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Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Ultimate Power of Humility...

The Institution of the Eucharist...
As I have written before, probably my favorite Mass of the year is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

The night is significant for most Christians, since it is the beginning of the Passion of Christ, but for Roman Catholics, it takes an even deeper meaning.

On Holy Thursday, the Church commemorates the Institution of the Eucharist (the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the appearance of bread and wine), and of the priesthood, to perpetuate the eternal sacrifice of the Eucharistic meal by following His command of, “Do this in memory of me.”

Therefore, in most Catholic parishes, Holy Thursday is commemorated with all the pomp and circumstance the occasion deserves.

At our parish, that means a procession of our four active priests and four permanent deacons, a large contingency of Eucharist Ministers, altar-servers and lectors, the full adult choir, incense, candles, song and bells, and the church brimming to the rafters with parishioners.

I think, outside of Easter and Christmas, Holy Thursday is probably among the best attended services of the year (even with UM playing in the Sweet 16 the same night!).

Two years ago, when our pastor retired, we had the privilege of having the Bishop of St. Augustine, Felipe Estevez, who, at the time, was still an Auxiliary Bishop in Miami and serving as our interim pastor (not to mention, as Catholics believe, is a direct descendant of the Apostles), celebrate our liturgy on Holy Thursday.

As always, the gospel reading most commonly read during the Mass is from the Gospel of John, where Jesus’ washes the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper to show them the meaning of love, service and humility and encourage them to follow in his example.

During the homily, Bishop Estevez pointed out that, for the Apostles, this submissive gesture transcended any human logic. Keep in mind that the washing of the feet was usually associated with the work of slaves and the lowest of the lowly. Yet, there He was their teacher, who they called “Master” and Lord, and believed to be the Son of God and the Messiah, humbling and degrading himself to wash their feet, which was regarded as the dirtiest part of the human body.

To some, it was downright scandalous. In fact, Peter balked when Jesus went to wash his feet, which is, of course, as the Bishop poignantly observed, how many of us react when we reject the Lord’s cleansing and healing grace because we feel unworthy.

In any case, following the example of Christ, on Holy Thursday, bishops, priests and deacons around the globe traditionally wash the feet of the faithful as part of the commemoration of the Last Supper.

I have to say, it is one thing to see our parish priests following in the footsteps of Jesus and washing the feet of twelve pre-selected parishioners, whom they mostly know. But, it’s by far more resonating to see Bishop Estevez, who is no spring chicken by any means, on his hands and knees and washing the feet of people he never met before.

Making disciples with humility...
I could only imagine what it would be like to have witnessed Pope Francis, who as a Cardinal in Argentina, regularly celebrated the Holy Thursday Mass in prisons, hospitals and hospices, and this year broke the longstanding Church tradition of celebrating the liturgy in one of the many basilicas in Rome, and instead went to a juvenile detention center, washing the feet of twelve troubled teens and young adults; a gesture that the chaplain of Casal del Marmo, Fr. Gaetano Greco, told the Catholic News Agency “will make them see that their lives are not bound by mistake, that forgiveness exists and that they can begin to build their lives again.”

And what greater time to rebuild one’s life than as we commemorate the death and resurrection of the Lord, starting on Holy Thursday, where Christians are called to die with Christ and be renewed in His Resurrection, so as St. Paul writes, it is no longer we that live but Christ that lives within us.

Unfortunately, it is often in the dying that we must rejoice. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say, “Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.”

At the end of the Mass, in many parishes, including mine, a procession with the Blessed Sacrament, the priests, deacons, ministers, altar-servers, choir and the entire church community in tow works its way in and around the church and concludes in the Adoration of the Sacred Host, usually somewhere that can accomodate the large crowd for several hours. 

Only the perfect love of a God that took on flesh and was willing to humiliate Himself before His Apostles, followers, persecutors and executioners, could also be willing to diminish Himself to the point of offering His Body and Blood, in the appearance of bread and wine, to feed His flock and be united with them in the most profound and incarnate way, so as to transform and transmit His life, hence it's no longer them but He that lives within them.  Now, that is the ultimate power of humility…

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