We just listened to the Passover account from the OT Book of Exodus:
“This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival, for ever.” (Exodus 12: 14)
In this evening’s Second Reading St. Paul, describing the institution of the Eucharist, quotes the words of Jesus:
“…do this as a memorial of me.” (I Cor. 11:23-26)
The Washing of the Feet at the Last Supper was our Gospel Reading for this evening:
“I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” (John 13:15)
Remembrance for all generations, memorial, and an example you may copy: This evening, with the Church’s Liturgy of Holy Thursday, we have begun our annual Easter Triduum: three days focusing intensely on the events which brought us salvation. The Last Supper is today, the Cross is tomorrow, the day of Saturday is a silent meditation on the Body of Jesus in the Tomb and Saturday night is our celebration of Jesus’ Rising from the Dead to bring us Everlasting Life. From the darkness comes forth the light of Easter Sunday, Easter Joy.
Our connecting back to these tremendous three days in the life of Jesus or our memorial of them in union with the Church throughout the World, observing them as they have been handed down, is a ponderous remembrance; it is an earthshaking sort of thing meant to have a renewing effect on our faith. This remembrance in union with the Church also puts us on the map, if you will. Our sharing in these great events configures us to Christ and the events by which He saved us for God. The Easter Triduum (memorial, remembrance, ritual example) shows us again where we are at in the only world which counts; it shows us where we are at in the real world, in God’s world.
Let us focus for just a moment on tonight, on the celebration of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Holy Thursday is for remembering the Last Supper in the Upper Room, but it is also important as a reminder to us that the order of worship we use today in the Church has been laid down with the same care given in laying down for God’s Chosen People the prescriptions for the celebration of the annual Passover meal. We can’t just make up as we go along what we do here tonight or for that matter at Sunday Mass or at any other time in church. We are part of something greater than ourselves. As St. Paul says: “This is what I received from the Lord and in turn passed on to you…” St. Paul assures the Corinthians and us that “on the same night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread…” We do what Jesus did as a memorial; we do it tonight, as well as every Sunday and every other time we come together for Holy Mass; we do it by His command.
An important distinction must be made in this regard between what other people can do even in very solemn fashion and what we do in celebrating the Eucharist. I can “stage” a remembrance or a memorial or I can “observe” one: they are two very different things. The veterans, the military, the government and others stage Remembrance Day. What they do on that day to honor those who have fallen in battle in defense of truth, freedom and democracy is arranged and organized by their decision. Although each year’s ceremony is about the same there is nothing really to prohibit them from doing it otherwise. Divine Worship, the Mass and the Sacraments, are different: they constitute a memorial which I must observe not construct or invent. They come from the Lord. No matter whether Bishop, Priest or Pope, if I do not do what the Lord commanded in terms of this memorial feast then I’m doing something else and I’m doing wrong. Worship is for Church and it is for life.
The Washing of the Feet, which I will do in just a few more minutes, is different from the rest of Mass and what I usually do Sunday after Sunday in Divine Worship. The Washing of the Feet, as such, is a ritual action, a reenactment. It reminds us of Jesus’ example, but it also goes beyond the gesture or the ritual. It teaches mightily about how the Lord and Master comes among us as a servant not only in the Upper Room but for life and for our salvation. Outside of the Easter Triduum, the only other reenactment which is an option in worship would be the Palm Sunday Procession. If you have such a procession, you do so to recall Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, hailed by the children waiving branches, the Lord and Master all meek and humble riding on a donkey. Passion plays, living Stations of the Cross performed by a youth group, just like living Crib Scenes at Christmas time can be very prayerful; they can be lovely and inspiring, but they do not compare with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. St. Paul assures the Corinthians and us that “This is what I received from the Lord and in turn passed on to you… on the same night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread…” Christ’s Presence here is evident and goes beyond anything experienced in the Old Testament: God ordered Moses to take off his sandals as he neared the burning bush; here we are in an entirely different league with signs and symbols which truly make present what they signify.
Be thankful for what is yours by Jesus’ command this evening! We do what He did by His command. Be thankful for the possibility to come to Holy Mass each Sunday and Holy Day! Be thankful for the many opportunities and at different hours at which daily Mass is available here in the city of Port of Spain! Be thankful for the many opportunities which are yours, if you are in the state of grace, to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion!
After Holy Communion this evening we move the Blessed Sacrament to a specially arranged Altar of Repose. Jesus is there for Holy Communion on Good Friday as well as for the Communion of those who may be near death. Different countries and peoples have different traditions attached to the Altar of Repose. In some big cities in Europe in this night people go from one church to another to make a visit to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. They do so also partly out of curiosity to see how the Altar was prepared. Different parishes sometimes compete in decorating their Altars of Repose. The reminder or thought to take from such a practice whether you know it or not is that just as we might strive with drapery, flowers and candles to make the loveliest Altar possible to receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, so also should we strive day in and day out to make our souls, our hearts, such an altar to receive Him.
Our Worship this evening is solemn and yet familiar. With no surprises it should give us time to wrap our minds and hearts around this great mystery and renew within ourselves our love for the Lord who “… on the same night he was betrayed… took bread…” Do this in memory of me, the priest prays, just like Jesus did in the Upper Room on the night He was betrayed.