Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Holy Thursday: Divine Intimacy
The first reading for this evening is from the Book of Exodus. It presents God’s directives to Moses for the celebration of the Passover. The Second reading is from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. It presents the Lord’s directives for the celebration of the New Passover. In both readings we encounter the determination of God to care for His people. Moses did not seek out God, God sought out Moses. The disciples did not seek to form an intimate union with someone. Jesus sought to form an intimate union with them. This distinction is important if we are to understand the heart of our celebration this evening, as well as the basis of our relationship with God. God has sought us out, not vica versa. He initiated. We responded. God has chosen to form a relationship so deep with us that to call it friendship only hints at the vibrant union we experience with our Savior and through our Savior with each other.
So in the first reading God directs Moses on how the people were to celebrate the Passover. This is to be a ritual meal of love, one in which the Chosen People maintain a living memory of the God who directed the Angel of Death to pass over His People. The meal also points to a new and eternal Passover. In the new Passover eternal death passes over those who celebrate the meal where the One who is consumed is both the Lamb of God and the Lord of Life. We celebrate this meal every time we attend Mass, every time we offer to the Father the Gift of His Son, every time we receive the Eucharist. “As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.” Every time we receive communion, we proclaim to the world that the Lamb who was slain is the Conqueror of death and Giver of Life.
Of the many beautiful gifts of our Catholic faith, perhaps the most beautiful is the Eucharistic union that God has established with us through His Son. When we receive communion, we are united to Jesus Christ in a manner so deep that we become Him and He becomes us. Just as we cannot distinguish our own bodies from our souls, when we receive the Eucharist, we cannot distinguish His Life from our spiritual lives. As a church, we are the People of God. This is not just a title of an organization. It is the statement that God has formed an intimate union with the people of the New Passover. As individuals, we are Sons and Daughters of God, not just in a metaphorical sense, but in the real sense that each one of us has been given a unique and eternally special relationship with the Creator of the Universe.
We celebrate this evening the Gift of the New Passover, the Eucharist. We celebrate the intimate union the Eucharist gives us with God. This evening we celebrate Jesus Christ, the Giver of the Union and the Union itself.
We also celebrate the priesthood, the Gift of Holy Orders through which unworthy individuals are empowered to provide the Eucharist to the New Chosen People. Priests and Bishops offer the Sacrifice of the Lord to the Father and provide the Eucharistic sharing in this sacrifice for His People. We recognize that the extreme sinfulness of a limited number of the clergy in no way lessons the Power of Holy
Orders for priests and bishops to act in the Persona Christi, the Person of Jesus Christ. At the same time when we consider those who are chosen to become priests and bishops we are forced to recognize that God has a wonderful sense of humor.
This evening we re-affirm that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, the One who lived and died 2,000 years ago and the One who lives now united to the Father and united to us. We reverence His Eucharistic Presence with a solemn procession. We pray to Him to enter into our agonies, here in this valley of tears, here in this valley of love.
And it is in celebrating this love, the Love of Christ for all, that we re-create His Gift of Service to His people by washing the feet of twelve of our parishioners. Jesus emptied Himself of all honor when he performed this symbolic action before the Last Supper. Service is more important than dignity. Love is more important than status. The King of Kings washed feet and then told his disciples, “What you have seen me do, you also must do.” The mandate. We must be people of service if we are to be people of Jesus Christ. Our Eucharistic union with the Lord and our union with Jesus Servant are one and the same. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has made this very clear. The Holy Spirit in choosing this man to be pope has sent a message to the People God has chosen for his own. That message is: Let the world experience in you the Presence of the Servant Lord. It is now our task to transform the symbolic act of washing feet in the reality of, as Pope Francis announced, the reality of being protectors, particularly protectors of those who depend on the care of others.
We continue this liturgy now celebrating intimacy, the intimacy God has extended to us, and the intimacy we have with one another united to the One who loved His Own in the world and loved them to the end.