Ampleforth Abbey

24 February 2018


Homily preached at the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, Thursday 17th April 2014, by Abbot Cuthbert Madden.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, we are just beginning our journey through the events which led to our salvation. These events are so densely packed together that Holy Mother Church has separated them and spread them ove

r three days in order that we might have time to absorb the meaning of the mystery placed before us. Tonight we call to mind the institution of the Lord’s Supper – but we must take care not to divorce it from the Passion and Death of the Lord which we will celebrate tomorrow nor from His Resurrection which we will celebrate on Saturday night. The death of the Lord, His resurrection and ascension meant that His Body and Blood would no longer be visible to human eyes and so it was fitting that the Lord should provide for us a visible mystery in which, to the eyes of faith, He remains present among His people so that we can worship the great mystery which gives us life.

This mystery has been celebrated from the most ancient times. It is recalled in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, a letter which antedates the written 

The readings we have heard tell us two other things about the Lord’s offering of Himself in fidelity to the will of His Father.gospels. In meeting together tonight and indeed on every Lord’s day we do the same things that faithful Christians have done in every age. Indeed, where we find believers coming together to listen to the Gospel, to recall the Lord’s death and resurrection, to receive his Body and his Blood in the forms of bread and wine; there we find the Church. For the Church is built by the Lord, not by human hands; and it is the lives of faithful Christians which give him praise, not the edifices which they construct which so often can be tainted by unworthy motives.

First they tell us that the Covenant which Christ made with his disciples is the fulfilment of the Covenant made with Moses. The Covenant with Israel at the time of Moses, made when the Lord’s beloved Jewish people were about to leave Egypt, the house of slavery, and make their way to Israel, the promised land, was a covenant of salvation made in unleavened bread and in the blood of the slaughtered Lamb. It was a covenant repeated year after year in the celebration of the Passover by which faithful Jews were incorporated into that saving event. Christ’s New Covenant fulfilled that ancient covenant and replaced it. The sacrifice of Christ reconciled all mankind, in every age, to the Father. It needs no repetition. Our celebration today makes present for us that one sacrifice of Christ and allows us to share in it. By Baptism we are incorporated into the Body of Christ; in the Eucharist we receive his Body and Blood so that we become ever more completely identified with the Christ who has delivered us from our slavery to sin and freed us from the bonds of death, so that we may make our way into the Promised Land of Eternal Life in the presence of his Father. Tonight, then, we begin the celebration of our own Christian Passover from death to Life.

Secondly the Gospel tells us something about the effect of being incorporated into Christ. This incorporation into Christ is not simply a spiritual reality in the sense that it cannot be seen and does not change our day to day life. The eternal Son of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, did not come to our earth as a merely spiritual reality. No, the eternal Son took human flesh from the Virgin Mary and became in very truth a human being like ourselves in all things but sin. In Christ humanity was restored to the nobility that flesh had at the creation. Our redeemed humanity is now capable of living as the Father would have us live – and Christ himself, on the eve of His Passion demonstrated for us what this means. He humbled himself and took the place of a household slave. He undertook the most menial of tasks. He washed the dirty, battered, smelly feet of his disciples; in them he washed the feet of all mankind – and He tells us that we should do the same. We show our union with Him by caring for our brothers and sisters, by undertaking the simple tasks which make life more bearable. He commands us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves and so we are expected to feed the hungry, to care for those who are sick or dying, to bury the dead. He expects us to build up peace and justice founded on the bedrock of the commandments of God. He expects us to educate those who are ignorant. Our lives must change, change radically. We must cease to self-centred and replace our self-interestedness with the example which he gave us.

We are told that Gandhi said that the Gospel had not failed, rather it had never been tried. On this Maundy Thursday, as we recall the Last Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us commit ourselves at the very least to the task of living some small part of the Gospel in the years that lie ahead of us.