HOLY THURSDAY April 1, 2021

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116; 1Cor. 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15

By: Jude Siciliano, OP


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

Holy Thursday

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

---namely, the Body of Christ.

Gerard Austin, OP

Dear Preachers:

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 Sunday.

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 his table.

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 God’s Son.

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 for you…”
-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

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: