Holy Thursday: Maundy Thursday
This morning I had to travel up East Lake Road. I noticed that the Methodist Church and the Lutheran Church on East Lake Road were inviting people to join them this evening for their Maundy Thursday Services. Many Christian faiths refer to what we Catholics call Holy Thursday as Maundy Thursday. The name Maundy Thursday flows from the action we just heard about in this evening’s Gospel. Before celebrating the Last Supper, before giving the Eucharist, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and then told them to do as He had done. The word “maundy” is an English derivation of the Latin word mandatum. We know it better as the word mandate. Jesus performed a symbolic action of totally emptying himself for his disciples. No slave owner could force his slave to do something so low as wash the feet of his Master. Yet, Jesus washed the feet of His Disciples. He washes our feet too. He empties Himself on the cross for us to clean the mud of our lives from between our toes. Then, he calls on us to do the same. That is His mandate.
But what does this have to do with the Last Supper? During the Last Supper Jesus gave His Body and His Blood as the sacrament of His Sacrifice on the Cross. He knew that we could not restore the eternal life mankind lost. Only the Lamb that was slain could re-open the sealed book of God’s will for mankind, the scroll we hear about in Revelations 5. Our reception of the Body and Blood of Christ is our union with the Lamb on the Cross. But the gift of the Body and Blood of the Lord comes with a mandate, “What you have seen me doing, you must do.” It is similar to the condition for receiving forgiveness from the Lord. If we wish to receive forgiveness, we need to forgive. If we wish to receive the Love of the Lord, we need to love others. God does the heavy work, but He expects us to join Him in doing our own part.
The reception of the Eucharist was never intended to be a private devotion. Christianity itself was never meant to be mere meditation. Christians are called to bring Christ to all others. Even when we pray before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament after we receive communion, or during Eucharistic Adoration, we are not engaged in private devotion, or private meditation. No, our Eucharistic devotion is union with the One who gave everything for us and called us to do the same. We ask Him to strengthen us to imitate Him in giving ourselves to others.
We receive the Eucharist through the mediation of those set apart to transform bread and wine into Body and Blood, priests and bishops. Today we celebrate the institution of the priesthood. When the Lord said, “Do this in memory of me,” He established a means of continuing the Last Supper through designated individuals. The priest is called to act in persona Christi, in the person of Jesus Christ. Through the choice of the Lord and the action of the Spirit at ordination, the priest presides over the Sacred Meal of the Lord where Christ is made present in the bread and wine.
When we consider the particular individuals whom God has chosen to become priests, we can all be comforted in knowing that our God has a wonderful sense of humor. Still, without priests, there is no Eucharist. That is why the whole Church prays for its priests today and prays for vocations to the priesthood. Don’t just pray for vocations, pray that your sons and grandsons might become priests. One of the causes of the vocations crisis is that people want priests, but they want them to come from other families. Recently, I heard some people in another parish complain because they had a priest come from another country and another culture whose first language was not English. They seemed to forget that this priest left his homeland to serve in a strange country. We value the priests who have journeyed far to serve our parish, Fr. Mathew Moothesseril from India, Fr. Gregory Ogbinika from Nigeria and Fr. Kevin Molloy who moved from New Foundland to serve the people of our Diocese and who speaks English remarkably well....for a Canadian.
If we want a home grown clergy, we need to do something about it. We need to bring back the day when every extended family felt a responsibility to provide at least one priest for the Church. People need to support that Teen and young man in their family considering the priesthood not just because He would be doing something noble, but because we all need him to embrace the vocation to the priesthood. We need the Eucharist; therefore, we need priests. A number of years ago, Fr. Len Plazewski, at the time the Diocesan Director of Vocations, asked me at the Life Teen Mass if, given the choice, I would I do it all again. Having experienced what I continually experience as a priest, I can assure you, not only would I do it again, I would try harder to be a better priest. I know that most people are very happy as husbands and wives, but I cannot picture any happier life for me than to be able to have such an intimate contact with Christ in Word, in Sacrament, and in you. And I also know that the priests of our parish agree with me.
Thank you all for coming and forming our community of prayer this evening. Like you, I look forward to this particular liturgy every year. Tonight we begin the celebration of the Paschal Triumph of the Lord. This is the central belief of our faith. At every Mass we proclaim the Mystery of Faith: Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. Through His death on the Cross, the Life of God is restored to us. We now live seeking holiness, looking for ways to be set apart for God, to be holy. And in doing this we are preparing the world to once more receive its Savior.
There are many very beautiful actions in this evening’s liturgy: the reception of the Holy Oils, the washing of parishioner’s feet, the declaration that the people are holy by incensing the congregation, and the procession with the Blessed Sacrament from the Church to the altar of reposition in the chapel where we join the disciples and watch and pray with the Lord. All of these rites, and all our actions this evening are far more than an annual reminder of the Last Supper. No, everything we do this evening and, for that matter, at every Mass, is a participation in the transformation of the world. Jesus Christ has staked His Claim on the world. The world belongs to Him. He calls us now to win it for Him. He tells us to do this through acts of selfless charity. May we have the courage to fulfill the mandate.
Happy Holy Thursday. Blessed Maundy Thursday.