Friday, March 25, 2016

Homily for Holy Thursday

Homily for
Holy Thursday
March 24, 2016
Provincial House, New Rochelle

“He is the true and eternal Priest, who instituted the pattern of an everlasting sacrifice and was the first to offer himself as the saving Victim” (Preface).
The Last Supper (Tintoretto)
We’ve heard many times that today we celebrate the institution of 3 mysteries:  the Eucharist, the Christian priesthood, and the commandment of love.  The Preface of the Mass touches on all 3.

Christ “is the true and eternal Priest.”  Under the Old Law, Aaron and his male descendants were priests and offered sacrifices of various kinds every day on behalf of the people.  Those sacrifices were limited in that they were for the benefit only of the Jews—whether they were thanksgivings, atonement, worship, or intercessory sacrifices.  They were limited in time, needing to be repeated over and over, daily and seasonally.  Jesus Christ, who was not descended from Aaron, not in the legal sense anyway—he may have had Aaronic blood thru Mary, whose kin included Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah (cf. Luke 2:5)—is called the true priest, however.  He is the true priest because, as our reading of Ps 110 says, God his Father designated him as priest of the New Law (v. 4); because he offers a sacrifice that avails for the entire human race and not just for one part of it; because his priestly worship is so perfect, whether it be considered as adoration or thanksgiving or atonement or intercession that it need not be, and cannot be, repeated.

Jesus is the eternal Priest because his priestly service doesn’t end with death.  What began with his earthly ministry continues forever where he reigns in the heavenly court, ever atoning for the sins of mankind, ever interceding with his Father for the graces we need, ever bringing our prayerful thanks and praise to the Father on our behalf, ever uniting humanity to the Blessed Trinity.

Truly Christ is the only priest of the New Law—the true and eternal one.  He does call and privilege men to share in his priesthood, to make his “everlasting sacrifice” always present among us, “to make this offering as his memorial” (Preface).  We celebrate that priestly institution today, simultaneous with the institution of the Eucharist.  But it is always Christ’s priesthood that men exercise, and nothing apart from him.  It is always Christ who consecrates, who pardons, who anoints with the Holy Spirit, who speaks the divine Word thru his time-bound ministers.

He “was the first to offer himself as the saving Victim.”  The 1st reading, from the Exodus story of Passover, shows Christ foreshadowed in the lambs sacrificed so that the Hebrews might be spared, the lambs whose blood marked the Hebrew households for salvation.  But Christ, unlike the lambs, freely offered himself for this role, freely offered the sacrifice of his body and blood on the cross.  Indeed, his sacrifice began well before Calvary, began with the Son’s humbling himself by “taking on the condition of a slave” (Phil 2:7), taking on our human flesh in his incarnation and living among us for more than 30 years.

The blood of the paschal lambs on the door posts and lintels of the Hebrews’ homes marked them to be spared by the angel of death.  The blood of Christ the paschal Lamb, flowing from the wounds of his passion, marks believers for salvation from the more terrible angel of death who would claim not only our bodies but our souls as well.  “As we drink his Blood that was poured out for us, we are washed clean” (Preface), purged of our sins, restored to a healthy relationship with Jesus’ Father.

A window of the provincial house chapel

(formerly in the novitiate at Newton, N.J.)
In Christ’s sacraments “we are washed clean” because they flow from his sacrificed blood:  from his side “blood and water flowed out” (John 19:34).  He washes not our feet but our whole selves, and “whoever has bathed” in him “is clean all over” (John 13:10).  In this washing and in this sacrifice of his body and blood, Christ has “instituted the pattern of an everlasting sacrifice.”  The self-sacrifice of Christ, his “loving of his own to the end” (John 13:1)—which may be translated in either a temporal sense, “till the end of his earthly life,” or in a sense of degree, “to the utmost, as much as can be imagined—Christ has also instituted the pattern of love, of service that his priests are to follow—not only those men consecrated as ministers of the altar, but also all who share in his priesthood more broadly, his priestly people, who share in this sacrifice, who join Jesus in worshiping his Father.

We give thanks tonite for the true and eternal priesthood of Jesus, who makes the saving sacrifice of his own body and blood present to us in the Eucharistic mystery; who continues to save mankind by washing away our sins and incorporating us into his own divine life.

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