Holy Thursday. Self-portrait of Fr. Jorge
In the homily for the Chrism Mass, extensive and entirely from his own hand, Pope Francis draws a model of the priest with many autobiographical traits, including "those moments of listlessness and boredom which I too have experienced"
by Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Dear Brother Priests,
In the eternal "today" of Holy Thursday, when Christ showed his love for us to the end (cf. Jn 13:1), we recall the happy day of the institution of the priesthood, as well as the day of our own priestly ordination. The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness, and this anointing invites us to accept and appreciate this great gift: the gladness, the joy of being a priest. Priestly joy is a priceless treasure, not only for the priest himself but for the entire faithful people of God: that faithful people from which he is called to be anointed and which he, in turn, is sent to anoint.
Anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness. Priestly joy has its source in the Father’s love, and the Lord wishes the joy of this Love to be "ours" and to be "complete" (Jn 15:11). I like to reflect on joy by contemplating Our Lady, for Mary, the "Mother of the living Gospel, is a wellspring of joy for God’s little ones" (Evangelii Gaudium, 288). I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that priest is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men. The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock. No one is more "little" than a priest left to his own devices; and so our prayer of protection against every snare of the Evil One is the prayer of our Mother: I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48). And in that littleness we find our joy. Joy in our littleness!
For me, there are three significant features of our priestly joy. It is a joy which anoints us (not one which "greases" us, making us unctuous, sumptuous and presumptuous), it is a joy which is imperishable and it is a missionary joy which spreads and attracts, starting backwards – with those farthest away from us.
A joy which anoints us. In a word: it has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally. The signs of the ordination liturgy speak to us of the Church’s maternal desire to pass on and share with others all that the Lord has given us: the laying on of hands, the anointing with sacred chrism, the clothing with sacred vestments, the first consecration which immediately follows… Grace fills us to the brim and overflows, fully, abundantly and entirely in each priest. We are anointed down to our very bones… and our joy, which wells up from deep within, is the echo of this anointing.
An imperishable joy. The fullness of the Gift, which no one can take away or increase, is an unfailing source of joy: an imperishable joy which the Lord has promised no one can take from us (Jn 16:22). It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy remains ever timely: I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands (cf. 2 Tim 1:6).
A missionary joy. I would like especially to share with you and to stress this third feature: priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people: for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.
And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a "guarded joy", watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to "guard" that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy.
A "guarded joy": one guarded by the flock but also guarded by three sisters who surround it, tend it and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity and sister obedience.
The joy of priests is a joy which is sister to poverty. The priest is poor in terms of purely human joy. He has given up so much! And because he is poor, he, who gives so much to others, has to seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people. He doesn’t need to try to create it for himself. We know that our people are very generous in thanking priests for their slightest blessing and especially for the sacraments. Many people, in speaking of the crisis of priestly identity, fail to realize that identity presupposes belonging. There is no identity – and consequently joy of life – without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God’s faithful people (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 268). The priest who tries to find his priestly identity by soul-searching and introspection may well encounter nothing more than "exit" signs, signs that say: exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is, and they will make you rejoice in that hundredfold which the Lord has promised to those who serve him. Unless you "exit" from yourself, the oil grows rancid and the anointing cannot be fruitful. Going out from ourselves presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.
Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to fidelity. Not primarily in the sense that we are all "immaculate" (would that by God’s grace we were!), for we are sinners, but in the sense of an ever renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church. Here fruitfulness is key. The spiritual children which the Lord gives each priest, the children he has baptized, the families he has blessed and helped on their way, the sick he has comforted, the young people he catechizes and helps to grow, the poor he assists… all these are the "Bride" whom he rejoices to treat as his supreme and only love and to whom he is constantly faithful. It is the living Church, with a first name and a last name, which the priest shepherds in his parish or in the mission entrusted to him. That mission brings him joy whenever he is faithful to it, whenever he does all that he has to do and lets go of everything that he has to let go of, as long as he stands firm amid the flock which the Lord has entrusted to him: Feed my sheep (cf. Jn 21:16,17).
Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to obedience. An obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience: the parish to which I am sent, my ministerial assignments, my particular work … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood. It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can, following the example of "Our Lady of Promptness" (cf. Lk 1:39, meta spoudes), who hastens to serve Elizabeth her kinswoman and is concerned for the kitchen of Cana when the wine runs out. The availability of her priests makes the Church a house with open doors, a refuge for sinners, a home for people living on the streets, a place of loving care for the sick, a camp for the young, a classroom for catechizing children about to make their First Communion… Wherever God’s people have desires or needs, there is the priest, who knows how to listen (ob-audire) and feels a loving mandate from Christ who sends him to relieve that need with mercy or to encourage those good desires with resourceful charity.
All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world: it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus, the one Good Shepherd who, with deep compassion for all the little ones and the outcasts of this earth, wearied and oppressed like sheep without a shepherd, wants to associate many others to his ministry, so as himself to remain with us and to work, in the person of his priests, for the good of his people.
On this Holy Thursday, I ask the Lord Jesus to enable many young people to discover that burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.
On this Holy Thursday, I ask the Lord Jesus to preserve the joy sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world, to spend themselves fully in the midst of God's faithful people, rejoicing as they prepare their first homily, their first Mass, their first Baptism, their first confession… It is the joy of being able to share with wonder, and for the first time as God’s anointed, the treasure of the Gospel and to feel the faithful people anointing you again and in yet another way: by their requests, by bowing their heads for your blessing, by taking your hands, by bringing you their children, by pleading for their sick… Preserve, Lord, in your young priests the joy of going forth, of doing everything as if for the first time, the joy of spending their lives fully for you.
On this Thursday of the priesthood, I ask the Lord Jesus to confirm the priestly joy of those who have already ministered for some years. The joy which, without leaving their eyes, is also found on the shoulders of those who bear the burden of the ministry, those priests who, having experienced the labours of the apostolate, gather their strength and rearm themselves: "get a second wind", as the athletes say. Lord, preserve the depth, wisdom and maturity of the joy felt by these older priests. May they be able to pray with Nehemiah: "the joy of the Lord is my strength" (cf. Neh 8:10).
Finally, on this Thursday of the priesthood, I ask the Lord Jesus to make better known the joy of elderly priests, whether healthy or infirm. It is the joy of the Cross, which springs from the knowledge that we possess an imperishable treasure in perishable earthen vessels. May these priests find happiness wherever they are; may they experience already, in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity (Guardini). May they know, Lord, the joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children, and of hailing the promises from afar, smiling and at peace, in that hope which does not disappoint.
Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
At the Mass of the Lord's Supper
Dear Brothers and Sisters, In his Gospel, Saint John, more fully than the other three evangelists, reports in his own distinctive way the farewell discourses of Jesus; they appear as his testament and a synthesis of the core of his message. They are introduced by the washing of feet, in which Jesus´ redemptive ministry on behalf of a humanity needing purification is summed up in a gesture of humility. Jesus´ words end as a prayer, his priestly prayer, whose background exegetes have traced to the ritual of the Jewish feast of atonement. The significance of that feast and its rituals – the world´s purification and reconciliation with God – is fulfilled in Jesus´ prayer, a prayer which anticipates his Passion and transforms it into a prayer. The priestly prayer thus makes uniquely evident the perpetual mystery of Holy Thursday: the new priesthood of Jesus Christ and its prolongation in the consecration of the Apostles, in the incorporation of the disciples into the Lord´s priesthood. From this inexhaustibly profound text, I would like to select three sayings of Jesus which can lead us more fully into the mystery of Holy Thursday. First, there are the words: "This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (Jn 17:3). Everyone wants to have life. We long for a life which is authentic, complete, worthwhile, full of joy. This yearning for life coexists with a resistance to death, which nonetheless remains unescapable. When Jesus speaks about eternal life, he is referring to real and true life, a life worthy of being lived. He is not simply speaking about life after death. He is talking about authentic life, a life fully alive and thus not subject to death, yet one which can already, and indeed must, begin in this world. Only if we learn even now how to live authentically, if we learn how to live the life which death cannot take away, does the promise of eternity become meaningful. But how does this happen? What is this true and eternal life which death cannot touch? We have heard Jesus´ answer: this is eternal life, that they may know you – God and the one whom you have sent, Jesus Christ. Much to our surprise, we are told that life is knowledge. This means first of all that life is relationship. No one has life from himself and only for himself. We have it from others and in a relationship with others. If it is a relationship in truth and love, a giving and receiving, it gives fullness to life and makes it beautiful. But for that very reason, the destruction of that relationship by death can be especially painful, it can put life itself in question.
Only a relationship with the One who is himself Life can preserve my life beyond the floodwaters of death, can bring me through them alive. Already in Greek philosophy we encounter the idea that man can find eternal life if he clings to what is indestructible – to truth, which is eternal. He needs, as it were, to be full of truth in order to bear within himself the stuff of eternity. But only if truth is a Person, can it lead me through the night of death. We cling to God – to Jesus Christ the Risen One. And thus we are led by the One who is himself Life. In this relationship we too live by passing through death, since we are not forsaken by the One who is himself Life. But let us return to Jesus´s words – this is eternal life: that they know you and the One whom you have sent. Knowledge of God becomes eternal life. Clearly "knowledge" here means something more than mere factual knowledge, as, for example, when we know that a famous person has died or a discovery was made. Knowing, in the language of sacred Scripture, is an interior becoming one with the other. Knowing God, knowing Christ, always means loving him, becoming, in a sense, one with him by virtue of that knowledge and love. Our life becomes authentic and true life, and thus eternal life, when we know the One who is the source of all being and all life. And so Jesus´ words become a summons: let us become friends of Jesus, let us try to know him all the more! Let us live in dialogue with him! Let us learn from him how to live aright, let us be his witnesses! Then we become people who love and then we act aright. Then we are truly alive. Twice in the course of the priestly prayer Jesus speaks of revealing God´s name. "I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world" (v. 6). "I have made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them" (v. 26). The Lord is alluding here to the scene of the burning bush, when God, at Moses´ request, had revealed his name. Jesus thus means to say that he is bringing to fulfilment what began with the burning bush; that in him God, who had made himself known to Moses, now reveals himself fully. And that in doing so he brings about reconciliation; that the love with which God loves his Son in the mystery of the Trinity now draws men and women into this divine circle of love. But what, more precisely, does it mean to say that the revelation made from the burning bush is finally brought to completion, fully attains its purpose? The essence of what took place on Mount Horeb was not the mysterious word, the "name" which God had revealed to Moses, as a kind of mark of identification. To give one´s name means to enter into relationship with another. The revelation of the divine name, then, means that God, infinite and self-subsistent, enters into the network of human relationships; that he comes out of himself, so to speak, and becomes one of us, present among us and for us. Consequently, Israel saw in the name of God not merely a word steeped in mystery, but an affirmation that God is with us. According to sacred Scripture, the Temple is the dwelling-place of God´s name. God is not confined within any earthly space; he remains infinitely above and beyond the world. Yet in the Temple he is present for us as the One who can be called – as the One who wills to be with us. This desire of God to be with his people comes to completion in the incarnation of the Son. Here what began at the burning bush is truly brought to completion: God, as a Man, is able to be called by us and he is close to us. He is one of us, yet he remains the eternal and infinite God. His love comes forth, so to speak, from himself and enters into our midst. The mystery of the Eucharist, the presence of the Lord under the appearances of bread and wine, is the highest and most sublime way in which this new mode of God´s being-with-us takes shape. "Truly you are a God who is hidden, O God of Israel", the prophet Isaiah had prayed (45:15). This never ceases to be true. But we can also say: Truly you are a God who is close, you are a God-with-us. You have revealed your mystery to us, you have shown your face to us. You have revealed yourself and given yourself into our hands… At this hour joy and gratitude must fill us, because God has shown himself, because he, infinite and beyond the grasp of our reason, is the God who is close to us, who loves us, and whom we can know and love. The best-known petition of the priestly prayer is the petition for the unity of the disciples, now and yet to come: "I do not ask only on behalf of these – the community of the disciples gathered in the Upper Room – but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (v. 20ff.; cf. vv. 11 and 13). What exactly is the Lord asking for? First, he prays for his disciples, present and future. He peers into the distance of future history. He sees the dangers there and he commends this community to the heart of the Father. He prays to the Father for the Church and for her unity. It has been said that in the Gospel of John the Church is not present. Yet here she appears in her essential features: as the community of disciples who through the apostolic preaching believe in Jesus Christ and thus become one. Jesus prays for the Church to be one and apostolic. This prayer, then, is properly speaking an act which founds the Church. The Lord prays to the Father for the Church. She is born of the prayer of Jesus and through the preaching of the Apostles, who make known God´s name and introduce men and women into the fellowship of love with God. Jesus thus prays that the preaching of the disciples will continue for all time, that it will gather together men and women who know God and the one he has sent, his Son Jesus Christ. He prays that men and women may be led to faith and, through faith, to love. He asks the Father that these believers "be in us" (v. 21); that they will live, in other words, in interior communion with God and Jesus Christ, and that this inward being in communion with God may give rise to visible unity. Twice the Lord says that this unity should make the world believe in the mission of Jesus. It must thus be a unity which can be seen – a unity which so transcends ordinary human possibilities as to become a sign before the world and to authenticate the mission of Jesus Christ. Jesus´ prayer gives us the assurance that the preaching of the Apostles will never fail throughout history; that it will always awaken faith and gather men and women into unity – into a unity which becomes a testimony to the mission of Jesus Christ. But this prayer also challenges us to a constant examination of conscience. At this hour the Lord is asking us: are you living, through faith, in fellowship with me and thus in fellowship with God? Or are you rather living for yourself, and thus apart from faith? And are you not thus guilty of the inconsistency which obscures my mission in the world and prevents men and women from encountering God´s love? It was part of the historical Passion of Jesus, and remains part of his ongoing Passion throughout history, that he saw, and even now continues to see, all that threatens and destroys unity. As we meditate on the Passion of the Lord, let us also feel Jesus´ pain at the way that we contradict his prayer, that we resist his love, that we oppose the unity which should bear witness before the world to his mission. At this hour, when the Lord in the most holy Eucharist gives himself, his body and his blood, into our hands and into our hearts, let us be moved by his prayer. Let us enter into his prayer and thus beseech him: Lord, grant us faith in you, who are one with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Grant that we may live in your love and thus become one, as you are one with the Father, so that the world may believe. Amen.
This day, Maundy Thursday (also "Holy Thursday" or "Shire Thursday"1) commemorates Christ's Last Supper and the initiation of the Eucharist. Its name of "Maundy" comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning "command." This stems from Christ's words in John 13:34, "A new commandment I give unto you." It is the first of the three days known as the "Triduum," and after the Vigil tonight, and until the Vigil of Easter, a more profoundly somber attitude prevails (most especially during the hours between Noon and 3:00 PM on Good Friday). Raucous amusements should be set aside...
The Cenacle; Bottom: King David's Tomb
The Last Supper took place in "the upper room" of the house believed to have been owned by John Mark and his mother, Mary (Acts 12:12). This room, also the site of the Pentecost, is known as the "Coenaculum" or the "Cenacle" and is referred to as "Holy and glorious Sion, mother of all churches" in St. James' Liturgy. At the site of this place -- our first Christian church -- a basilica was built in the 4th century. It was destroyed by Muslims and later re-built by the Crusaders. Underneath the place is the tomb of David.
After the Supper, He went outside the Old City of Jerusalem, crossed the Kidron Valley, and came to the Garden of Gethsemani, a place whose name means "Olive Press," and where olives still grow today. There He suffered in three ineffable ways: He knew exactly what would befall Him physically and mentally -- every stroke, every thorn in the crown He would wear, every labored breath He would try to take while hanging on the Cross, the pain in each glance at His mother; He knew that He was taking on all the sins of the world -- all the sins that had ever been or ever will be committed; and, finally, He knew that, for some people, this Sacrifice would not be fruitful because they would reject Him. Here He was let down by His Apostles when they fell asleep instead of keeping watch, here is where He was further betrayed by Judas with a kiss, and where He was siezed by "a great multitude with swords and clubs, sent from the chief Priests and the ancients of the people" and taken before Caiphas, the high priest, where he was accused of blasphemy, beaten, spat upon, and prepared to be taken to Pontius Pilate tomorrow morning.
As for today's liturgies, in the morning, the local Bishop will offer a special Chrism Mass during which blesses the oils used in Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Unction, and the consecration of Altars and churches.
At the evening Mass, after the bells ring during the Gloria, they are rung no more until the Easter Vigil (a wooden clapper called a "crotalus" is used insead). Parents explain this to their children by saying that the all the bells fly to Rome after the Gloria of the Mass on Maundy Thursday to visit the Popes. Children are told that the bells sleep on the roof of St. Peter's Basilica, and, bringing Easter eggs with them, start their flight home at the Gloria at the Easter Vigil, when when they peal wildly.
Then comes the Washing of the Feet after the homily, a rite performed by Christ upon His disciples to prepare them for the priesthood and the marriage banquet they will offer, and which is rooted in the Old Testament practice of foot-washing in preparation for the marital embrace (II Kings 11:8-11, Canticles 5:3) and in the ritual ablutions performed by the High Priest of the Old Covenant (contrast Leviticus 16:23-24 with John 13:3-5). The priest girds himself with a cloth and washes the feet of 12 men he's chosen to represent the Apostles for the ceremony.
The rest of the Mass after the Washing of the Feet has a special form, unlike all other Masses. After the Mass, the priest takes off his chasuble and vests in a white cope. He returns to the Altar, incenses the Sacred Hosts in the ciborium, and, preceded by the Crucifer and torchbearers, carries the Ciborium to the "Altar of Repose," also called the "Holy Sepulchre," where it will remain "entombed" until the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday.
Then there follows the Stripping of the Altars, during which everything is removed as Antiphons and Psalms are recited. All the glorious symbols of Christ's Presence are removed to give us the sense of His entering most fully into His Passion. Christ enters the Garden of Gethsemani; His arrest is imminent. Fortescue's "Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described" tells us: "From now till Saturday no lamps in the church are lit. No bells are rung. Holy Water should be removed from all stoups and thrown into the sacrarium. A small quantity is kept for blessing the fire on Holy Saturday or for a sick call." The joyful signs of His Presence won't return until Easter begins with the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday evening.
by Louis Bouyer
"All Christian worship is but a continuous celebration of Easter," for "the Christian religion is not simply a doctrine : it is a fact, an action, and an action, not of the past, but of the present, where the past is recovered and the future draws near." Such is the dominant idea which Pere Bouyer applies with unfaltering insight to the whole cycle from the Tenebrm of Wednesday night to the Easter Vigil. Here is recapitulated the redemptive work of Christ, not simply in recollection but in fact : for the Christian liturgy, and especially its essential paschal rite, is a perpetual renewal of the mystery of Christ. So it is that the events of Maundy Thursday contain the total mystery of redemption and the means of its renewal while time lasts. For in the institution of the Eucharist Christ did not simply anticipate his Passion by a gesture : the sacrament was to make possible the re-presentation of his sacrifice in all times and places. And from that sacrifice all else derives : the liturgical rites are in their measure all alike an enshrining of that central truth. It is more than a matter of etymology that for the East the "Liturgy" is synonymous with the Mass.
The Cross–For Us | Hans Urs von Balthasar |
An excerpt from A Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen
Without a doubt, at the center of the New Testament there stands the Cross, which receives its interpretation from the Resurrection.
The Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity. In his preaching at Corinth, Paul initially wants to know nothing but the Cross, which "destroys the wisdom of the wise and wrecks the understanding of those who understand", which "is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles". But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (I Cor 1:19, 23, 25).
Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith. He does not see that God's commitment to the world is most absolute precisely at this point across a chasm.
It is certainly not surprising that the disciples were able to understand the meaning of the Cross only slowly, even after the Resurrection. The Lord himself gives a first catechetical instruction to the disciples at Emmaus by showing that this incomprehensible event is the fulfillment of what had been foretold and that the open question marks of the Old Testament find their solution only here (Lk 24:27).
Which riddles? Those of the Covenant between God and men in which the latter must necessarily fail again and again: who can be a match for God as a partner? Those of the many cultic sacrifices that in the end are still external to man while he himself cannot offer himself as a sacrifice. Those of the inscrutable meaning of suffering which can fall even, and especially, on the innocent, so that every proof that God rewards the good becomes void. Only at the outer periphery, as something that so far is completely sealed, appear the outlines of a figure in which the riddles might be solved.
This figure would be at once the completely kept and fulfilled Covenant, even far beyond Israel (Is 49:5-6), and the personified sacrifice in which at the same time the riddle of suffering, of being despised and rejected, becomes a light; for it happens as the vicarious suffering of the just for "the many" (Is 52:13-53:12). Nobody had understood the prophecy then, but in the light of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus it became the most important key to the meaning of the apparently meaningless.
Did not Jesus himself use this key at the Last Supper in anticipation? "For you", "for the many", his Body is given up and his Blood is poured out. He himself, without a doubt, foreknew that his will to help these" people toward God who are so distant from God would at some point be taken terribly seriously, that he would suffer in their place through this distance from God, indeed this utmost darkness of God, in order to take it from them and to give them an inner share in his closeness to God. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!" (Lk 12:50).
It stands as a dark cloud at the horizon of his active life; everything he does then-healing the sick, proclaiming the kingdom of God, driving out evil spirits by his good Spirit, forgiving sins-all of these partial engagements happen in the approach toward the one unconditional engagement.
As soon as the formula "for the many", "for you", "for us", is found, it resounds through all the writings of the New Testament; it is even present before anything is written down (cf. i Cor 15:3). Paul, Peter, John: everywhere the same light comes from the two little words.
What has happened? Light has for the first time penetrated into the closed dungeons of human and cosmic suffering and dying. Pain and death receive meaning.
Not only that, they can receive more meaning and bear more fruit than the greatest and most successful activity, a meaning not only for the one who suffers but precisely also for others, for the world as a whole. No religion had even approached this thought.  The great religions had mostly been ingenious methods of escaping suffering or of making it ineffective. The highest that was reached was voluntary death for the sake of justice: Socrates and his spiritualized heroism. The detached farewell discourses of the wise man in prison could be compared from afar to the wondrous farewell discourses of Christ.
But Socrates dies noble and transfigured; Christ must go out into the hellish darkness of godforsakenness, where he calls for the lost Father "with prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears" (Heb 5:7). Why are such stories handed down? Why has the image of the hero, the martyr, thus been destroyed? It was "for us", "in our place".
One can ask endlessly how it is possible to take someone's place in this way. The only thing that helps us who are perplexed is the certainty of the original Church that this man belongs to God, that "he truly was God's Son", as the centurion acknowledges under the Cross, so that finally one has to render him homage in adoration as "my Lord and my God" Jn 20:28).
Every theology that begins to blink and stutter at this point and does not want to come out with the words of the Apostle Thomas or tinkers with them will not hold to the "for us". There is no intermediary between a man who is God and an ordinary mortal, and nobody will seriously hold the opinion that a man like us, be he ever so courageous and generous in giving himself, would be able to take upon himself the sin of another, let alone the sin of all. He can suffer death in the place of someone who is condemned to death. This would be generous, and it would spare the other person death at least for a time.
But what Christ did on the Cross was in no way intended to spare us death but rather to revalue death completely. In place of the "going down into the pit" of the Old Testament, it became "being in paradise tomorrow". Instead of fearing death as the final evil and begging God for a few more years of life, as the weeping king Hezekiah does, Paul would like most of all to die immediately in order "to be with the Lord" (Phil 1:23). Together with death, life is also revalued: "If we live, we live to the Lord; if we die, we die to the Lord" (Rom 14:8).
But the issue is not only life and death but our existence before God and our being judged by him. All of us were sinners before him and worthy of condemnation. But God "made the One who knew no sin to be sin, so that we might be justified through him in God's eyes" (2 Cor 5:21).
Only God in his absolute freedom can take hold of our finite freedom from within in such a way as to give it a direction toward him, an exit to him, when it was closed in on itself. This happened in virtue of the "wonderful exchange" between Christ and us: he experiences instead of us what distance from God is, so that we may become beloved and loving children of God instead of being his "enemies" (Rom 5:10).
Certainly God has the initiative in this reconciliation: he is the one who reconciles the world to himself in Christ. But one must not play this down (as famous theologians do) by saying that God is always the reconciled God anyway and merely manifests this state in a final way through the death of Christ. It is not clear how this could be the fitting and humanly intelligible form of such a manifestation.
No, the "wonderful exchange" on the Cross is the way by which God brings about reconciliation. It can only be a mutual reconciliation because God has long since been in a covenant with us. The mere forgiveness of God would not affect us in our alienation from God. Man must be represented in the making of the new treaty of peace, the "new and eternal covenant". He is represented because we have been taken over by the man Jesus Christ. When he "signs" this treaty in advance in the name of all of us, it suffices if we add our name under his now or, at the latest, when we die.
Of course, it would be meaningless to speak of the Cross without considering the other side, the Resurrection of the Crucified. "If Christ has not risen, then our preaching is nothing and also your faith is nothing; you are still in your sins and also those who have fallen asleep . . . are lost. If we are merely people who have put their whole hope in Christ in this life, then we are the most pitiful of all men" (I Cor 15:14, 17-19).
If one does away with the fact of the Resurrection, one also does away with the Cross, for both stand and fall together, and one would then have to find a new center for the whole message of the gospel. What would come to occupy this center is at best a mild father-god who is not affected by the terrible injustice in the world, or man in his morality and hope who must take care of his own redemption: "atheism in Christianity".
 For what is meant here is something qualitatively completely different from the voluntary or involuntary scapegoats who offered themselves or were offered (e.g., in Hellas or Rome) for the city or for the fatherland to avert some catastrophe that threatened everyone.
my source for the following two sections is "Meditations Before the Altar"
The Altar Threshold
by Father Romano Guardini
WE HAVE just distinguished between God’s special presence in His own house and His all-sustaining omnipresence in the world He created. We also replied to the current objection that man can experience God equally well everywhere. Of course, this is possible, as it is also possible to experience everywhere the illusion of false Christianity more readily than genuine contact with the Creator of the world. Moreover, there is always the disquieting suspicion that those who insist on their encounters with God in woods and cowers do not have in mind the God of revelation, but a vague, pantheistic “Mother Nature” or mysterious “Life Force,” or whatever else these questionable varieties of “religious experience” are called. The real God has no resemblance with the “God” such experiences presuppose. He speaks in the plain, exact words of His messengers through the person, life and death of Jesus Christ. He challenges the world, arousing it from its captivity, demanding that it recognize the truth and be converted. The otherness of that conversion is stressed by the fact that the celebration of God’s mystery does not take place just anywhere: neither in the spaciousness of nature, nor in the intimacy of a home, but in the unique, clearly circumscribed area of the church. Thus we find the constantly repeated procedure: The believer goes to the house of God, crosses the threshold and enters the sacred room within. This is an important part of genuine piety. He remains “present,” listens, speaks, acts, serves. Then he leaves, returns to the world of men or to the private realm of his home, taking with him what he has experienced as instruction, guidance, and strength.
There is also a special order established within the sacred interior. It is essential to the liturgy that the important acts of which it is composed are not left to chance or to the momentary spiritual situation, but are arranged and specified with the greatest care. The Lord’s memorial sacrifice cannot take place anywhere in the church, but only at one particular spot, the altar.
The altar is a great mystery. Its religious archetype is to be found in almost all faiths; indeed, I doubt that it is fundamentally absent from any. It appears in the Old Testament. Precise laws determine how it is to be fashioned, cared for, served. In the New Testament it is not actually discussed; but we do encounter it, for example, in the visions of the Apocalypse. When the books of the New Testament were being written, the altar was the table at which the congregation celebrated the sacred Supper. Very soon, however, it began to take on its own characteristics, and in the catacombs we find it in its earliest form. What then is the altar? Its meaning is probably most clearly suggested by two images: it is threshold and it is table.
Threshold is door, and it has a double significance: border and crossing over. It indicates where one thing ends and another begins. The border which marks the end of the old makes possible entry into the new. As a threshold, the altar creates first of all the border between the realm of the world and the realm of God. The altar reminds us of the remoteness in which He lives “beyond the altar,” as we might say, meaning divine distance; or “above the altar,” meaning divine loftiness both to be understood of course not spatially, but spiritually. They mean that God is the Intangible One, far removed from all approaching, from all grasping; that He is the all-powerful, Majestic One immeasurably exalted above earthly things and earthly striving. Such breadth and height are founded not on measure, but on God’s essence: His holiness, to which man of himself has no access.
On the other hand, this is not to be understood merely spiritually, or rather, merely intellectually. In the liturgy everything is symbolical. But symbol is more than a corporal form representing something incorporeal. Let us take, for example, a representation of Justice: a woman, blindfolded, and holding scales in her hands. Such justice is not apparent. First one must be instructed that the bandaged eyes mean that a judge is no respecter of persons; the scales, that to each is to be measured out is exact due. This is allegory whose meaning is not directly perceived.
The liturgy also contains allegories; but its basic forms are symbols. Their meaning is actually hidden, yet it reveals itself in a particular thing or person, much as the human soul, itself invisible, becomes perceptible, approachable in the expression and movements of a face. So is it in the Church. The altar is not an allegory, but a symbol. The thoughtful believer does not have to be taught that it is a border, that “above it” stretch inaccessible heights and “beyond it” the reaches of divine remoteness; somehow he is aware of this.
To grasp the mystery all that is necessary on the part of the believer is intrinsic readiness and calm reflection; then his heart will respond with reverence. In a very vital hour he may even have an experience somewhat similar to that of Moses when he guarded his flocks in the loneliness of Mount Horeb. Suddenly “The Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt. And Moses said: I will go and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he went forward to see, he called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said: Moses, Moses. And he answered: Here I am. And he said: Come not nigh hither. Put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exodus 3: 2-5).
It is essential for every one of us to experience at some time or another the fear of the Lord, to be repelled by Him from the sacred place, that we may know with all our being that God is God and we are but man. Trust in God, nearness to Him and security in Him remain thin and feeble when personal knowledge of God’s exclusive majesty and awful sanctity do not counterbalance them. We do well to pray God for this experience, and the place where it is most likely to be granted us is before His altar.
Threshold is not, however, only borderline; it is also crossing over. One can step over it into the adjacent room, or, standing on it, receive him who comes from the other side. It is something that unites, a place of contact and encounter. This too is contained in the symbol of the altar. The essence of revelation is the news that God loves us. God’s love is not simply the love which we find also in ourselves, infinitely intensified. Inconceivable mystery, it had to be revealed: an unheard-of act that we can begin to fathom only when it is clear to us who God is and who we are. Its real expression is to be found in the tremendous event of the Incarnation, when God abandoned His sacred reserve, came to us, became one of us, sharing with us human life and human destiny. Now He is with us, “on our side.” Such is His love, and it creates a nearness that man alone never could have conceived. All this is expressed by the altar. It reminds us that God turns to us; from His heights He steps down to us; out of His remoteness He approaches us. The altar is the sign of God’s presence among us, in us. And the same altar suggests further that there is a way leading us, remote, isolated creatures that we are, back to our Creator; from the depths of our sin “up” to His holiness; that we can follow it to be sure, not on our own strength, but on that which His grace supplies. We can cross the border only because God crossed it to come to us. His descent draws us upwards. He Himself, the One-Who-Has-Come, is “the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Knowledge of the possibility of passing above and beyond is a primordial Christian experience which most intimately affects man’s relations to God (a passing that is not simple continuation along a known route, but a traversing of certain limits). The realms that it separates are different; between them stands a door which can open but also close. We are enabled to make the passage by hope, which declares it possible (but only when we heed an innate reticence, which cautions that it is never self-understood). The instant hope becomes importunity or trust presumption, the instant the sacred security of grace lapses into habit, the door closes and most firmly when its existence has been entirely forgotten and the believer innocently assumes that all is as it should be. At this point too we do well to ask that we may realize vividly that we are “children” of “the Father’s house,” yet must stand “in fear and trembling.”
“Threshold” really lies everywhere in the simple fact that God is Creator, man creature; this fact is heightened by man’s sinfulness, which makes him unable to stand before the Holy God. Yet God has stooped to us in an act of saving love and laid out for us the road to Himself. Thus everywhere we are confronted by sacred barriers repelling us, but also by the possibility of their opening for us. What we call prayer is the mysterious process of that opening.
Every time we invoke God, we approach His threshold and pass over it. In the altar the barrier presents itself in a form symbolizing God’s revelation, for there in the mystery of the Mass it comes to its own in a very special way. Through Christ’s self-sacrifice in salutary death, a sacrifice which presupposed the Incarnation of God’s Son, the altar-threshold appears most clearly as the borderline which shows who Holy God is and what our sin. But the altar-threshold is also the crossing-over par excellence, because God became man so that we might become “partakers of the divine nature.” The altar is indeed the “holy place” before which we can say as we can nowhere else: “I am here, O Lord.”
The Altar Table
by Father Romano Guardini
THE ALTAR is the threshold to God’s immanence. Through Christ, God ceased to be the Unknown, the Inaccessible One; He turned to us, came to us, and became one of us in order that we might go to Him and become one with Him. The altar is the frontier, the border where God comes to us and we go to Him in a most special manner.
At this point a few remarks about the images used to express sacred mysteries are in order. The images unlock the storehouse of God’s riches, and they help us to concentrate on particular aspects of divine reality with all our power. When we consider the altar as a threshold, we see one particular trait, leaving out of consideration any other, such as that expressed by the concept “table.” The images used are necessarily taken from objects of our own experience. But, since we are not cut off from God and His life as is one room in a house from another, we must not put too much emphasis on the inability of images adequately to express divine realities. If we do, we lose something precious, something essential. Images are not makeshifts handy for children and the vulgar crowd, which the cultured elite, wrestling with “pure” concepts, should despise. When Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, woke from his great dream, he cried: “How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17). And St. John writes: “. . . and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the former voice, which I had heard as of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘come up hither, and I will show thee the things that must come to pass hereafter’” (Apoc. 4:1). Now if we were to say that “door” is here only a figure of speech suggesting that God is invisible yet near, that no one can reach Him, but that He can draw us to Himself, we would be correct but we would fail to grasp the basic meaning of John’s words. St. John wrote “door” because he meant door and not only poetically. The intellect may attempt to express in concepts and sentences all that the image “door” implies; but such concepts are mere props to the essential, not more. The truth is the other way around: it is the image that is the reality; the mind can only attempt to plumb it. The image is richer than the thought; hence the act by which we comprehend an image, gazing, is richer, more profound, vital and storeyed than the thought. People today are, if the word may be permitted, over-conceptualistic. We have lost the art of reading images and parables, of enacting symbols. We could relearn some of this by encouraging and practicing the power of vision, a power which has been neglected for too long.
But to return to our subject: the mystery of the altar is only partially suggested by the image of the threshold; altar is also table. The presentiment of a sacred table at which not only man but also divinity takes its place is to be found in the religions of all peoples. Everywhere the pious believer places gifts upon an altar so that the godhead may accept them. The idea that these gifts belong to the godhead and no longer to men is conveyed by their destruction or withdrawal from human use. The body of the sacrificial animal is burned, the drink poured out upon the ground. This immolation symbolizes what is contained in the process of death: the “passing over” to the other side, to the realm of the divine. A second process is often related to the first. Not everything is “given over”; part is retained or rather returned, for what was destroyed represented the whole now to be enjoyed by the offerers. Thus godhead and man are nourished by the same sacred food. Indeed, behind this concept lies one still more profound: man’s offering stands for himself, is really himself; the true offering is human sacrifice. Again, the offering stands for the godhead itself; true nourishment is divine life. From a certain standpoint these conceptions are very profound, though closer examination reveals that they have sunk into gloom, worldliness, and animalism. The godhead, then, lives from the life of man of a tribe, a people; on the other hand, man sees in his godhead the spiritual mainspring of his own life and that of his clan, tribe, people. Divinity has need of man and man of divinity, for in the final analysis they are the same; sacrifice is the constantly renewed process of this union.
Such conceptions are totally absent from the Old Testament. The God to whose altar offerings are brought is neither the vital principle of a people nor the secret of the world’s vitality, but Creator and Lord of all that is. The offering is an acknowledgment of His lordship; it in no way affects His potency, but is simply a recognition that all things are His, and that man may dispose of them only with His permission. Strictly speaking, the animal from the flock should be slaughtered only before the altar, not because God has any need of its blood, but because all life is His property; the harvest should be consumed only before the altar, since everything that bears its seed “within itself” belongs to God. This idea is expressed in the sacrifice of livestock and in the offering of the fields’ first fruits. Only then does man receive herd and harvest back from the altar for his own use.
The altar is the table to which the heavenly Father invites us. Through salvation we have become sons and daughters of God, and His house is ours. At the altar we enjoy the intimate community of His sacred table. From His hand we receive the “bread of heaven,” the word of truth, and, far excelling all imaginable gifts, His own incarnate Son, the living Christ (See John 6). What is given us, then, is at once corporal reality and sentient truth, Life and Person, in short Gift.
But if we ask whether at the sacred table God too receives something, whether the age-old presentiment of a real community of table between God and man is not also fulfilled in the clean air of Christian faith, the answer is not easy. Fear of being irreverent makes us cautious. However, we can point to a mystery that fills the letters of St. Paul and appears also in the farewell speeches of St. John’s gospel. The fruit of the divine sojourn on earth is salvation. This means not only our forgiveness and justification but also that the world is “brought home” to the Father. And again not only in the sense that we return to God in love and obedience but that men and through men the world in all its reality is received into divine life. God desires this. When we are told that He loves us, this does not mean that He is merely benevolent toward us; the word is meant in all its abundance.
God longs for men. He wants to have His creatures close to Him. When Christ cried from the cross, “I thirst,” a dying man’s bodily torment was indeed expressed, but much more besides (John 19:28). Similarly at Jacob’s well, when the disciples encouraged Jesus to eat the food they had brought, He replied: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, to accomplish his work” (John 4: 34). Mysterious hungering and thirsting this the hunger and thirst of God! St. Augustine writes that the receiving of the Eucharist does not mean so much that we partake of the divine life offered us, as that divine life draws us into itself. These thoughts should not be pressed too far, for they are holy. It is important, however, to know that a mystery of divine-human love and communion does exist and that it is realized at the altar.
Contemplation and the Liturgy |
by Hans Urs von Balthasar
Contemplation is liturgical, if we understand liturgy in its fullest sense. In practice, the liturgy brought about in the community's service of worship can bring to our attention only a tiny part of God's word in holy scripture. Even the Liturgy of the Hours, the breviary, encompassing as it does the annual calendar of feasts, cannot contain the whole of scripture. Thus the liturgy points beyond itself to our personal contemplation of the word.
Somewhere there must be in the Church someone who is listening in adoration to that word of God which is not to be found in the Church's official missal and breviary. For, obviously, the purpose of the word is not fulfilled by those countless people who study the Bible in intellectual curiosity and for the love of learning. Theology and exegesis can border on prayer, but they are not of themselves necessarily prayer. Not explicitly, at least. All acts of the Christian life, whether of the intellect or not, should be accompanied by an openness for worship, like a basso continuo accompanying the soul, and this applies to the act of theology and exegesis, too.
Indeed, like Anselm and many other saintly theologians, the reader and scholar of scripture can surround and permeate his reading and thinking with worship, and thus extend the liturgical attitude into his intellectual work in a very practical way. But he does well to remember that the worship of the word needs no other justification, and that, ultimately, prayer cannot be reduced to the level of a means to improved understanding. ...
In contemplation...we have found the link which joins the two halves of Christian existence the "work of God" in the realm of the Church and the work of man in the everyday world into a firm unity. Contemplation binds the two together in a single liturgy which is both sacred and secular, ecclesial and cosmic. Without contemplation it would scarcely be possible to unite the two, for the simple reason that, practically and psychologically, the effect of the Church's liturgy fades as the day proceeds, and the world's work is for the most part remote from it. Some link is necessary if they are to be drawn together in a lived, spiritual unity. In contemplation, however, liturgy becomes Spirit, and this Spirit can become incarnate in everyday life. In some way or other, of course, this is what happens necessarily in every authentic Christian life: anyone who assists at Mass with devotion and knows what he is doing when he receives communion is bound to pay attention to the spiritual meaning of the celebration and its offer to refashion the Christian's everyday life.
And the more deliberately he thus "pays attention", the better the two parts fit togetherthe supernatural form which comes down from eternity, and the matter of everyday life in the world. Those who attempt to join the two without contemplation either take the sacramental principle to extremes and improperly expect it to yield quasi-magical effects, or else they sacralize worldly affairs in a completely exaggerated way, constructing a theology of earthly realities and reckoning the office, technology, comfort, the state and secular culture among the factors which go to build up and bring about the kingdom of God. (The latter often occurs nowadays, particularly in those spiritualities which have a false view of contemplation.)
By contrast, the man who is filled with the spiritual law of Christ as he goes to his daily work will see it in the same sober terms as holy scripture does, yet he will be aware that the earth and its toil is joined, seamlessly, to the work of heaven. If the Liturgical Movement is isolated and has no connection with a contemplative movement, it will remain a kind of Romanticism, a flight from time, inevitably calling forth the protest of a counter-Romanticism promoting a false sacralization of everyday things. ...
The sinner's glimpse of heaven, as he comes to acknowledge his most grievous fault, is an element in the Church's liturgy, in the Mass as in penance. But it is also an element of contemplation which (as we shall see) encounters the word of God, a word which both pronounces sentence and justifies. So a person who contemplates on a regular basis is already to a large extent prepared for confession. He is accustomed to looking in the mirror and seeing himself as God sees him.
Of course, it is the gracious will of God justifying us which turns us toward him and opens our eyes to his truth. For no man can be justified while he is turned away from God.
All the same, man too must be involved in this first turning toward God through grace; in acknowledging the truth of grace, man must acknowledge that he is in the wrong. In confessing grace (confiteri Domino), man must of necessity go on to confess his guilt (confiteri peccatum). This is all, perhaps, so hidden and so simple that it can scarcely be put into words: "Your light, my darkness! Your sweetness, my bitterness!" But the fact is that mature contemplation can lend a greater depth and permanence even to such a simple awareness; the "dark night of the soul," the contemplative way of purification, is only a gradually intensified training, in which this experience of confession is branded deeply and painfully upon the soul. Thus the "dark nights of the soul" are also part of the liturgy; they are existential confessions in which, it may be, the darkness is so profound that the vastness of the Church and the heavenly court can scarcely be made out; yet the silent, praying, assistance of the communion of saints, both here and above, is never lacking. ...
This is something the Christian contemplative must be aware of. Then he will not see his life in the world, subject to the law of the word which he contemplates, as offering a threat of further impurity. Instead he will know that he is borne along and held upright by the word of God; he will know that, just as this Word nourishes him as the Bread of Heaven, so too, as the word of absolution, it purifies and absolves him.
He needs this assurance because he can never measure up to the immense demands made of him. God will always have to supply the substance, the greater part; He will always have to support him in his inability, his failure, and overlook his penchant for slipping back; He will look at man's feeble goodness in the light of the Son's perfect goodness. This, then, is the state of the redeemed in this world. It is meant to spur him on to simple gratitude to his divine Saviour, not to dialectical speculation. His life is a service, leitourgia, of the gracious God, lived out in full personal responsibility, but also as part of the entire company of the saints, which gives his service value in God's sight.
Commemorations Of Holy Thursday
The Institution of the Eucharist:
At the Mystical Supper in the Upper Room Jesus gave a radically new meaning to the food and drink of the sacred meal. He identified Himself with the bread and wine: "Take, eat; this is my Body. Drink of it all of you; for this is my Blood of the New Covenant" (Matthew 26:26-28).
We have learned to equate food with life because it sustains our earthly existence. In the Eucharist the distinctively unique human food - bread and wine - becomes our gift of life. Consecrated and sanctified, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. This change is not physical but mystical and sacramental. While the qualities of the bread and wine remain, we partake of the true Body and Blood of Christ. In the eucharistic meal God enters into such a communion of life that He feeds humanity with His own being, while still remaining distinct. In the words of St. Maximos the Confessor, Christ, "transmits to us divine life, making Himself eatable." The Author of life shatters the limitations of our createdness. Christ acts so that "we might become sharers of divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).
The Eucharist is at the center of the Church's life. It is her most profound prayer and principal activity. It is at one and the same time both the source and the summit of her life. In the Eucharist the Church manifests her true nature and is continuously changed from a human community into the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the People of God. The Eucharist is the pre-eminent sacrament. It completes all the others and recapitulates the entire economy of salvation. Our new life in Christ is constantly renewed and increased by the Eucharist. The Eucharist imparts life and the life it gives is the life of God.
In the Eucharist the Church remembers and enacts sacramentally the redemptive event of the Cross and participates in its saving grace. This does not suggest that the Eucharist attempts to reclaim a past event. The Eucharist does not repeat what cannot be repeated. Christ is not slain anew and repeatedly. Rather the eucharistic food is changed concretely and really into the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God, "Who gave Himself up for the life of the world." Christ, the Theanthropos, continually offers Himself to the faithful through the consecrated Gifts, i.e., His very own risen and deified Body, which for our sake died once and now lives (Hebrewa 10:2; Revelation 1:18). Hence, the faithful come to Church week by week not only to worship God and to hear His word. They come, first of all, to experience over and over the mystery of salvation and to be united intimately to the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Eucharist we receive and partake of the resurrected Christ. We share in His sacrificed, risen and deified Body, "for the forgiveness of sins and life eternal" (Divine Liturgy). In the Eucharist Christ pours into us - as a permanent and constant gift - the Holy Spirit, "Who bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God - and if children - then heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17).
The Washing of the Feet
The events initiated by Jesus at the Mystical.Supper were profoundly significant. By teaching and giving the disciples His final instructions and praying for them as well, He revealed again His divine Sonship and authority. By establishing the Eucharist, He enshrines to perfection God's most intimate purposes for our salvation, offering Himself as Communion and life. By washing the feet of His disciples, He summarized the meaning of His ministry, manifested His perfect love and revealed His profound humility. The act of the washing of the feet (John 13:2-17) is closely related to the sacrifice of the Cross. Both reveal aspects of Christ's kenosis. While the Cross constitues the ultimate manifestation of Christ's perfect obedience to His Father (Philippians 2:5-8), the washing of the feet signifies His intense love and the giving of Himself to each person according to that person's ability to receive Him (John 13:6-9).
Prayer in the Garden
The Synoptic Gospels have preserved for us another significant episode in the series of events leading to the Passion, namely, the agony and prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46).
Although Jesus was Son of God, He was destined as man to accept fully the human condition, to experience suffering and to learn obedience. Divesting Himself of divine prerogatives, the Son of God assumed the role of a servant. He lived a truly human existence. Though He was Himself sinless, He allied Himself with the whole human race, identified with the human predicament, and experienced the same tests (Philippians 2:6-11; Hebrews 2:9-18).
The moving events in the Garden of Gethsemane dramatically and poignantly disclosed the human nature of Christ. The sacrifice He was to endure for the salvation of the world was imminent. Death, with all its brutal force and fury, stared directly at Him. Its terrible burden and fear - the calamitous results of the ancestral sin - caused Him intense sorrow and pain (Hebrews 5:7). Instinctively, as man He sought to escape it. He found Himself in a moment of decision. In His agony He prayed to His Father, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14:36).
His prayer revealed the depths of His agony and sorrow. It revealed as well His "incomparable spiritual strength (and) immovable desire and decision . . . to bring about the will of the Father." Jesus offered His unconditional love and trust to the Father. He reached the extreme limits of self-denial "not what I will" - in order to accomplish His Father's will. His acceptance of death was not some kind of stoic passivity and resignation but an act of absolute love and obedience. In that moment of decision, when He declared His acceptance of death to be in agreement with the Father's will, He broke the power of the fear of death with all its attending uncertainties, anxieties and limitations. He learned obedience and fulfilled the divine plan (Hebrews 5:8-9).
Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss, the sign of friendship and love. The betrayal and crucifixion of Christ carried the ancestral sin to its extreme limits. In these two acts the rebellion against God reached its maximum capacity. The seduction of man in paradise culminated in the death of God in the flesh. To be victorious evil must quench the light and discredit the good. In the end, however, it shows itself to be a lie, an absurdity and sheer madness. The death and resurrection of Christ rendered evil powerless.
On Great Thursday light and darkness, joy and sorrow are so strangely mixed. At the Upper Room and in Gethsemane the light of the kingdom and the darkness of hell come through simultaneously. The way of life and the way of death converge. We meet them both in our journey through life.
In the midst of the snares and temptations that abound in the world around and in us we must be eager to live in communion with everything that is good, noble, natural, and sinless, forming ourselves by God's grace in the likeness of Christ
- See more at: http://lent.goarch.org/holy_thursday/learn/#sthash.dO1OF1a7.dpuf