YEAR A: HOMILY FOR HOLY THURSDAY
HOMILY THEME: THE THEOLOGY OF COMMUNION!
BY: Fr. Ben Agbo
HOMILY: * Ex 12 : 1 – 14, 1Cor 11 : 23 – 26, Jn 13 : 1 – 15.
A. O. T PASSOVER
The origin of the theology of the Eucharist is found in today’s 1st reading where the commandment was given for the eating of the Passover meal in honour of the Lord. Three significant instructions must be isolated here for our reflection today ;
(a) The flesh of the lamb roasted over the fire was to be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
(b) No alien may eat it. It must be eaten in one house (cf one faith, one Lord, one baptism, Eph 4 : 5). None of its bones will be broken (link this with what happened at Calvary, Jn 19 : 36). When I see the blood I will pass over you (compare with the blood of the new covenant, Matt 26 : 28).
(c) This day is to be a day of remembrance for you and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour for all generations.
B. N. T PRIESTHOOD VS EUCHARIST
The Psalmist caught the idea of the Eucharist in today’s responsorial psalm when he said : ‘How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me? The cup of salvation I will raise ; I will call on the Lord’s name… A thanksgiving sacrifice I make, I will call on the Lord’s name. My vows to the Lord I will fulfill before all his people, Ps 116 : 12. What a beautiful priestly hymn of the Old Testament capturing the whole essence of the priesthood even in the New Testament.
St Paul buttresses the Eucharistic tradition in today’s 2nd reading : ‘This is the tradition I received from the Lord and in turn passed on to you (by then the Bible was not yet ready in this form)…. This is my body’ (theology of transubstantiation) followed by the instruction : ‘Do this in memory of me’.
The priesthood of the New Testament (which we celebrate today) was inaugurated by Christ’s victimhood on the Cross of Calvary. According to St Melito of Sardis in today’s Office of the readings : ‘He is the Passover of our salvation. He was present (as Word of God) in many as to endure many things ; In Abel, he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob a stranger, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed, in David persecuted, in the Prophets (like Jeremiah) dishonored, became incarnate of the Virgin ; the silent lamb (Is 50 : 6) that was slain (Rev 4 : 12) – not one of his bones will be broken (Ex 12 : 46)’.
C. EUCHARISTIC ADORATION & ITS RECEPTION.
Christ’s real presence has always called for Adoration from the earliest biblical records. The wisemen from the East were the first to worship his body. As God, he received their Adoration, but as man, strictly speaking, he did not since he was too tender to know what was happening. His mother Mary and his foster father, Joseph (if he was around) must have received the honour on his behalf,Matt 2 : 11. The next account of honour given to the body of Christ was done by Mary the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus rose from the dead. She tried to capture the essence of this adoration of the body of Christ by using a very costly ointment to pre – embalm his feet but Judas (representing all money minded believers) thought it was a waste of time and money, Jn 12 : 1 – 11.
Since when did it become an abomination to adore /worship the body of Christ? If Christ said that the Eucharist is his body then it follows that Christians must hold that body in reverence.
What the Eucharist is ;
(a) A meal of love ; Today’s gospel says : ‘He had always loved those who were with his in the world but now he showed how perfect this love was’,Jn 13 : 1. God’s closeness to us in the Eucharist is the highest expression of his love and availability to enable us extend the same closeness to our neighbours. According to St Theresa of the Child Jesus, ‘Our Lord does not come from heaven everyday to stay in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven, the heaven of our soul in which he loves to dwell’.
(b) A sacrament of purification ; If we do not purify our consciences before Holy Communion then the purpose of the Eucharist is grossly defeated, 1 Cor 11 : 28, Heb 10 : 22. Remember what Jesus told Peter in today’s gospel : ‘If I do not wash you, you shall have no communion with me’, Jn 13 : 8. If there is neither a penitential service nor the sacrament of reconciliation, the Eucharist is usually perverted.
(c) A sacrament of service ; The most practical function of the Eucharist is to provide a fecund ground for service. Christ presented us today with a leader – servant paradigm. He said : ‘If I then the Lord and master have washed your feet, you should wash each other’ s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done ‘. How? So that in every diocese the bishop should not be a ‘ Lord ‘ but a servant, so that in every Parish the Parish Priest should not be a dictator but an approciable personality. In every station, the Catechist should not be a recluse of a character but a kind hearted teacher of Catechesis. In every zone the leaders would not be excommunicators or tax collectors but lovers of the sick and sympathizers of the berieved.
The task of making our Christians understand the whole theology of communion is a big catechetical challenge for the modern day Church. This Catechesis must be comprehensively and existentially presented in the above mentioned 3 dimensions ;
(i) Sacrament of sharing – making the Church a spiritual marketplace for the exchange of ideas and resources.
(ii) Sacrament of purification – making the Church a kind of ‘refugium peccatorum’ – a place where repentant sinners are daily purified. The Eucharist must serve as a daily regulator and measure of this purity.
(iii) Sacrament of service – making the Church a place where the society learns how to lead by example. The leader – servant paradigm of detachment and self sacrifice must take effect from the Church at all levels.
The theology of the real presence is still real today. The theology of real presence has been vigorously attacked by the forces of pentecostalism – a theological school of thought that does not believe in the priesthood. We see its vestiges even in the Roman Catholic Church when some members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) rush out of the Church on Sundays after their fellowship even as the priest brings in the Holy Eucharist for Benediction. As Vima Dasan succinctly put it : ‘The Son of God left his purse to Judas, his body to Joseph Arimathea, his mother to St John, his gospel to the world but his presence with those who come together in his name at the Eucharistic table’.
Without the priest, there is no Eucharist, CCC 6111. When there is no sacrifice there is no priest, Heb 5 : 1. Every wave of anticlericalism is therefore an indirect revolt against the Eucharist. Every revolt against the bishop is also a revolt against the Eucharist because the bishop empowers the priest with the powers to confect the Eucharist.
- The case of Ahiara in Nigeria is a typical example of complete breakdown of Eucharistic law and order. St Ignatius of Antioch understood that clearly when he said : ‘Ubi episcopus, ubi ecclesia’ – Where the bishop is there is the Church ‘. What we are doing this evening is animated by what we have done in the morning (ie the Chrism mass).
Every Parish’s attitude towards the Eucharist should be evaluated by their percentage attendance to 1st Friday Adoration (if Eucharistic Adoration is still done there), Sunday evening benediction and daily morning mass. For obvious reasons, our Corpus Christi jirations are no longer the litmus tests to evaluate our reverence for the Eucharist because the same boys who want to stop people on the road with Omabe and Odo masquerades are now all over the place on our Corpus Christi.
Today as many Churches have been shut down all over the world because of the Corona Virus Pandemic, we pray that this does not affect our faith in the Holy Eucharist both as the real presence of Christ, as viaticum/ food for pilgrims, as medicine of immortality ( St Thomas Aquinas) and as spiritual antidote to all problems in life. May the theology of Eucharistic Communion never die down in the Church of Christ.
Happy Holy Week Tridium dear friends!