Thursday, April 1, 2010
MY HOMILY FOR HOLY THURSDAY'S EVENING MASS OF THE LORD'S SUPPER
I preach using an outline form that I normally commit to memory and speak extemporaneously from my memorized outline, and away from the ambo. But tonight's homily was a bit too complicated for me to preach from memory, so I had the notes outline in front of me and preached from the ambo. I find the ambo restricts me too much but it was appropriate for a night like tonight! Happy Easter Triduum!
Introduction: The highlights of my life occurred on June 7, 1980 when I was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia. Part of the Liturgy requires those who are to be ordained to lay prostrate on the floor as an act of submission to God and His church as the Litany of the Saints is chanted. The marble floor was cold and hard and had a distinct smell. But as I listened to the Litany being sung, I was emotionally overwhelmed at what was happening to me. At the end of the Litany when I got up, there was a puddle of tears on that cold, hard marble floor. I also recall the tears in my eyes as I concelebrated with Bishop Lessard and consecrated with Him the Holy Eucharist at that Mass of Ordination. I know now, some 30 years later that these tears symbolize for me, joy, sorrow, pain and sacrifice, frustration and happiness, despair and glory, the very things that Jesus Christ experienced in his earthly ministry. But I also remember the first blessing I gave to many people, my hands still fragrant from the sacred Chrism. Many of them kneeling before me would take by hands that had just blessed them, and turn the palms of my hands toward them and kiss both palms. I just couldn’t believe this was happening to me an unworthy sinner, that people would honor me in such a touching, intimate way. And yet I know these hands that bless and consecrate are not just my hands, they are the hands of the Lord Jesus and that is what was shown reverence on my ordination day! Then I recalled that wonderful poem, “The beautiful Hands of a Priest:” author unknown.
We need them in life's early morning,
We need them again at its close;
We feel their warm clasp of true friendship,
We seek them when tasting life's woes.
At the altar each day we behold them,
And the hands of a king on his throne
Are not equal to them in their greatness;
Their dignity stands all alone;
And when we are tempted and wander,
To pathways of shame and of sin,
It's the hand of a priest that will absolve us,
Not once, but again and again.
And when we are taking life's partner,
Other hands may prepare us a feast,
But the hand that will bless and unite us
is the beautiful hand of a priest.
God bless them and keep them all holy,
For the Host which their fingers caress;
When can a poor sinner do better
Than to ask Him to guide thee and bless?
When the hour of death comes upon us,
May our courage and strength be increased,
By seeing raised over us in blessing
The beautiful hands of a priest.
Topic Statement: Today, we celebrate what Jesus did two thousand years ago on the night before he died, the institution of the priesthood and the Most Holy Eucharist.
1. The Catholic Priesthood and the celebration of the Mass are dramatically tied together to show forth the sacrificial unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
A. I contend that we cannot truly appreciate the nature of the Holy Eucharist as uniting the Bride of Christ, the Church to the One Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and thus uniting us to our only means of salvation if we don’t understand the alternative. Quite frankly, without the one sacrifice Christ, we do not enter the kingdom of God. Life after death at best would be absolute nothingness or at worst, eternal torment and damnation in hell. In reality, hell is the absence of God. How many of us in reality live our lives as though God does not exist? Isn’t that a foretaste of what hell truly is? Getting to heaven is not accomplished by our being good, it is accomplished by Jesus Christ and His Cross and resurrection. Each year I interview our second graders who will make their First Holy Communion. They seem to understand that it is only through the one sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and His resurrection that any of us get into heaven. That belief of our faith is very important for all of us, especially adults, to understand.
B. In establishing the priesthood to be an icon of Christ the High Priest and Bridegroom of the Church, as well as the Holy Eucharist as the sign of Jesus, the Lamb of Sacrifice on Good Friday, Jesus uses the Jewish Seder or Passover ritual meal as the paradigm for the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. The Jews recall how God rescued them from the land of slavery, Egypt, and led them to freedom. The meal also recalls how the blood of lambs was painted on door posts to protect the Jews from the destroying angels. In the Seder meal, Jews remember the events of their salvation and in doing so, bring these events forward to be a living reality in the present. The Lord’s Supper that becomes the Holy Eucharist and Mass is the memorial of the events of Good Friday, our passage from sin and death to glory. We remember, not just in an historical way the events of our salvation, but like the Jews, God brings these events forward to the present. In other words, the real presence of the one Sacrifice of Christ is made manifest in the Holy Eucharist, along with the real presence of the Risen Lord in His body, blood, soul and divinity. In other words, the One Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is now eternal, not bound by a particular time or particular place. It is everywhere and always, just like God is "I AM."
2. The other aspect of our celebration of the Mass is that we must receive our Lord worthily in anticipation of His return, which in the Mass we already experience in an eternal way.
A. The season of Lent, in fact every season of the Church is a time to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance or Confession and also to do penance out of the need for justice to be accomplished even for our forgiven sin. We do not want to receive Christ into our body and soul corrupted by unrepentant sin. Through sacramental repentance we want to be a worthy receptacle for our Lord. At every Mass we encounter in a sacramental way three powerful aspects of Jesus Christ, the High Priest, the Victim of Sacrifice made visible in the Bread and Wine offered in Sacrifice and the Bridegroom of the Church which is His bride. Through ordination, the Catholic priest is a visible sign of Jesus Christ the High Priest who offers himself on the altar of the cross to save us from sin and hell. Jesus offers not a lamb, but himself, a sacrifice of love, love for sinners, love for the guilty, the murderer, the liar, the adulterer, the molester, the rapist, and love for all who have been harmed by sin, evil of the others. We receive what is Sacrificed, Jesus Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the ordinary elements of Bread and Wine that become Lamb of God Sacrificed for us. WE WANT TO BE READY AND PROPERLY SO FOR THE BRIDEGROOM OF THE CHURCH, WHO IS JESUS CHRIST.
B. In the Eastern Rite of the Church as well as Orthodoxy, Holy Week and especially Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday focuses on Christ the Bridegroom and the Service of the Bridegroom (Akolouthia tou Nimfiou).The Icon of Christ the Bridegroom is Jesus after his betrayal, stripped of his garments, with a mocking royal robe and a reed as a scepter in his hands.. The name for the Service of the Bridegroom though comes from the central figure in the well-known parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). The title Bridegroom suggests the intimacy of love. It is not without significance that the kingdom of God is compared to a bridal feast and a bridal chamber. The Christ of the Passion, stripped and mocked is the divine Bridegroom of the Church. The imagery connotes the final union of the Lover and the beloved. The title Bridegroom also suggests the Parousia or the end times. The Parable of the Ten Virgins is related to the Second Coming; and is associated with the need for spiritual vigilance and preparedness, by which we are enabled to keep the divine commandments and receive the blessings of God’s Kingdom to come. In the Eastern Rite Liturgy, the cantor sings "Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night…", which is sung at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Hours (Orthos) of Great Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, relates the Church which is the Bride of Christ to that essential expectation: watching and waiting for our Bridegroom, who will come again to judge the living and the dead. Are we properly prepared tonight, have we been to confession? Do we have enough oil in our flasks, the grace of God in our souls, burning brightly to receive our Savior, the bridegroom worthily at this Mass and at our particular judgment?
Conclusion: Jesus symbolically washes the feet of the apostles, the first to be priests of the Church. Representing Christ, I will symbolically was the feet of 12 of our parishioners as a reminder to you and to me that being Catholic Priest and God's priestly people means imitating Jesus’ sacrificial love not only in the temple of this magnificent church, but in the temple of the world where we serve those most in need of salvation. The Church, the Bride of Christ, all of us together, clergy and laity, must also act in a like manner, calling the world God's unconditional love, to repent of sin, to seek justice and to know love and serve Jesus Christ, the high Priest, the Sacrificial Victim and the Bridegroom of His Bride the Church. The ordained priesthood and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass make present what we want to experience forever in heaven, Eternal joy and communion with Jesus Christ, High Priest and Bridegroom of the Church.