|The Altar of Reposition At St. Mary Star of the Sea, Beverly|
The Mass of Holy Thursday is distinguished by a quiet intimacy and a sober beauty. In the tranquility of the Upper Room, Jesus provides a profound moment of friendship with his “chosen ones,” the Apostles. Soon, however, the stillness of this night will be shattered with the sudden appearance of armed soldiers entering the Garden of Gethsemane. From then on, the noise shall become inhuman and seemingly unbearable. The sound of a friend’s voice betraying him, the clanking of chains, the mocking cackles of the soldiers, the lash of whips striking the flesh of Christ, the shouts of the mobs, the wails of the women, the insistent denials of Peter, the panicky political maneuverings of Pilate, the sound of nails being driven violently through bone and flesh.
The natural human reaction to this overwhelming noise of inhuman suffering is to run from it, to turn away and not face it; to pretend that it is not our concern. These sounds, however, are very much our concern for they are the sounds of our sinfulness. The chains, the mocking, the denials, the beatings, the nails—these are the sounds of our sins. We want to turn away from these things because they are too difficult to hear. We turn away either because we are overwhelmed with sorrow for our culpability or because we are duped into denying our culpability. Tomorrow, our temptation will indeed be to distance ourselves from the agony of the Cross, to turn away from it, to sanitize it. If we remain mere spectators of the Cross, then there will always be a distance between us and Christ. But, Jesus does not want this distance. He wants us to be with him tomorrow. He wants us to be in union with him. He wants us to stand with him tomorrow as his heart is pierced, as did Mary and the Beloved Disciple, John.
What will make us able to stand at the Foot of the Cross and look upon the pierced Savior? St. John the Evangelist tells us tonight. “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” In the Upper Room, Jesus already pours out his heart in love. He bestows upon those whom he loves a new capacity; the capacity of supernatural love. In the Upper Room, Christ gives His Heart. “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.”
Sharers in the Divine Love. No longer spectators, we are drawn into the Sacred Mysteries because in the Upper Room, the Heart of Christ pours forth Divine Love. Because of what happens in the Upper Room, we no longer experience the Passion and Death of the Lord as mere observers. We experience this Passion and Death in union with Christ. We experience it from the inside. How does this happen? In three ways that are really but one way.
In bestowing upon the Church the gift of the Priesthood, Christ ensures that the Sacrifice of Calvary—the sacrifice of total and complete love—is made present in every age. When the priest offers the Mass, he makes present the Divine Love; the Love that saves the world. The priest makes it possible for us to enter into the Saving Mysteries. The priesthood is not a profession whose necessity will someday become obsolete. For there is only one Sacrifice that saves the world. That Sacrifice, offered once and for all on Calvary, is made present in every Mass. The priest perpetuates that Sacrifice and makes us able to enter into it—not as bystanders, but in union with Christ. When the priest says, “This is My Body . . . this is My Blood,” he makes present on the Altar the very same love that was present on Calvary. The priesthood flows from the heart of Christ, who loves those who are his own in the world and he loves them to the end.
Secondly, in the Eucharist—given in the Upper Room—Christ communicates to his Apostles (and through their ministry, to us) everything that He himself is. The Eucharist is God and God is Love. When Christ gives to us his Body and Blood, he communicates to us his very self, pouring into our hearts the content of His own Sacred Heart. The priest offers the Sacrifice. The Body and Blood of Christ are made present and given to the Faithful. In this way, the Faithful are made one with Christ. His image comes to perfection within them. The Eucharist is God. God is Love. Ubi Caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Where Charity and Love are found, there is God. These words are most true in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist is found the totality of Charity and Love. Yes, where Charity and Love are—there is God.
At the end of Mass tonight, we will carry in solemn procession the Eucharistic Lord. In doing so, we testify to the centrality of Divine Love in the life of our Faith. We carefully reverence, protect, and adore the Holy Eucharist. On the night when the body of our Lord was carried away in chains, we carry him in love. In a sense, the soldiers were too late. They come to take away the Lord—to separate Jesus from those whom he loves. But they were too late; for he had already given to his Church the Eucharist. He loves those who are his own in the world. And he loves them to the end.
Thirdly, in the Upper Room, we are given a new commandment. Having washed the feet of the Twelve Apostles, Jesus gives to them the commandment of love. This commandment is not some external law for us to follow. It is not something imposed from outside of our selves. This commandment is inseparable from the love that has been poured into our hearts. When he says, “What I have done, so you must do,” what does that mean? Is it simply that the Lord wants us to wash each other’s feet? Is it simply that the Lord wants us to serve others? No, it is much more than that. What exactly has he done that he wants us to imitate?
He has loved us with Divine Love. He has poured himself out completely, even unto death. He has loved us and kept nothing from us. He has poured into our hearts the totality of himself. God is Love. Love is what Christ gives to us in the Upper Room and love is what makes us able to stay with Christ amidst the Agony of Good Friday.
As we well know, all the apostles save John the Evangelist would abandon Christ once the external noises of terror began. So too in our life, if we live our Christianity simply from the outside, then we too will be swayed and terrified when we are surrounded by terror on every side. This is why Christ gives us Holy Thursday. On this night, Christ gives to us His Heart. He gives to us the capacity to live Good Friday with His own Heart. This is the grace of union. We are made sharers in the Divine Love. We live all things differently now because we live them through the Heart of Christ, with the Heart of Christ, and in the Heart of Christ.
Jesus loves his own in the world and he loves them to the end. Tonight, we remain united with all those whom we love. We bow in humble adoration of the Love that has been poured into our hearts; a love that makes us new creations; a love that unites us to Christ; a love that makes us able to love with the Divine Love; a love that allows us to love . . . to the very end.