Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper: Three Unique Liturgical Actions and One Mandate
This evening I would like to speak about the three liturgical actions that are unique to this Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The first of these is the presentation of the sacred oils blessed and consecrated at the Chrism Mass by our Bishop, Bishop Gregory Parkes. As the shepherd of our Diocese, Bishop Parkes wishes he could be at every parish for the administration of every sacrament, but that would be impossible. But by blessing and consecrating the oils we use for the sacrament of the sick, for the anointing of the catechumens and for the sacrament of confirmation, he is symbolically present those times that he cannot be here. So, why is his presence so important? As Bishop of the Diocese, he is entrusted with the care of all the Catholics. The priests and deacons share in his ministry. We priests and deacons serve the Lord’s people by being an extension of the Bishop. The Bishop is responsible for teaching, governing and sanctifying the faithful of the diocese. He cannot save the people. Only Jesus can do that. What the Bishop does with the aid of the priests and deacons is provide the vehicles for salvation, the teaching of the Word of God and the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. When we received the sacred oils, we recognized that we are one with our Bishop.
The second unique action of this liturgy is the washing of the feet of parishioners. These parishioners, represent the twelve disciples of the Lord who will become the Twelve Apostles. The number twelve was very important. It represents the New Israel, the new twelve tribes. That is why after Judas Iscariot betrayed and deserted the Lord, he had to be replaced, and was eventual replaced by Matthias. The Lord washed the feet of the disciples telling them in this prophetic act that He is going to empty Himself for them. He then commanded them to do for others what He has done for them. This is the mandatum of Holy Thursday, the mandate the Lord has given us. We are called to empty ourselves for others. We are called to care for others without counting the cost this care has on our own lives. You parents do this continually in your care for your children. Husbands and wives in good marriages are always looking for ways to empty themselves for their spouses. Our care for others, our emptying ourselves for others must go beyond our home. We have to reach out to those who need to have their feet washed, those who need us to care for them, the poor, the sick, the immigrant, the addict, and all who society has placed on its fringe.
Sometimes people wonder why the gospel of washing the feet and the liturgical action of washing parishioners’ feet have such prominence in this liturgy. The answer to that question is found in the deeper understanding of what Jesus did when He gave us the Eucharist. He said “This is my body which will be given up for you,” and “This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for your and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The Eucharist is not just the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the Body and Blood of Christ offered up to the Father for the forgiveness of all sins. Just as Christ offered Himself up for all in the Eucharist, to be a Eucharistic people, we have to offer ourselves up for others.
This brings us to the third liturgical action unique in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. That is the solemn procession with the Blessed Sacrament to a repository, here at St. Ignatius in our recreation of the Garden of Olives in the Fr. John LaTondress Chapel and Parish Life Center. In this action we are brought back into the paschal mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. We recognize His Holiness in the Eucharist. We recognize His eternal sacrifice for us on Calvary. We await the celebration of His gift of life for us on Easter. We pray before the Lord in the chapel of reposition, remembering that night that Jesus sweat blood for us, the night that the disciples were too tired to keep watch with Him, the night that His accusers arrested Him on false charges.
So we pray before the Lord in the Eucharist. We ask Him to help us to have the courage to empty ourselves in obedience to Him and for others just as He emptied Himself in obedience to His Father and for us.
This is a beautiful liturgy with unique actions all proclaiming the same mandate, a mandate that is in total contrast to the way of the world. The mandate is to take a step away from the self-centered of the world and a step into the eternal life of giving that is the Kingdom of God. Loving God and giving to others. This is Christianity. This is the Church. This is Catholicism.
We pray this evening: may we have the courage to live our faith, the courage to be Catholic.