Is gives me delight to
share with you reflections on Holy Thursday by fr Gerard Austin,
OP, a liturgical theologian, former chair of the Theology Dept at Catholic
University and an esteemed brother of our Southern Dominican Province, USA
Today we celebrate
Christ’s farewell-gift to his Church - the Eucharist. It is a perfect occasion
to ask ourselves, “What do we do when we celebrate the Eucharist?” We say ‘yes’
once again to our Baptism when we first became members of the Body of Christ, at
which time St. Agustine even says, “We became Christ”--not the head but the
members; but, the head and the members form one body: the ‘whole Christ,’ his
famous phrase, Totus Christus. He goes on to explain that when we offer and
receive the Eucharist, we become all the more that which we already are, the
Body of Christ! So, when we come to Mass we are already the Body of Christ, but
by saying ‘amen’ to what we are, and by offering our own lives along with the
once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, we leave the church “more Christ” than we were
when we arrived! So, not only have the bread and the wine been transformed, we
have been transformed! Indeed, our ‘change’ is the very reason, the purpose, of
the ‘change’ in the elements of the bread and the wine.
A second helpful point for understanding the meaning of today’s feastday of Holy
Thursday could be garnered from asking the question:
When we gather for the Eucharist “who offers what?” (This question has two
aspects: the ‘who’ and the ‘what’.) Different periods of church history have
given various answers to this important question. I believe the best answer was
given by St. Augustine in his The City of God (Book X): The totus Christus
offers the totus Christus: That is, not the priest offering Christ, not just
Christians offering themselves, but the whole Christ (head and members) offering
the whole Christ (head and members). No wonder so many of the early Christian
writers pleaded for the Christians to recognize their dignity. We are members of
Christ’s Body, we are at Eucharist, both priest (the one who offers) and victim
(that which is offered)!
What does all this mean for the average parish? It means that the Eucharist is
the time when the local community gathers together in faith to hear the Word of
God and to offer itself with Christ to the Father, in the Holy Spirit; the time
when the parish both expresses what it is, and becomes all the more that which
it already is
the Body of Christ.
Lent ends at sunset
today as we celebrate the Eucharist for Holy Thursday. When Lent began we
probably made resolutions and if we kept them, congratulations! If not, we have
next Lent, we hope to do better. But today we turn our attention to the three
days we call the Triduum. We count liturgical days beginning the night before
and so the three days begin tonight, Thursday night. They are three days, but
really they are one event, which begins on Holy Thursday and finishes on Easter
Since these are three special days, we should try to put aside some extra time,
as hard as it is during these pandemic days, for quiet reflection. Reading the
Scriptures assigned to these days might help us focus on what God has done and
continues to do for us.
Because of current restrictions our parishes probably will not have the washing
of the feet. Is it too extreme to suggest we wash family members feet at home as
we live-stream the Mass? I know, that sounds extreme, that’s what Peter thought
too. We might not literally wash one another’s feet, but Jesus’ teaching is very
explicit, telling his disciples and us, “I have given you a model to follow so
that as I have done for you, you should also do.” There is no wiggle room in
what Jesus tells his disciples. We “should also do.” Jesus’ priority at the
supper was to serve his disciples and in doing that he was teaching them the
core message of his life – service to others.
Jesus was hosting a meal with his intimate disciples. Their worlds were about to
fall apart yet, by his words and explicit actions during the meal, Jesus is
extending his peace to them. We are at supper with the Lord. He does for us what
he did for those around the table with him – he extends his peace to us. And who
does not need that peace in these pandemic-ridden days? It’s not just the
pandemic that shakes us, is it? There are situations in our personal lives that
urge us to turn to the Lord for the peace he offers the troubled disciples at
As I write this the news is tragic: eight people, six of them Asian women, were
massacred in Atlanta. (The event awakens us to the intimidation and violence the
Asian community has always experienced.) Hundreds of children have been
separated from their parents at our border. The world is still waiting for
vaccines to be available for everyone, especially in the poorest countries. We
desperately need the peace Jesus offers us at our Eucharist this evening. He’s
not just extending a greeting of peace; he is offering himself to us in his body
and blood. The gift of himself will enable us to do what he asks us to do, offer
ourselves in service to others.
John makes it quite clear: Jesus was aware of his coming exodus from this world
to return to the Father. “Jesus knew that his hour had come….” He seems to be
leaving those he loved behind. But in Jesus there is no separation between the
Father and those he leaves in the “world.” Rather, through Christ the Father is
present to us and we to the Father. Jesus is returning to his Father and now in
Christ we too will be united with our God. The world was alienated from God, but
in Jesus we have entered into God and God has entered into the world.
The gospel says Jesus took off his outer garment. It is as if John is telling us
that Jesus is revealing the inner life of God to his disciples: He is of God and
is returning to God. Before he takes up his garments again he takes up the
towel. God has come to serve us as God has been doing throughout these gospel
narratives. Through Jesus the miracles and good works are often done on the
Sabbath, God’s day. Jesus is our Sabbath, doing what his Father is doing. At the
meal though he is not shining forth in brilliant displays of power, but pouring
water and cleansing us.
Initially Peter doesn’t get it. No surprise to anyone familiar with the Gospels.
He is stuck with images of a God on high, majestic in power. How could this
distant God take on the role of a humble servant? Which causes us to reflect:
what is our image of God? Where does God reside? How does God act in our world?
From what John tells us. in Jesus, God is a humble servant washing our feet,
preparing us to continue the journey we are on in the world as followers of
During more “normal times” the washing of the feet is a ritual that takes place
at the Eucharist. It is a liturgical practice done by someone wearing a clean
out white towels, assisted by deacons. As a liturgical practice it is rich with
meaning. But it should not just be a liturgical action. It is meant to be an
example and instruction: “As I have done for you, you should also do.” And Jesus
wasn’t just talking about washing feet, was he?
“As I have done
-healed the sick... you should also do
-forgiven sinners...you should also do
-fed the hungry...you should also do
-welcomed the stranger...you should also do
-given by life...you should also do
here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the
run. “Faith Book” is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish
bulletins people take home.
today’s Gospel reading:
“If I, therefore, the
master and teacher,
have washed your feet,
you ought to was one another’s feet.”
is our time to remember who we were and who we are now because of what God has
done for us. If we attend Mass regularly people refer to us as “practicing
Catholics.” It’s not just a matter of believing, but expressing our belief in
actions – the kind of action Jesus shows up today – washing the feet of our
sisters and brothers.
we ask ourselves:
- What humble task
of service is Jesus asking of me today?
- How willing am I
to respond? If not, what’s holding me back?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
“One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman
measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
This is a particularly
vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the
pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus
spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write
a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have
not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Ted Prevatgte
#0330166 (On death row since 2/22/1999)
Thibodeaux #0515043 (3/2/1999)
- Lyle May #0680028
4285 Mail Service, Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information
on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing
On this page you can
sign “The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty.” Also, check the
interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:
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