The night of Holy Thursday is full of contrasts. We rejoice that night, truly rejoice, because it is the anniversary of the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The old priesthood of heredity, which was only a shadow of the eternal priesthood to be instituted by the Chief Priest and Victim of every Mass, passed away that night 1,970 years ago. The new and eternal priesthood, instituted to make it possible for us to share in the fruits of Christ's redemptive act which we commemorate in a special way on Good Friday, was conferred on twelve weak vessels of clay. And it is through the successors of those weak vessels of clay that the very Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ is enfleshed anew on the altar of Sacrifice each and every single day.
But our rejoicing during the Mass of Maundy Thursday Supper, though genuine, will be short-lived. Our Lord will be taken from us that night. He began to pass over from His Public Ministry to His Passion that night. He suffered His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane that night, sweating droplets of blood while anticipating the thing that filled His Sacred Humanity with dread: coming into direct contact with the very antithesis of His Divinity, sin. Our Lord was betrayed by one of His chosen twelve that night. He was abandoned by all but one of the remaining eleven that night, with the first pope, Saint Peter, denying He even knew Jesus of Nazareth.
Yes, Our Lord, the new Moses, led the human race out of Egypt on Holy Thursday, out of bondage to sin and to Satan that night. He, the eternal Passover meal of the new and everlasting Covenant, sprinkled the earth with His Most Precious Blood that night as He underwent His agony. The Passover of the Chosen People from Egypt through the Red Sea to the Promised Land was only a foreshadowing of the Exodus which would be led by Our Lord that night, an Exodus which is meant to culminate by our settling in the Promised Land, Heaven, for all eternity.
Moses led an army of Israelites out of Egypt. Jesus was alone that night. Yes, He was alone on that night before He was to be Crucified to pay back the blood-debt that we owe God because of our sins.
Our presence at the Mass of Maundy Thursday this year, 2003, when we don't have to be present is a sign that we want to be led by Our Lord Jesus Christ in the new and everlasting Exodus to His Easter victory. But He wants a lot of people with Him at that Mass which inaugurates the Easter Triduum. He will be pleased by our presence. But He wants us to keep company with Him in His Real Presence that evening--for at least one hour. He wants us to make up for the initial drowsiness of Peter, James and John--and for the many times in our lives when we have been too busy to even notice Him in the Blessed Sacrament. He will give us the opportunity on Holy Thursday to reflect on His love for us--and how each of us have failed to contemplate the depth of His ineffable love.
Our Lord showed us a glimpse of how we are to respond to that love when He washed the feet of His Apostles. Only a servant engaged in such a degrading task at the time Our Lord walked the face of this earth. But He wanted to leave His Public Ministry in the same manner He left His Blessed Mother's virginal and immaculate womb: humbly. The God of Gods, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, washed the feet of His Apostles to teach them that they had to become the servants of all. And He wanted to show them that the dirt of the world, symbolic of sin, would be washed away in the bath of His Most Precious Blood the next day on the Holy Cross.
How much do we love Our Lord? How much do we want to follow Him? How much do we appreciate what He suffered that evening, sufferings we imposed on His physical Body in time then--and continue to impose on His Mystical Body, the Church, today?
Holy Thursday is the time to enter deep into the mystery of God's love. That is the time to realize that we are so special to the Triune God that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man was ready to offer Himself this very night into the hands of His own creatures to die for us! He was willing to answer for every sin committed by every human being who would live from the beginning to the end of time. He was willing to remain silent when being accused of one wild accusation after another because He did not want to betray us!
We betrayed Him that night 1,970 years ago. We betray Him, in little and big ways, today. But we can help to repair the damage of our betrayals this Holy Thursday, April 17th. We can resolve to rejoice in the mystery of the priesthood and the Eucharist. We can resolve to keep company with Him after the last Mass to be offered prior to the Easter Vigil to meditate more fully on how we need His help to live more fully in His image. We can resolve to keep vigil with Him on Holy Thursday as He undergoes His trial, spends time in prison as a common criminal--and is led the next morning, Good Friday, before the Judgment Seat of Pontius Pilate.
Let us let Him wipe the dirt off of our feet in the Sacrament of Penance. And, with Our Lady's prayers, let us be ready to pass over that night--and every day and night of our lives--from death to eternal life by our fidelity to Jesus Christ and His Holy Church.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
To be continued in Good Friday's issue
For Tom's first segment on Passiontide, see Part One
For his second segment for Palm Sunday, see Part Two