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Friday, April 22, 2011

The Last Supper and the Power of Humility...

Probably my favorite Mass of the year is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper Liturgy on Holy Thursday.

The Last Supper by Andrea del Sarto
The night is significant for most Christians, since it is the beginning of the Paschal Mystery, better known as the Passion of Christ, but for Roman Catholics, it has an even deeper meaning. On Holy Thursday, Catholics commemorate Jesus’ Institution of the Blessed Sacrament (the Eucharist), or the changing of bread and wine into His Body and Blood, and the establishment of the priesthood (Holy Orders), among His Apostles, to perpetuate the Eucharistic miracle by following His command to “Do this in memory of me.”

Therefore, in most Catholic parishes, Holy Thursday is celebrated with all the pomp and circumstance the occasion calls for. At our parish, that meant a procession of our two current priests and three deacons, a large delegation of Eucharist Ministers, altar-servers and lectors, the full adult choir, incense, candles, and the church brimming to the rafters with faithful.  Aside from Easter Sunday, Christmas and certain Holy Days of Obligation, I believe Holy Thursday is probably the best attended Mass of the liturgical calendar.

Adding to the special sense of the night, because of the recent retirement of our pastor, Miami Auxiliary Bishop Felipe Estevez, a direct descendant of the Apostles, through apostolic succession, by the laying of hands from the first century all the way until today, is temporarily serving as our pastor and celebrated the Mass. 

In his homily on the thirteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, where Jesus washes His Disciples’ feet, the Bishop commented on how Jesus’ Love for His Apostles was so great that He willingly humbled Himself to perform the work most commonly associated to be done by slaves, to teach them a powerful lesson on humility and what they ought to be doing for one another after He was gone. Peter balked at Jesus' attempt to wash his feet, as Bishop Estevez pointed out, you could imagine that the first of the Apostles was a bit insulted by the Messiah degrading himself this way. It is, the Bishop said, similar to something many of us experience when we feel unworthy or reject God’s cleansing.

After the homily, comes the traditional Last Supper recreation of the washing of the feet. I have to say, it is one thing to see our parish priests following the example of the Lord by washing the feet of twelve pre-selected parishioners, representing different ministries and aspects of our parish community. It was even more powerful to see Bishop Estevez, humbling himself on his hands and knees, and washing the feet of people he never met before.

At the end of the nearly two hour Liturgy, the Blessed Sacrament is processed around the church, while my men’s group lined up with candles on either side of the aisles during the solemn walk, that only included the choir and Carmelite nuns singing, while the entire congregation kneeled respectfully, until He was placed into a tabernacle near the front of the church for Adoration.

Only the Perfect Love of a God that took on Flesh and was willing to humiliate Himself before His Apostles and then before His followers, persecutors and executioners at Golgotha, would also be willing to decrease and offer His Flesh, in the appearance of a small piece of bread, in order to feed us His Eternal Life from within.  That is the most powerful show of humility...

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