Jesus Institutes the Priesthood and Holy Eucharist
Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper
Ex. 12:1-8, 11-14; Ps. 116; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Jn. 13:1-15
(Audio recorded live, 6 April 2023)
With this Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we begin the most sacred time of the year, the Holy Triduum. The word triduum comes from the Latin tri meaning “three” and dia meaning “day.” These three days focus us on Holy Thursday, the night of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, and Easter Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. Tonight, we focus intently on the Lord’s Supper, which is the night Jesus instituted both the priestly Order and the Eucharist. The priestly Order is celebrated particularly during the Chrism Mass, which in the Diocese of Trenton is celebrated on Monday of Holy Week. At that Mass, all the priests of the diocese gather around their bishop to concelebrate in a spirit of fraternity, solidarity, and service to Almighty God and the people. During the Mass, our bishop told us that the sacred oils we receive are fundamental to all that we do as priests. These oils are used in baptizing, protecting, confirming, consecrating, and healing the people of God. And together, we priests work to perpetuate the ongoing reality that Jesus gave us the night of the Lord’s Supper, when he entrusted the disciples with the Eucharist, saying, “Do this in memory of me.”
For nearly two thousand years, the Catholic Church has performed this integral work of ministering to the people by ensuring what Jesus gave the apostles in the upper room would be carried on throughout the world. That work of service also extends to the many other duties entrusted to the priest, namely, a life of prayer, works of charity and self-giving, teaching, sanctifying, and governing. The priesthood is indeed a share in the same mission of Christ, who is Priest, Prophet, and King, with the added responsibility, as Jesus says to St. Peter, to “feed my sheep.”
Jesus entrusted Peter and the apostles with the care of his flock, which continues to this day in parishes throughout the world. What began with a single act by our Blessed Lord in the upper room, continues as the recreation of the one sacrifice of Jesus at every Mass celebrated throughout the Church. And while tonight there will be no foot washing, there is much that can be said for the example Jesus gives us in the gospel. Jesus rose from supper and took off his outer garments. Then he took a towel and tied it around his waist, poured water into a basin and began washing his disciples’ feet. So much of what is going on in this passage is steeped in the culture of the Israelite people. The master was never to do the waiting. It was as if Jesus was belittling himself in the eyes of his closest disciples. That is why Peter rejects the idea that his beloved master would wash his feet. That was the job of a slave. Yet, Jesus says, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” What he was doing was showing them how to lead by example. He has also said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’; but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant” (Lk. 22:25-26). Jesus models for them all the type of priesthood he has instituted, a priesthood that is focused on service to others. This service, of course has many forms as I mentioned earlier, but comes to us primarily through the Holy Eucharist.
The priest is not his own. He has been called out of the world to be the light of Christ for others. And at the center of that priestly life, that priestly identity, is the sacrifice of Jesus. Just as Jesus models for his disciples how they should carry out his priesthood, so too does the priest look to the master’s own example.
And so, Fr. Bambrick, as we turn to the celebration of Holy Eucharist, where we priests continue to accomplish what we have been ordained to do, may the Lord, who began this good work in us of charity, fraternity, and service to God’s holy people, carry it to completion. And may we be so inspired, by the help of God’s grace, to give every flock in our midst a shepherd’s care, by nourishing them with the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Blessed Lord, the Source and Summit of our Christian life.
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