Maundy Thursday 2017
Homily for Maundy Thursday (13th April 2017) given by Fr Prior in the Abbey Church. Readings from Year A: Exodus 12:1-8,11-14; Psalm 115; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
(Image: detail from Tintoretto's La lavanda dei piedi - click here for full image and more details)
Someone helpfully pointed out to me that Maundy Thursday is very unusual in that the rubrics today tell the homilist what he should do; and that is that he should explain the principal mysteries which are commemorated in this Mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ’s commandment of brotherly love.
Well, that is quite a task, and I want to situate it in the context of the Chrism Mass that our Bishop celebrated at the Cathedral earlier this week. It was at that Mass that the Holy Oils were consecrated: oils for use in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, ordination and the anointing of the sick. Large jugs of these oils were blessed, and then divided between each of the churches in the diocese. At the Preparation of the Gifts, these oils will be brought up in procession this evening. And they will be used in the sacramental celebrations here this year.
At that Mass in the Cathedral we heard the reading about Jesus entering the synagogue at Nazareth, being handed the scroll of the prophet, and reading from Isaiah 61: 'the spirit of the Lord has been given to me; he has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the poor', and so on. Then in that moment of solemn quiet and expectancy that followed his reading, Jesus himself proclaimed solemnly that this text is being fulfilled today, even as you listen.
What does that word “Today” mean in the scriptures? It does not simply mean Thursday 13th April 2017. It goes beyond the straightforward meaning of the word. Today means that God is working: the reign of God has broken in to our time. In the Old Testament we heard: O that Today you would listen to his voice – harden not your hearts. And later we will hear: Today salvation has come to this house.
When those oils are brought in procession, I ask you to pray for all those who will receive the sacraments this year: babies and older people who will be baptised; students in the school and others who will be confirmed; Br Ambrose who will be ordained priest; sick and elderly people who will be anointed. In each case when those oils are used it will be a special time, a “Today” a day of salvation, a day when God has taken the initiative and called and consecrated the person being anointed.
And pray that others will hear Christ’s call in the future, his call to faith, his call to perseverance and his call to priesthood – for without priests there can be no Mass. So pray also for those who are deprived of the sacraments for whatever reason, confident that God will always find a way to bless them and strengthen them.
'All the sacraments make the “Today” of God present to those who receive them... the Today of God breaks into our world..'
All the sacraments make the “Today” of God present to those who receive them. Not just baptism, confirmation, ordination and the anointing of the sick, but also the other three sacraments: Eucharist, penance and marriage. In each case it is as though time stands still: those events are when the “Today” of God breaks into our world. In the Eucharist, for example, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, the sacrificial offering by which the new covenant is established. This happens at every Mass – each time we celebrate, we unite ourselves more closely to the Lamb of God, and he comes to help us with his grace. It is Today that this happens, every day.
We heard in the second reading the earliest account of the celebration of the Eucharist, written before any of the Gospel accounts. St Paul is writing to the Corinthians, to remind them what he had taught them, and that was the ritual which he had himself been taught. Even at this early date in the Church, the Eucharist, the Mass was traditional: the central act of worship. It was the principal way in which God fed his people, formed them into a community and sent them out to evangelise.
'Every time a sacrament is celebrated it is done in union with the whole Church and sanctifies not just the congregation present that day, but blesses the whole Church...'
Every time a sacrament is celebrated it is done in union with the whole Church and sanctifies not just the congregation present that day, but blesses the whole Church. Mass here tonight is celebrated in union with the church throughout the world and contributes to the holiness of the Church everywhere. Every sacrament is an action of Christ, and we are his body. When the priest says over the bread, “This is my body” he is speaking in the name of Christ. When he absolves you in confession, he says “I absolve you”, but no-one wants Fr Terence’s absolution. What good is that? It is Christ’s that we need. What then is the priest’s role? The priesthood is an office of service – of service to the Church, expressed in the people, but much more importantly, of service to Christ our Lord himself.
Jesus set us the example and the standard. Washing the feet of his disciples – what more powerful sign or example could there be? It is a simple act, but a powerful sign. Yes, it is to remind the priest how he should act, but it also speaks to everyone: in Christ’s kingdom, authority does not mean domination, or tyranny, but service. So in the same way, a parent should serve, a teacher should serve, and an employer should serve. Authority is not a matter of power but it must be based on love.
So this evening we commemorate in this solemn Mass the first Mass, the beginnings of the Christian priesthood, and the example the Lord left us as to how we are to treat our fellow human beings. May the Lord continue to bless this monastery and all our guests. And may he bless the Pope and our Bishop, indeed the whole world-wide Church.