
******************

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
A friend of the incomparable Mark Twain was trying to explain why he had stopped going to church. "There are too many things," he said, "in the Scriptures which I just do not understand." Mr Twain with nary a twinkle in his eye responded, "You know, it's not the stuff that I do not understand that bothers me. It's all those things I do understand."

I must confess I must add St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians to my own personal list of the latter. The Apostle to the Gentile's teaching on the Eucharist is so unqualified and so clear. I cannot understand how people after reading St Paul and the Gospels can believe the Eucharist is to be taken as a symbol. And, if they genuinely believe that the Christ is present only symbolically under the appearance of bread and wine, I do wonder why they really remain at all.

The most effective homily on Holy Thursday that I have heard was in a small college chapel. The elderly priest reminded his listeners, principally students, of the rebuttal writer Flannery O'Connor made to the once Catholic Mary McCarthy. Breezily Ms McCarthy dismissed the Eucharist as nothing more than a symbol. The young Ms O'Connor to her amazement heard herself say to McCarthy, "If the Eucharist is nothing but a symbol, to hell with it!"

The priest then sat down to allow his young congregation a few moment's reflection. I was tempted to stand up and applaud him. Yet, one woman religious present took great umbrage at the celebrant's brief homily. She considered the priest's words too flippant and frivolous for such a solemn occasion. Her anger I cannot comprehend to this day ten years later.

It strikes me that the campus minister took his cue from the famous letter of Paul of Tarsus to the small Christian colony at Corinth in Greece. He forcefully told it like it was. As the students would say, the Holy Thursday preacher let it all hang out. They clearly appreciated his pointed message.

After all, what can be clearer than the words of the Master Himself that St Paul quotes, "This is my body..." and "This is the new covenant in my blood."! If St Paul wanted to tell the Corinthians that the Eucharist is nothing but a symbol, then he chose very poor words. Yet, as we know, Paul is acknowledged as a master of language. Indeed anthologies down through the centuries prove he has very few peers.

St Paul's teaching on the Eucharist was certainly not lost to our fathers and mothers in the faith. The celebration of today's Liturgy of the Lord's Supper on this Feast of the Holy Thursday can be traced back to the early Middle Ages. Some argue one can find evidence of it as early as the fifth or sixth centuries. One can hardly posit that the ancients were celebrating but a symbol. Rather, they were convinced that the Eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus was, as one put it, "what God desired and we required." It was for them the genuine article.

One Catholic pastor in the small city in which I live in New York State's beautiful Hudson Valley told me an interesting tale. A Methodist minister, stationed in that city, comes to his noon Liturgy each week-day. One day I was rushing into that parish's soup kitchen to serve lunch with some college students. I chanced to meet him. He was wearing his Roman collar. He was under forty. We chatted for a few moments. I did not want to presume to probe into his soul in the parish parking lot. So I did not ask him what motivated his daily rendezvous with the Teacher. But I wager he was not coming to that Liturgy each noon to honor but a symbol. Rather, I take it he gave a quite literal interpretation to Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Where he will go from here is between him and the Holy Spirit.

If this Methodist minister takes the words of Jesus the Christ at their face value, should any Catholic do less?

Perhaps we should all reflect on the words of Padre Pio, "If we only knew how God regards this Sacrifice, we would risk our lives to be present at a single Mass."