It has been observed that Holy Thursday was one of the best days in the Church’s history and one of the worst. The Liturgy of this day has always been ambivalent in the Roman tradition: while the vestments are white; the Crucifix and sacred images remain veiled and no alleluias are sung and the altar is stripped of its cloths and the Blessed Sacrament is housed in a temporary abode.
One of the best days in that during this evening the Old Testament Passover is fulfilled by the New Passover. The astounding gift of the Lord’s abiding presence in the Most Holy Eucharist is instituted and the Sacred Priesthood begun that will renew upon countless altars until the end of time that Paschal Sacrifice of the Dying and Rising of Christ so that He may enter the hearts of the Faithful and abide amongst us until He comes again in glory. The kenosis or emptying out of the Lord’s Eternal Glory is symbolized by the touching ceremony of the Mandatum or foot-washing.
One the worst in that by its end all but one of His new priests have either fled into hiding or denied Him before slaves and little girls, and another is swinging from a rope in suicide. The Lord Himself sweats blood while his closest three Apostles sleep or ineptly and foolishly thrash about with swords.
Fine way to end a day!
The figure of Judas figures prominently in the Gospel texts today as much as anyone.
The amazing thing, if I may put it so boldly, is that the Lord allowed this to happen. If I were in charge I’d make other arrangements; surely find some better human material than this bunch of so-called disciples!
But then again, I AM one of those disciples.
It was to just such as me that Jesus entrusted His Body and Blood, and His flock.
It was people like you and me that He calls to “keep watch” with Him.
He didn’t decide to go with “the best and the brightest” as the world’s standard would define them.
Peter “following at a distance”, the others all fleeing, Judas’ despair, John’s sympathy are played out in every age of the Church and in every age of the priesthood and discipleship.
I remember listening to an aria from a cantata on the Passion where the soloist sings of Peter’s denials and cowardice, and then asked: “And how many times has the cock crowed since you met Him?”
I remember too the story of the genially humorous but burningly zealous St. Philip Neri (1515-1591) saying every morning in his prayers “Lord, keep your eye on Philip today, for today Philip might betray thee.”
Yet the Lord hasn’t ceased giving Himself sacramentally and figuratively into our hands for two millennia, and He won’t stop till the last day of the world’s existence.
Let us give thanks, Eucaristia, literally Eucharist in Greek for both His Sacramental Real Presence and His priesthood conveyed to men, so often feeble or unworthy, and the fact that He still stays with us here on earth.
Let us stay with Him.
Holy Thursday, April 21, 2011