Gathering for this mass of Holy Thursday, we join Christians all over the world as we visit the upper room in Jerusalem to remember all that Jesus said and did on the night before He laid down His life for us.
We have listened to the Apostle, St. John, as he shares with us his memories of how that evening began. We have heard again those words in which he begins his account, and which captures the meaning of our celebration tonight:
“Jesus knowing that the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to His Father, having loved those who were in this world, He loved them to the very end. Jesus, knowing that the end had come” – that hour which His whole life had been pointing – it is here!
Tonight, we gather to begin the solemn three days when we remember and re-live the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection. Our Holy Thursday mass is the joyful celebration of the anniversary of the institution of the priesthood, and the anniversary of the institution of the Holy Eucharist.
We thank God this night for the gift of the priesthood where-in Jesus Christ and his love and service are made present through the sacramental life of His church.
Through the sacrament of priesthood, new and eternal life is given in baptism. Sins are forgiven through reconciliation, the sick and the dying are cared for through the anointing of the sick, couples are joined together through the sacrament of marriage, and Jesus Christ becomes personally present – not by a mere symbol, – but truly present in the sacrifice of the mass, and remains present with us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist – the very body, blood, soul and divinity of the Son of God!
Tonight’s ceremony is filled with memories; it is a ceremony flooded
With mysteries; the mystery of the institution of the priesthood, the mystery of the washing of the feet of the apostles, the mystery of the first mass celebrated by Jesus himself , the mystery of the institution of the Eucharist, the mystery of the agony of the lord in the garden of Gethsemane, the mystery of the night of betrayal by judas and the abandonment of Jesus by the Apostles.
This is indeed a night to remember – the Holy Night of the Passover. Jesus and his band of apostles joined 150,000 other pilgrims who had come to the Holy City of Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover – the feast of remembrance of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. A room was readied. Jesus and his Apostles gathered to celebrate the Passover meal. They assembled around the table – Jesus was in the middle, Judas was on his left, John – the youngest – was on his right.
The hour had come – the hour of betrayal. The meal began on a somber tone. Jesus the Lord and Master began to wash the feet of his Apostles. He stooped down like a slave to his master – so that we could touch God Himself. We are in the cenacle this night as we re-live this solemn rite with Jesus and his Apostles.
After Jesus washed his Apostles’ feet, the solemn Passover meal began. Jesus said: “One of you is about to betray me.” Each of the apostles – one after another – responded: “surely it is not I Lord!” Then it came to Judas Iscariot who responded as well: “Surely it is not I Lord!” Peter – who was sitting next to John (on his right) whispered to John and said: “Ask Him who it is!” “The man with whom I dip the morsel is he” Jesus said, and Jesus said to Judas: “What you must do, do quickly”, and Judas went out into the night. It is always night when we turn away from the Lord.
For Judas, only power and success were real and important. Love did not count. 30 pieces of silver were more important than Communion with Jesus – more important than God and His love.
Within the context of the meal, Jesus took the bread and wine and changed the ritual of the Passover meal. “Take this,” He said; “This is My body” (not this is a sign or symbol, but “This is My body which is about to be given up for you.” After the meal, He did the same with the chalice of wine; “This is My blood which is to be poured out for you.” The separate consecrations of His body and blood are a sign of the ripping apart of blood from the body in the death of the cross.
When we participate in the divine mystery of the mass, we not only remember the death of the Lord, but we are mystically put into union with the saving merits of his sacred passion, death and resurrection.
As Jesus is offered to His Father and accepted by Him, we too are offered and found acceptable to the Father through Jesus, in Jesus, and with Jesus. This salvation, which comes to us from Jesus’ cross, becomes a reality only through the sacrifice of the mass: there is no other way! When Jesus instituted the gift of the Holy Eucharist at the first sacrifice of the mass on that first Holy Thursday, all who believed In Jesus as God accepted as truth – the reality of His real presence in the Eucharist.
The Gift of the Eucharist is the heart and soul of our catholic faith. The Gift of the Eucharist was promised by Jesus after he fed 25,000 people in the desert with two fish and fives barley loaves. He said: “I am the bread of life. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood will have life in him!” This teaching on the real presence was never questioned until the protestant reformation in the 15th century.
After the meal, Jesus and the apostles went out across the Kedron Valley to the Mount of Olives. It was there that Jesus went into agony and suffering. He saw – as God the burden of all sin: He saw the sins of the past, He saw the sins of the present, He saw the sins of the future, He saw my sins and he saw your sins.
He stretched – out on the ground agony and took upon Himself all the pain, all the suffering, all the sin, all the ingratitude, all the hatred, all the gluttony, all the adultery, all the murders. And He placed this flood of evil and suffering on His shoulders and He was crushed under their weight as a wine – press crushes grapes until His blood began to seep from the sweat glands of His body. He cried out to his father: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by; but not as I will – Your will be done!”
And the apostles slept. But Jesus didn’t sleep that night. He was betrayed by Judas’ kiss and was dragged before Annas, Caiaphas and the whole Sanhedrin.
“I order you – under oath – before the living God – are you the Messiah, the Son of the living God?”
“He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? What is your verdict?” And they – we – all cried out: “Crucify Him! Crucify him!”
It was the Feast of the Passover, and an innocent lamb (as the old testament prophets foretold) was led to slaughter on the Altar of the Cross for the redemption of the world. Thirty pieces of silver for a crown of twisted thorns! Thirty pieces of silver for thirty lashes of a whip! Thirty pieces of silver for five bloody wounds! Thirty pieces of silver for death – bed of the cross!