Friday, April 10, 2009

Bishop Finn's Holy Thursday Homily

Holy Thursday - Mass of the Lord’s Supper, April 9, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Most Reverend Robert W. Finn
Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph


Tonight’s solemn celebration of the Lord’s Supper commemorates two great sacraments and gives us a practical example for our meditation. Tonight we celebrate the Institution of the Holy Eucharist in which Jesus Christ begins to reveal the ultimate meaning of the Passover. At the Last Supper Jesus definitively showed Himself as Lamb of God who would be sacrificed on the first Good Friday for our sins. At the Supper He gives Himself – His Body and Blood – in the great mystery of faith – as our food for eternal life.

At that same Supper Jesus establishes, also, the Sacrament of Holy Orders by entrusting to the apostles, as the first priests of the New Covenant, the continuation of the living Sacrifice of the Mass.

Finally, Jesus assumes the form of a slave and sets out to wash the feet of his disciples, giving them the “mandatum novum,” a New Commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.

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Tonight’s Holy Thursday liturgy is the most important celebration of the sublime mystery of the Eucharist. The sacred liturgy is not just a dramatization, or a historical look back at events in Christ’s life. It is a supernatural reality, a mystical action and effective sign by which we “make present” the mysteries that we celebrate.

We must seek always a deeper participation in the Church’s liturgy. This participation to which the Second Vatican Council referred when it called us to a full, active, conscious participation in the liturgy is an invitation into which we all must enter each time we celebrate the sacred mysteries. The action happens at the altar but must find a resonance in our heart and mind.

Every heart is called. All must be taught by God. Even those who do not take part in the Holy Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ – for example our Catechumens and Candidates who have not yet been fully initiated into the Church - are called to bear witness in faith to the truth of the Holy Eucharist, made present at Holy Mass.

Each person is called to bring - in a way that is full, active, and conscious - all the sacrifices of the day, the week, to the altar of sacrifice. All these interior offerings are carried here and “collected” at the altar. Here a great communion of saints engulfs and surrounds us each time we celebrate. At the end of Mass (missa, a word that means “sent”) we are all sent out to love and serve the Lord.

On this feast day of the Mass let us keep our minds and hearts focused on the event at the altar, and also on the mystery of the Passover of Christ to new life at Easter.

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Second, this Holy Thursday Mass is a celebration of the Priesthood, specifically the ordained priesthood. At the Last Supper our Lord commissioned the first priests. After giving them His Body and Blood, he told them, “Do this in memory of me.”

The priest, though he is weak and in himself unworthy, stands “in Persona Christi Capitis – in the person of Christ, the head” of the Church. The priest offers the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of the people.

The whole people of God through Baptism participates in the Royal priesthood of Christ, the priesthood of the faithful - primarily as effective intercessors with and for one another. This is the Church’s doctrine of grace rejected historically by the Reformers but affirmed over and over again by the Church: namely, by reason of grace all the faithful become participants in the very life of the Holy Trinity and share in the action of Christ offering Himself.

The ordained priest participates in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ the One High Priest in a way, the Second Vatican Council teaches, which is different from the priesthood of the Faithful “not only in degree, but in essence.” The priest, it is most correctly said, offers the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in union with Jesus Christ, on behalf of the people.

In the words of the Institution of the Eucharist, which St. Paul repeats in his letter to the Corinthians, our second reading tonight, the priest speaks in the first person, in the place of Christ, "This MY Body; This is MY Blood." This power is given to mere men, not because of any innate worthiness that makes them more equal to Christ, but explicitly because Jesus Christ, who commanded, “Do this in memory of me” has chosen it to be so! Christ chose the priest to be the image and the sacrament of His continuing priestly presence in the world. Last week, at the Chrism Mass celebrated in anticipation of Holy Thursday, we priests renewed our solemn promises. Tonight the whole Church joyously affirms the ministerial priesthood and we beg the Lord for more priests to fulfill this work among us.

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Finally, in a few moments, I will take up the sign of the washing of the feet that has become the venerable tradition that conveys priestly service on Holy Thursday. It will be my privilege as bishop and shepherd to wash the feet of some of our Candidates for the Diaconate. This sign of charity and ministry must become, also, a reminder of humility.

During this brief ritual washing we are reminded of the interior change that must take place in us as we approach other people with generosity, respect, and service.

Tonight I invite you to observe this solemn ritual action with a heart that is ready to receive the mandatum novum, the New Commandment, to love one another as Christ has loved us – to serve others in the name of Jesus Christ.

Pray for me that my service as bishop will be honest and authentic: day by day more loving.

Dear friends, I wish you God’s richest blessing in these Holy Days. May we be sustained by the Bread of eternal life as we look with hope to Easter!