The Sacred Triduum begins today; three days connected to the death and resurrection of Christ. On this day we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Thursday. We remember the Last Supper, and when Jesus was arrested, with his path now evident. Many of his disciples would abandon him. Part of the problem, and not an unreasonable issue, was that his followers wanted Continue reading
Today we celebrate Holy Thursday and we remember the martyrdom of Blessed Oscar Romero. ¡Presente! – this is a term is meant to say that they who once were are with us now. So it is with Christ our Savior and with all those who have gone before us.
Let us look at the words found in one of the Eucharistic Prayers that are used at mass in the Catholic church. They speak to what we do on Holy Thursday, and what we do every time we celebrate liturgy.
He always loved those who were his own in the world. When the time came for him to be glorified by you, his heavenly Father, he showed the depth of his love.
While they were at supper, he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take this, all of you, and eat it:
this is my body which will be given up for you.
In the same way, he took the cup, filled with wine. He gave you thanks, and giving the cup to his disciples, said:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.
“Take this,” Jesus said, “all of you, and eat it.” These words are powerful, a reminder of the real presence we know today. Christ made real and present, as Flannery O’Connor once famously said, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” That’s why on Holy Thursday, punctuated this year by the anniversary of Blessed Oscar Romero’s death, the real should be very clear to us. Things were very real for Romero as he was martyred while offering mass in El Salvador on this day in 1984. Make no mistake, we do not need martyrs for any
“real” to happen.
Today let us live deeply the meaning of eucharist, which is rooted in eucharistia, or thanksgiving. Let us live deeply that thanksgiving for the life of Christ, the lives of the saints and martyrs, meaning those known to us, and those unknown. Many an unnamed saint is an anonymous person to the world, but a treasure to God. Everything we do is very real, may the real presence of Jesus nourish us all, and give us strength.
(If you are in the Albany, NY area please join us for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Roman Catholic Community of St. Edward the Confessor in Clifton Park at 7:30pm. All are truly welcome.)
Well, why do we kill one another? The Fifth Commandment states: “You shall not kill.” This seems very clear, but as human beings we seem to find numerous ways to rationalize a great deal of killing, and even more ways of denial when it comes to deaths we might be able to prevent. Consider how poverty, hunger, drugs, lack of medical care, human trafficking, the death penalty, torture, and war are the tip of the iceberg.
We kill one another all the time, and seemingly with great ease. A few things that come to mind are the great bargains on the clothes we like to wear, getting good prices on flights, putting out-of-season produce on our tables, shaking our heads – whether with Continue reading
Have you ever gotten a pedicure on or near Holy Thursday because you knew that your feet would be washed at the Mass of the Lord’s Passion? Yes people, it is true, vanity reigned, and I made sure that my feet would look OK before I let someone wash them at church.
Yes, I know… when you do it, it’s one thing, and when you write about it or read about it, it is another thing. Did you hear me Continue reading
Quote of the Day calls for a rare second post of the day.
From The Tablet, where Robert Mickens writes about Pope Francis’ visit to a detention facility for Holy Thursday:
A young man who spoke on behalf of the residents said, “We only want to know one thing: why did the pope want to come visit us?” Pope Francis said it was a “sentiment of his heart” and something that would help him “more to be humble”. Then he added: “Things of the heart have no explanation!”
“Things of the heart have no explanation!” How true is that?
Oh, those special, special dishes, the fine china. You know, the kind that only comes out on special occasions, right? If you happen to own some Royal Copenhagen china, you know about the special. You see, this Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica is the world’s most expensive china, with one place setting costing almost $7000! If I had that china, I would be afraid to touch it, let alone use it!
Recently I heard Gregory Boyle SJ, a Jesuit priest renown for his work with gang members in Los Angeles at Homeboy Industries; he was being interviewed by Krista Tippett for her radio program, On Being. (Here is a link to the page for that program and the podcast.) Fr. Greg was talking about some of his “homies,” as he calls them, having a meal together. Seven former gang rivals, sitting around a one kitchen, watching a turkey cook on Christmas (yes, I know – wrong holiday!), that they could share. And you can be assured that there was no Flora Danica in that household! Who knows, they might have eaten off of mismatched cheap dishes, or even paper plates. Yet, the meal they shared was very sacred.
This absurd pairing of opposites such as $7000 for one place setting, and a bunch of reformed gang members eating turkey together, reminded me of what we are doing as we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. The sacred or sacri, and the ordinary, or vulgarem. Just hearing the Latin word for ordinary makes me recoil. But why? Are sacred and ordinary simply opposites that are mutually exclusive?
I was thinking about this most precious of all meals, the most special, and the most sacred meal of the sacri panis, or sacred bread that is the Body of Christ that we partake of at Eucharist. Something else that Fr. Boyle said was on my mind as I pondered. He was discussing that turkey dinner when he said:
“… I think we’re afraid of the incarnation and part of it, the fear that drives us is that we have to have our sacred in a certain way. It has to be gold-plated and cost of millions and cast of thousands or something, I don’t know. So we’ve wrestled the cup out of Jesus’ hand and we’ve replaced it with a chalice because who doesn’t know that a chalice is more sacred than a cup, never mind that Jesus didn’t use a chalice?
So what could be more sacred than seven orphans, enemies, rivals, sitting in a kitchen waiting for a turkey to be done? Jesus doesn’t lose any sleep that we will forget that the Eucharist is sacred. He is anxious that we might forget that it’s ordinary, that it’s a meal shared among friends. And that’s the incarnation, I think.”
I’m not sure if Jesus loses any sleep or not, and I do believe that the Eucharist is absolutely sacred. And I also believe that if we decouple the sacred from the ordinary entirely, what we end up with is Flora Danica china, to be used, if we are rich enough to have it, maybe once a year.
What we find in this mass that recalls the institution of the Eucharist, is something supremely sacred… and remarkably ordinary. In John’s Gospel that we hear on Thursday night, we hear about a Jesus who knew that things were going to happen. He was aware. Jesus, fully divine.
What we also find is tying a towel around his waist, and bending low to wash the feet of his disciples. He was aware. Jesus, fully divine, but also at this moment, fully human.
Sacri. Vulgarem. Sacred. Ordinary.
At the end of the footwashing, when Jesus is dressed again, and reclining at table, he reminds the apostles that:
“Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
So what are we to do? Fall down to worship Jesus? Remember his holiness and his might and power? Or do we serve him by serving others?
Perhaps it is important to pause here and consider three things…
First of all, let us consider Jesus as sacred. Lord of Lord, King of Kings. He is our everything, our Alpha and our Omega. He is the Lord on High, without equal, Jesus Christ is God. And God is very sacred.
When we think of God, of Jesus, as our King, however, we might we well reminded that this is not the kingship of any earthly monarchy, as we know it, but something new and different. Our reverence to God is essential; how we express that may not be the same cowering homage that earthly monarchs demand.
Power can be wielded as a force that cripples, or as a force that serves. In the case of Jesus, with his towel around his waist, this force is powerful; it is love in action.
What is the Eucharist if not love in action?
Two – we might want to spend some time with ordinary Jesus. This Lord and King who gets down on his hands and knees to wash our filthy feet. At this time, he is a man, and a most remarkable one. He comes to clean our feet.
Have you ever had your feet washed on Holy Thursday? This is no trip to the manicure/pedicure salon, I can assure you. While it can be a very nice thing, the pedicure is very ordinary – or vulgarem. Foot washing on Holy Thursday is the opposite – it is sacred.
I can recall many instances of getting my feet washed on Holy Thursday where I felt uncomfortable and disarmed in ways I still have trouble describing. It brought to mind memories to mind of extravagant gifts of kindness received from others. The kind of gifts that on the surface prompt us to want to “make good,” and repay in some fashion.
Yet, our fully human Jesus, who has offered this gift, asks us to mirror both his humanity and divinity, by not simply returning it to him as obsequious homage, but by living in the same way. Jesus is not looking for ordinary – or vulgarem – repayment.
Third, we are offered chance to reflect on how lopsided our love of Christ can be; too focused on service alone, and not enough intimate contact with Jesus. Conversely we can spend too much time on our knees and not enough time being kind to one another.
How do we respond, living in the holy tension of service and love, love and service? If we do not worship Christ in our hearts, if we do not receive him in the Sacred Bread that is Eucharist, how are we fed for the journey?
It is this mix of sacred and ordinary, contemplative and active, the reception of gift balanced by the giving of gift, which is the challenge of this night -and of our Christian lives. Referring back to what I said above about repayment, Jesus is not seeking this. No, we are to be transformed in a most sacred manner, and then to go transform others, as we are continually retransformed ourselves.
This bread that we eat, this ordinary bread or vulgarem panem, sacred bread or sacri panem. It is in the intersection of sacred and ordinary that we meet Christ our Lord – and one another. This blog is called “there will be bread,” for a reason… a very important reason.
Please, let us eat together, living in love and service, in ways that are completely ordinary, and always very sacred. Sacred and ordinary are not mutually exclusive, but that are all about mutuality, as Jesus models for us.
Please, let us eat together, not just on this special and sacred night, but for every ordinary day, sharing our vulgarem panem, our sacri panis, and our lives.