Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Holy Thursday The Mass of the Lord’s Supper: Eternal Father, We Offer You....
Over the last three years, our Catholic Church has been revitalized by Pope Francis. He has emphasized that the Church must bring the positive message of the Gospel to all people, including, and especially, those who feel marginalized, on the fringe of the Church, due to their sexual orientation, their marriage situation, their race, and particularly their poverty. He has called the Church to be one with the poor. He has called the Church to reach out to all.
Many people feel excluded from the Church due to their sins. Jesus Christ came for everyone. He reached out to saint and sinner. He was not concerned about any action of the past. He was concerned about the present and the future. He looked at the Woman at the Well with compassion. His mercy drew her away from her sins. His heart broke when he saw what sin had done to that woman caught in adultery. He told the parable of the Prodigal Son as a way for us to understand how Loving a Father our God is. Jesus Christ healed others. We are called to continue the healing compassion of Jesus Christ by reaching out to all who are hurting. This includes so many who are devastated by a decision to end a life.
The Gospel reading presents the Lord washing the feet of his disciples. In a few moments we will enact this symbolically by washing the feet of twelve parishioners. Perhaps, you might think that this is something added on to the service, but not at the heart of the service. You might even question why so much emphasis is given to this rite. Shouldn’t the focus be on the Eucharist? Well, to be a Eucharistic People means to wash the feet of others.
The disciples were not admitted into the Eucharist until they received a mandate from the Lord. The mandate came after Jesus washed their feet. He said to them: what you have seen me do, you also must do. We are also given this mandate. If we are going to receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, we must wash the feet of others.
Pope Francis challenges us to be a Eucharistic People. No one should ever feel excluded from the love of the Community that has Jesus Christ as its head. As a parish, we are committed to foot washing through many of our ministries, our Food Pantry, our Pregnancy Center, and our Caritas ministries immediately come to mind. Our Life Teen and Edge youth ministries, our religious education programs, the Women’s Council and the Knights of Columbus have also recognized their obligation to care for others. These are some of the many ways we wash feet as a parish.
But how about us as individuals? How do each of us wash feet? How are each of us Eucharistic? Pope Francis challenges us to realize that acts of charity are not mere add-ons to our faith. They are the fundamental way that we practice our faith.
Recently I have been doing a little study on Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. This was written in the 1830's by a Frenchman who sought to understand American society. In one section of his book, Tocqueville wrote about politics and religion. He noted that whereas politics is about advancing various points of view, religion is about mores or ways of living life. He is adamant that religion has its greatest impact when it presents proper ways of living and then asks its people to apply this to their political decisions. He notes that religion is at its weakest when it endorses a particular candidate or becomes the mouthpiece of a particular party. When this happens, religion becomes nothing more than an arm of a politics, and is ignored by those who disagree with its politics. Then Tocqueville makes this statement: politics is about interests, religion is about love. Religion is about love. That hit me right between the eyes. Why did Jesus Christ come? He came to bring the love of God to His people. What does Jesus Christ want from us? He wants us to love others.
The washing of feet is not an interesting rite, it is a symbolic expression of the fundamental reason why the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became one of us. He came to wash our feet. He then called us to wash the feet of others. This is the mandate, the mandatum that we remember so solemnly today.
At the Last Supper and at all our Masses, Jesus Christ says, “This is my Body which is 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 you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Perhaps we focus so much on the bread becoming His Body and the wine becoming His Blood that we miss why He gives us these gifts. He gives us His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins, our sins and the sins of all mankind. What took place at the Last Supper and what takes place every time we celebrate Mass is the offering of Jesus Christ on the cross. He sacrificed himself to His Father to defeat hatred with love, to defeat sin with love. His is the Paschal sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
We are all tempted to see the consecration as the central moment of the Mass, but actually, the whole reason why the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of the Lord is the offering of these eternal gifts to the Father for our sins and those of the world. Listen closely to the words that follow the consecration. No matter which Eucharistic Prayer we use, after the consecration we pray in words similar to the First Eucharistic prayer: we offer you, Holy Father, from the gifts you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the Holy Bread of eternal life and the chalice of everlasting salvation. Be pleased to look upon these offering and accept them.
I know many of you say the Divine Mercy chaplet. Every ten petitions for mercy, (For the sake of your sorrowful passion have mercy on us and on the whole world,) are followed by this prayer: Eternal Father, we offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, your only Son, for our sins and the sins of the whole world. This is what we do at Mass. We offer up Jesus Christ to the Father for the forgiveness of sins. And this is what Jesus Christ did on the Cross. He gave himself up to the Father so that sin would no longer control us. He defeated hatred with love, sin with obedience, death with life. Again, His is the Paschal sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus Christ is about love, His love for God the Father, His love for us, His love for all people. When we receive the Eucharist, we receive Jesus Christ uniting Himself to us so we will be able to join Him in love. The life of a Christian is all about Jesus Christ. The life of a Christian is all about loving as He loved. The life of a Christian is all about sacrificial love, sacrificing ourselves for others just as He sacrificed Himself for us. The life of a Christian is the response to the mandate of the Lord to be Eucharistic, to be sacrificial, to wash the feet of others.
We pray this evening for the determination and the courage to live Eucharistic lives.