Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; I Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15
Homily starter anecdotes: Holy Communion in the ISS: Astronaut Mike Hopkins is one of those selected few. He spent six months on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2013. And though he was thrilled when he was chosen for a space mission, there was one Person he didn’t want to leave behind: Jesus in the Eucharist. Hopkins had been received into the Church less than a year before his launch. After a long wait, he was finally able to receive Our Lord at each Mass. Facing the prospect of being off the planet for half a year, he decided he had to find out if Jesus could travel with him. It turns out he could — and he did. “In 2011, I got assigned to a mission to the International Space Station. I was going to go up and spend six months in space, starting in 2013. So I started asking the question, ‘Is there any chance I can take the Eucharist up with me into space?’ The weekend before I left for Russia — we launch on a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan — I went to Mass one last time, and [the priest with permission from his Bishop] consecrated the wafers into the Body of Christ, and I was able to take the pyx with me. NASA has been great. … They didn’t have any reservations about me taking the Eucharist up or to practicing my Faith on orbit. The Russians were amazing. I went in with all my personal items, and I explained what the pyx was and the meaning of it to me — because for them, they, of course, saw it just as bread, if you will, the wafers — and yet for me [I knew] it was the Body of Christ. And they completely understood and said, “Okay, we’ll estimate it weighs this much, and no problem. You can keep it with you.” All these doors opened up, and I was able to take the Eucharist up — and I was able to have Communion, basically, every week. There were a couple of times when I received Communion on, I’ll say, special occasions: I did two spacewalks; so on the morning of both of those days, when I went out for the spacewalk, I had Communion. It was really helpful for me to know that Jesus was with me when I went out the hatch into the vacuum of space. And then I received my last Communion on my last day on orbit in the “Cupola,” which is this large window that looks down at the Earth, and that was a very special moment before I came home.” (http://frtonyshomilies.com/ ) .
Introduction: On Holy Thursday, we celebrate three anniversaries: 1) the anniversary of the first Holy Mass, 2) the anniversary of the institution of ministerial priesthood in order to perpetuate the Holy Mass, convey God’s forgiveness to repentant sinners and preach the Good News of salvation, 3) the anniversary of the promulgation of Jesus’ new commandment of love: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). Today we remember how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the New Testament Passover. St. Thomas Aquinas, reflecting on this “Last Supper,” Jesus shared with His disciples, concluded that Jesus fulfilled five purposes or desires with this meal: 1) that we not forget Him (Lk 22:19); 2) that He might be our food, our spiritual strength and healing (Jn 6:35,6:51); 3) that by the Eucharist He might become our sacrifice, gain forgiveness of sins for us, and be our peace offering, our gift to the Father (Lk 22:19, Mt 26:27-28); 4) that we might personally experience His deep love for, and presence with, us, and that He might enter into a personal friendship with each believer who accepted His love (Jn 6:36, 6:57); 5) that we might share in His resurrection (Jn 6:51, 6:54). Holy communion is our personal share in the power and glory of the Risen Jesus. According Fr. Gerald Darring, Center for Liturgy, today’s liturgy centers around four meals: the Passover meal eaten by the Israelites as they prepared to depart Egypt; the supper in which Jesus “took bread” and “broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you';” the Eucharistic meal in which we “proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes”; and “the meal we hope to share in your eternal kingdom.”
The origin of the Passover: In its origins, the Jewish Passover was, in fact, a joint celebration of two ancient thanksgiving celebrations. The descendants of Abel, who were shepherds, used to lead their sheep from the winter pastures to the summer pastures after the sacrificial offering to God of a lamb. They called this celebration the “Pass over." The descendants of Cain, who were farmers, held a harvest festival called the Massoth in which they offered unleavened bread to God as an act of thanksgiving. The Passover feast of the Israelites (Exodus 12:26-37), was a harmonious combination of these two ancient feasts of thanksgiving, commanded by the Lord God and celebrated yearly by all Israelites to thank God for the miraculous liberation of their ancestors from Egyptian slavery, their exodus from Egypt, and their final arrival in the Promised Land.
Scripture lessons: The Jewish Passover was an eight-day celebration during which unleavened bread was eaten. The Passover meal began with the singing of the first part of the “Hallel” Psalms (Ps 113 &114), followed by the first cup of wine. Then those gathered at table ate bitter herbs, sang the second part of the “Hallel” Psalms (Ps 115-116), drank the second cup of wine and listened as the oldest man in the family explained the significance of the event in answer to the question raised by a child. This was followed by the eating of a lamb (whose blood had previously been offered to God in sacrifice), roasted in fire. The participants divided and ate the roasted lamb and unleavened Massoth bread, drank the third cup of wine and sang the major “Hallel" psalms (117-118). In later years, Jews celebrated a miniature form of the Passover every Sabbath day and called it the “Love Feast.”
The first reading from Exodus, gives us an account of the origins of the Jewish feast of Passover when the Israelites celebrated God's breaking the chains of their Egyptian slavery and leading them to the land He had given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, establishing a covenant with them, and making of them His own beloved people. God gave the Hebrews two instructions: prepare for the moment of liberation by a ritual meal [to be held annually in later years], and make a symbolic mark on your homes to exempt yourselves from the coming slaughter. This tradition continued in the Church as the Lord’s Supper, with the Eucharist as its focal point. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 116) gives us our response to the Infinite Goodness of God remembered on this evening. In the second reading, Paul identifies a source and purpose for the communal celebration of the Lord’s Supper beyond that which was passed on to him upon his conversion, namely that he had received this "from the Lord.” This suggests that the celebration of the Lord's Supper was an unbroken tradition from the very beginning of the Church. Paul implies that another purpose of this celebration was to “proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes again.” Paul may simply mean that Christians, by this ritual act, remind themselves of the death and Resurrection of Jesus; he may also mean that Christians prepare themselves for the proclamation of Christ to the world at large. Addressing abuses and misunderstandings concerning the “breaking of the bread” in the Corinthian church, Paul gives us all the warning that if we fail to embrace the spirit of love and servanthood in which the gift of the Eucharist is given to us, then “Eucharist” becomes a judgment against us. In harmony with these readings, today’s Gospel describes how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the Eucharistic celebration. First, he washed His Apostles’ feet - a tender reminder of his undying affection for them and the need for the brotherly love expected in his disciples. Then he commanded them to do the same for each other. The incident reminds us that our vocation is to take care of one another as Jesus always takes care of us. Finally, Jesus gave his apostles his own Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine as Food and Drink for their souls, so that, as long as they lived, they'd never be without the comfort and strength of his presence. Thus, Jesus washed their feet, fed them and then went out to die. This Gospel episode challenges us to become for others Christ the healer, Christ the compassionate and selfless brother, Christ the humble “washer of feet.” The Eucharistic celebration or The Lord’s Supper gives us our daily sustenance as manna fed His people in the desert. The Eucharist enables us to do humble and loving service to others, and unites us with Christ and one another, as we realize Jesus’ Real Presence in our midst.
Exegesis: Jesus’ transformation of his last Seder meal (Last Supper) into the first Eucharistic celebration is described for us in today’s Second Reading and Gospel. [John in his account of the Last Supper, makes no mention of the establishment of the Eucharist because his theology of the Eucharist is detailed in the “bread of life” discourse following the multiplication of the loaves and fish around the time of Passover, in chapter 6 of his Gospel.] Jesus, the Son of God, began his last Passover celebration by washing the feet of his disciples (a service assigned to household servants), as a lesson in humble service, demonstrating that he “came to the world not to be served but to serve.” (Mark 10:45). He followed the ritual of the Jewish Passover meal up to the second cup of wine. After serving the roasted lamb as a third step, Jesus offered his own Body and Blood as food and drink under the appearances of bread and wine. Thus, he instituted the Holy Eucharist as the sign and reality of God’s perpetual presence with His people as their living, Heavenly Food. This was followed by the institution of the priesthood with the command, “Do this in memory of me." Jesus concluded the ceremony with a long speech incorporating his command of love: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). Thus, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at a private Passover meal with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-30; Luke 21:7-23). He served as both the Priest and the Victim in the sacrifice. He became the Lamb of God, as John the Baptist had previously predicted (John 1:29, 36), who, by His death and Resurrection, would “take away the sins of the world.”
The transformation of Jesus’ Passover into the Holy Mass: The early Jewish Christians converted the Jewish “Sabbath Love Feast” of Fridays and Saturdays (the Sabbath), into the “Memorial Last Supper Meal” of Jesus on Sundays. The celebration began with the participants praising and worshipping God by singing psalms, reading the Old Testament Messianic prophecies and listening to the teachings of Jesus as explained by an apostle or by an ordained minister. This was followed by an offertory procession, bringing to the altar the bread and wine to be consecrated and the covered dishes (meals) brought by each family for a shared common meal after the Eucharistic celebration. Then the ordained minister said the “institution narrative” over the bread and wine and all the participants received the consecrated Bread and Wine, as the living Body and Blood of the crucified and risen Jesus. This ritual finally evolved into the present-day Holy Mass in various rites, incorporating various cultural elements of worship and rituals.
Life Messages: 1) We need to render humble service to others. Our celebration of the Eucharist requires that we wash one another’s feet, i.e., serve one another and revere Christ's presence in other persons. To wash the feet of others is to love them, especially when they don't deserve our love, and to do good to them, even when they can’t, won’t, or don't return the favor. It is to consider others' needs to be as important as our own. It is to forgive others from the heart, even though they don't say, "I'm sorry." It is to serve them, even when the task is unpleasant. It is to let others know we care when they feel downtrodden or burdened. It is to be generous with what we have. It is to turn the other cheek instead of retaliating when we're treated unfairly. It is to make adjustments in our plans in order to serve others' needs without expecting any reward. In doing and suffering all these things in this way, we love and serve Jesus Himself, as He has loved us and has taught us to do (Mt 25:31-ff).
2) We need to practice sacrificial sharing and self-giving love. Let us imitate the self-giving model of Jesus who shares with us his own Body and Blood and enriches us with his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. It is by sharing our blessings – our talents, time, health and wealth - with others that we become true disciples of Christ and obey his new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).
3) We need to show our unity in suffering. The bread we partake of is produced by the pounding of many grains of wheat, and the wine is the result of the crushing of many grapes. Both are thus symbols of unity through suffering. They invite us to help, console, support, and pray for others who suffer physical or mental illnesses.
4) We need to heed the warning: We need to make Holy Communion an occasion of Divine grace and blessing by receiving it worthily, rather than making it an occasion of desecration and sacrilege by receiving Jesus while we are in grave sin. That is why we pray three times before we receive Communion, "Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us," with the final "have mercy on us" replaced by "grant us peace." That is also the reason we pray the Centurion's prayer, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” (Mt 8:8). And that is why the priest, just before he receives the consecrated Host, prays, "May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life," while, just before drinking from the Chalice, he prays, "May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life."
5) We need to become Christ-bearers and Christ-conveyers: In the older English version of the Mass, the final message was, “Go in peace to love and serve one another,” that is, to carry Jesus to our homes and places of work, conveying to others around us the love, mercy, forgiveness and spirit of humble service of Christ whom we carry with us. That message has not changed, though the words are different.
6) A day to give and ask for forgiveness: The ceremony of the “Washing of the Feet” in today’s Holy Mass is the time for us to recall the times we have hurt, or we were hurt by others. Now is the time to give and receive forgiveness. Let us allow a few minutes of silence to remember the persons for whom we have the least affection and see how we can reach out to each of them even as Jesus is prepared to stoop down before each of us to wash our feet. Be Jesus to each of them by washing their feet by offering humble service, and then by allowing your feet to be washed also by each of them. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).