Thursday, March 28, 2013
Reflections on Holy Thursday
Tonight begins the Triduum (three days) in which we celebrate the central core of our faith. Tonight we celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper. This day we normally celebrate the founding of the priesthood and the Eucharist. Both are founded as divine service ordered towards the salvation of humanity. Both only exist in that they serve as ways that God and His people can be unified. Let me take this in two parts:
First, in the giving of the Eucharist, Jesus shows us that God loves us so much so that He holds nothing back from us. He gives us the life of His only Son to satisfy the eternal debt we had incurred through our rebellion to God. God never writes us off. God never says that we have gone past the point of no return in this life. No matter how hateful, vindictive, selfish, and unforgiving we have been towards Him or towards others. God wants to forgive, He wants to no longer hold our failings against us. He wants us to rise to the glory and full capacity of our being human beings. As we could not do this for ourselves, He does it for us. He sacrifices Himself!
He solidifies this in giving us the Eucharist. In Judaism, when a sin/peace offering was done (and this includes the Passover) the person (s) who brought the unblemished animal forward for sacrifice, not everything was burned on the altar. The person had to eat part of the sacrifice or the sacrifice lost its meaning. In uniting the person with the sacrificial offering, the person admits that the animal received the sentence rightfully due the person and in eating it receives the benefit of the sacrifice. In John 6, Jesus says, "Unless eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life within you." Jesus came, as St John the Baptist calls Him, to be the Lamb of God, the lamb that God Himself would provide (as Abraham told Isaac), the unblemished human being who would be sacrificed for us. At the Last Supper, Jesus takes the elements commonly used in the Passover meal (or any meal for that matter), bread and wine, and proclaims them to be, as in A=B, to be Hos flesh and His blood which would now be able to breath new life into those who choose to follow Him. Jesus so loves us despite our imperfections that He gives all and only ask that we love Him in return. How is that love lived though?
This leads to the second point. In most places the Chrism Mass is celebrated today. The Chrism Mass is where the oils to be used throughout the diocese are blessed by the Bishop. The oils: Sacred Chrism (used in all baptisms, confirmations, and ordinations to the priesthood and the episcopacy), the oil of catechumens (used in baptism) and the oil of the sick (used for the Anointing of the Sick). During the same Mass , priests are asked to renew the promises they made at the ordination. All of this is done because there is service to be rendered. As they are the ones who have the duty of attending the the sacramental needs of their parishioners, they are reminded that that relationship is that of a servant to those he serves, where HE is the servant.
This point is driven home by an action takes place during the Holy Thursday Mass: the Washing of the Feet. In Semitic cultures, the foot was the dirtiest part of the body and only the lowest of the low servants was charged with the task of washing feet. Peter, during the Last Supper, is taken aback when Jesus starts washing feet. This simply was not done. The washing of feet was a humiliation. Yet, here is Jesus doing so.
When He finishes doing so He instructs the apostles that as He has done so they should do. When Jesus founds the priesthood it was not create an aristocracy, but a group of servants! He, as servant, offers Himself up for the good of others. He expects the same of those who will be ordained to carry out His mission. I have said in the past about myself that I realize that the parish is not my kingdom nor are parishioners my subjects. Properly, I am to be a servant of those placed under my care. For service to be rendered necessitates selflessness. Every scandal the Church has ever endured has the same repugnant seed of selfishness, from Judas' betrayal to the sex scandals if recent ages. That we are called to serve is why the pastor is called to wash the feet of his parishioners, it is meant to be humbling and remind him that he is the servant of the congregation, not its master.
However, the pastor and priests are not the only ones called to serve. Note that same chrism used in Holy Orders is used in baptism and confirmation. Sacred Chrism was used to set aside a person as a priest, prophet, or king. When a person is baptized, during the anointing with Chrism, they or their parents are told that they are now consecrated to share in the service of Christ, that is, in His mission. hence, all who claim to be Catholic are called to serve others and serve God: we serve God by serving others! No more than selfishness can reside in the heart of a cleric can it reside the heart of any baptized person. The Body and Blood are given to us to become better servants. So, how is it I serve today? How is it you'll serve today?