Thursday, April 05, 2012



To-day the Catholic Church disturbs the pattern of her daily worship throughout the year, as she will do again tomorrow, on Good Friday, and again on Easter Saturday. For on these three sacred days, there is no morning Mass in her churches around the world.Why is it so?

On these three sacred days, in order to arrest and focus the attention of the faithful on the truly remarkable events they commemorate, the liturgy of the day is celebrated at or about the time of day that the original great events took place, and in the case of Easter Saturday, it is the evening Vigil Mass of Easter Sunday- the glorious Feast of the Resurrection.

To-day, Holy Thursday, we celebrate the Last Supper of Our Lord Jesus Christ with His disciples at which he shaped the future of salvation history. For at the Last Supper, he instituted the Blessed Eucharist and to ensure that it would continue to be available throughout history, He established the Priesthood of His Church so that each Priest would act "in Persona Christi".


In the second part of his invaluable book "JESUS OF NAZARETH" Pope Benedict XVI has applied his great scholarship in Theology and Sacred Scripture, to deepen our understanding of the events of Holy Week and for our purposes here, we shall concentrate on his examination of the High Priestly  activity of our Divine Lord at the Last Supper around the institution of the Blessed Eucharist and the Priesthood of His Holy Church.

As background to all of these considerations, we need to reflect on a basic fact so evident in Sacred Scripture: Our Divine Lord as God, of His very Nature acts in unique Truth. He established His Church, not " churches". He gave into her care for the length of human history, the Sacraments which are the channels of His Divine Grace to sustain that Church, which Saint Paul reminds us is Christ's "Mystical Body", until He comes again. Outside the Catholic Church, whether one has drifted away, or been born into, or fallen into some other organization, one is truly separated from the Body of Christ and cut off from the channels of His Grace - alienated from the Saviour - no matter how much you know about Him or profess to love Him or dress up like His Priests, you are in grave trouble.

" If you love Me,keep my commandments." (John 14 :15)

On the night of the Last Supper, the Holy Father reminds us that Jesus was not only following the ritual of the Jewish Day of Atonement - the day on which the High Priest was annually required by Sacred Scripture in the Book of Leviticus to make atonement for his own sins, for the sins of his " house" - the priestly clan - and for the whole people. He did this by sacrificing two goats for a sin offering and a young ram for a burnt offering. On this day and only once, the High Priest alone was able to pronounce in the Holy of Holies the otherwise unutterable Name of God , given to Moses.(And so much misused in American post-Conciliar religious songs- one could hardly call them hymns-until the Holy See explicitly forbade its use in a letter to Bishops on 29th June, 2008).This annual liturgical action at the Temple was seen as restoring the intended harmony between God and His chosen people. So, Jesus, as we will see , was following the precepts of the Law to fulfill them whilst at the same time instituting the Sacraments of Eucharist and Holy orders that would replace the old Order.


Now, when we examine Jesus' High Priestly prayer at the last Supper we find that it exactly satisfies all the objectives of the prayer prescribed in Leviticus : Jesus prays for Himself, for he Apostles and for all who will come to believe in Him through His Church - the new "chosen people". The Theology presented in Saint John is completely convergent with that of Saint Paul in his earlier Letter to the Corinthians (5:20) : " We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. "

But what of the sacrificial offering made by the Jewish High Priest to achieve the Atonement commanded? How was that to be fulfilled and indeed, superseded?

At the very hour when Jesus Christ the new and Eternal High Priest was dying on the Altar of the Cross of Calvary, the Jewish High Priest was sacrificing the Lambs and Ram in the Temple!  Only days before , Jesus had cleansed the Temple of those who abused it's sacred precincts. he thus foreshadowed the purification and reform of the whole relationship between God and man which is achieved in His Divine Person. And now, as he surrendered His very Life on the Cross in expiation for the sins of all mankind, past present and to come, the veil of the Temple , a massive ornate curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the Courts, was miraculously torn from top to bottom! Only God could do that, as the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen reminded us. Thus the old Order was ended.

Already on this Holy Thursday evening, Jesus had prefigured His sacrificial death on Mount Calvary, instituting the Blessed Eucharist, giving His Sacred Body and Blood to His Apostles and conferring on them the fullness of His Priesthood: " Do this in memory of Me" The next day, at the conclusion of His Passion after quoting from the Cross the words of Psalm 22:1 "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabacthani? That is :"My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" -  a passage regarded as Prophetic of the Messiah, Jesus shortly after gave up His Life and died.The great Atonement had been effected. The Sacred Scriptures had been, not abolished, but Fulfilled.


And everything about His life seemed to the Jews to be ruined and destroyed. Yet in His Divine Wisdom, he had prepared all that was necessary to ensure the salvation of the world. What seemed a sorry end, was only prelude to a brilliant and more glorious dawn than anyone but God could have imagined. It is just those preparations that we will celebrate in this evening's Sacred Liturgy. The Catholic Priesthood and the Blessed Eucharist it bears to us each day are at the very heart of God's plan for the salvation of the world. What a cause for celebration ! And what sweet sorrow and devotion as at the end of the Liturgy the Blessed Sacrament is borne away in solemn Procession to the Altar of Repose to the strains of St.Thomas Aquinas'  wonderful hymn " Pangea Lingua" which will echo in our minds and hearts as we return to our homes, thinking of the Lord's appalling suffering for our sins through that long night and into that terrible Friday, that would literally shake the Earth, and which, because of Our Salvation, we call "Good".


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