HOMILY FOR HOLY THURSDAY
HOMILY THEME: LOVE IS IN THE AIR!
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Tonight we begin what is called the Paschal Triduum: the three most sacred and important days of the year. They are Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. These three days are to be seen as one celebration. Holy Thursday leads to Good Friday. The sufferings and death of Jesus on Good Friday are meaningless without the victory of resurrection on Easter. But Easter is not possible without Good Friday. So it may not be proper to greet “Happy Easter” before Good Friday.
Tonight we celebrate the Last Supper of Our Lord. We recall the supreme act of love by Jesus on the night before he suffered: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” (Jn 13:1). Jesus decided to leave a lasting memorial of love to his disciples.
He gathered his disciples at table for a meal. But it was no ordinary meal. It was a Passover Meal, wherein the Jewish people would recall the wondrous works of Yahweh in bringing them out of slavery of Egypt into freedom in the Promised Land.
But why did Jesus choose a meal as the venue for imparting his lasting memorial of love? As we all know, giving nourishment is an expression and sign of love. As a mother nurses her infant at her breasts as a sign of her love, so also Jesus has shown his love by giving food to his people. But at the Last Supper, he was not just giving them food. He himself is the food. Holding the bread, he said: “This is my body; eat it.” Holding the cup filled with wine, he said: “This is my blood; drink it.”
Many people may ask: how could this happen? This was the same question that the Jews who heard him murmured: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:52). This question is pointless. Jesus is God, and nothing is impossible with Him. The more appropriate question should be: Why? Why did Jesus decide to make himself just simple bread and an ordinary wine? The answer is very clear: because he loves us so much: “He loved them to the end.” He even promised: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). So he humbled and emptied himself: from being God, he became man; and from being man, he became just simple bread and wine. So, at the Last Supper, he instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Second Vatican Council calls “the source and summit of Christian life.”
Holy Thursday, then, is the Feast of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In this sacrament we experience the love of God for mankind for we receive the greatest gift He can ever give us – the very body and blood of His Beloved Son. Furthermore, in the Eucharist, we make present the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Although he instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, it cannot be reduced to a meal. Pope Benedict XVI pointed this out: “The Eucharist that Christians celebrate really cannot adequately be described by the term ‘meal’….The EUCHARIST was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper in the framework and context of a meal. But what he instituted was an entirely new and different reality, that is, his SACRIFICE on the cross that he commanded us to repeat” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 78).
However, there is another sacrament that Jesus instituted at the Last Supper. Take note of what he said: “Do this in memory of me.” Memory or remembrance, as used in the Bible, is not just remembering a past event. Rather, it means making present a past event. Such has been the understanding of the Jewish people when they celebrate the Passover. We saw that in tonight’s first reading from Exodus.
The sacrifice that Jesus offered in Calvary was done only once. But since he himself is God, this single sacrificial offering has an eternal dimension and implication: it happened in the past, but it continues to happen now and for eternity. We were not in Calvary during that first Good Friday. But in the Eucharist, Jesus makes present to us his sacrifice. It is the same sacrifice of Jesus on the cross being made present to us in the here and now. That is why it is often referred to as the “bloodless” sacrifice of Jesus. St. Paul said: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1Cor 11:26). Now, the question is: who will do this “making present” of the sacrifice? Looking, then, at his disciples, Jesus said: “Do this in memory of me.” So, on this Holy Thursday, Jesus also instituted the Priesthood. There is an intimate and inseparable link between the Eucharist and ministerial priesthood. He had formed the apostles for three years so that his authority would be their authority. “He who hears you hears me.” But this night he made them priests when he said those words, “Do this in memory of me.” This new priesthood would offer the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Today is also, therefore, the Feast of the Priesthood.
The priesthood is not about honor and prestige, nor about power and domination; rather, it is all about humble service. Jesus instituted the sacrament of the priesthood so that his sacrifice will continue to be made present to His people; to make him always available to his people. The ministerial priesthood is, after all, in service of the common priesthood of all the baptized. To illustrate this, while at supper, Jesus stood up, removed his outer garment, and washed the feet of his disciples. At first they resisted. They could not accept that their Master will do an act meant for a slave. They were simply embarrassed. But for Jesus it was an unmistakable expression of his humility and desire to serve his people. And afterwards he challenged them: “If I, therefore, the Master and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:14-15). Positions of authority in the Church are not for prestige and domination but for service and love. At the same time, washing of the feet is symbolic of the washing of our sins in the sacrament of Penance. It is also a reminder that to worthily approach the Eucharist in Holy Communion, our hearts must be clean and free from sins through God’s pardon in the sacrament of Confession.
Every time we come to this celebration of the Eucharist, let us always be reminded that we are celebrating the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross being made present to us. Let us also pray for our priests so that they will always enjoy God’s protection and guidance to faithfully fulfill their ministry of bringing Jesus to his people. And let us make sure that our Eucharistic celebration will always be a celebration of love: God’s love for us, and our love for one another.
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