Homily – Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper 2014
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” So asks the youngest person at table at the beginning of the Jewish Passover meal. The child continues, “On all other nights we eat bread or matza while on this night we eat only matza. On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables and herbs but on this night we have to eat bitter herbs. On all other nights we do not dip our vegetables in salt water but on this night we dip it twice. On all other nights we eat while sitting upright but on this night we eat reclining.” As the Seder continues, the ritual words and actions answer the youngest’s questions telling the great story of the Passover event in which the Lord delivered the Jewish people from slavery. Yet, there is more than simple story-telling at play here. For those gathered at the table this is a time of encounter with a past salvific event not just in memory but in reality. They are not just participants in a ritual meal event but participants as well in the past historic event of Passover which freed their ancestors from slavery. The ritual act of remembering through word and gesture creates the reality of presence and participation in a salvific event.
This evening you and I gather in this sacred space to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, a celebration alike in many ways to any celebration of the Mass yet different. Perhaps we could call upon the youngest in our midst to pose the questions for us, “Why is this night different from all other nights? Why is our music becoming more solemn and simple as the Mass progresses? Why is the archbishop going to wash the feet of twelve men and women? Why will there be no blessing and dismissal at the end of Mass? Why will we leave this church in procession with the Blessed Sacrament? Why will we sit in adoration keeping silent vigil?”
Why is this night different than any other? The simple answer is that this night begins the annual commemoration of Christ’s paschal mystery – his life, death, and resurrection. While the celebration of the Mass is always a celebration of that salvific truth, this yearly ritual draws us even more deeply into a mystical encounter with that truth. Tonight we stand on the threshold of the Easter Triduum, three days in which through word and gesture we will be not only participants in the sacred actions here in this church but also participants as well in the past salvific events which occurred more than two thousand years ago in Jerusalem. These days are mystical moments of memory and reality.
Our celebrations tonight and tomorrow and Saturday are not intended to be three distinct moments of sacred action, three separate “silos” as you will, standing side-by-side in a field of time, but are, to our benefit and joy, three sacred moments of night, day, and vigil united in celebration and in meaning. One cannot understand the words we have heard tonight – “This is my body that is for you…. This cup is the new covenant in my blood…. Do this in remembrance of me…. As I have done for you so you should do” – unless one stands at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday and in front of the empty tomb at the Easter Vigil. Good Friday points back to Holy Thursday and forward to Easter Saturday and the victory of the empty tomb that we will celebrate on Saturday evening is a victory over the events that we commemorate tonight and will recall tomorrow.
Why is this night different from all other nights? Because on this night we begin our yearly celebration of the Easter mystery, celebrated across three days as one great liturgy of salvation. That is why there is no blessing or dismissal this evening or tomorrow at the end of each ritual; it is only at the end of the Easter Vigil that we receive the blessing and are told to go forth, thus ending this three-day commemoration.
Why is this night different from all other nights? Because tonight we stand on the edge of a great and mystical river of word and ritual and sacred memory and are invited to step off and fall into the currents of prayer, reflection, memory and worship, allowing those currents to take us deeply into a real encounter with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, forming us more deeply into His image and likeness: “Jesus Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age and forever.”