Watch the Mass
Excerpts from the English translation of Lectionary for Mass ©1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation, (ICEL); Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010. Musical settings of the Washing of Feet Antiphons composed by Adam Bartlett © 2012-2014. Lumen Christi Simple Gradual © 2014, 2015, Adam Bartlett. All rights reserved. Simple English Propers by Adam Bartlett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Based on a work at https://musicasacra.com/sep. Music Reprinted and Streamed with Permission under ONE LICENSE, License #A-704305. All rights reserved.
Hear Bishop Peter’s homily
Bishop Peter Muhich
April 6, 2023
I received from the Lord what I handed unto you.
These words of Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians are the most ancient reference to the celebration of the Eucharist that we have in the New Testament. Saint Paul is explaining to the Corinthians that this mystery of the Eucharist was given to him by the Lord, and he’s handing it on to them as an essential part of the Christian life. His reference also, of course, implies the establishment of the priesthood and he’s teaching in Corinth about these deep mysteries.
In the Gospel the deacon just read, Saint John is telling his community about the Eucharist. His description of the Eucharist is unique. It doesn’t actually contain an institutional narrative but famously contains this washing of the feet, showing that the Eucharist is a deep mystery of Jesus’s selfless love poured out for the world and that it should be lived in that way of loving service. It is its deepest meaning that God so loved the world that he sent his son so that all who believe in him might have eternal life. And the son spared nothing in accomplishing our salvation, pouring himself out completely in his passion and death.
And, of course, our first reading from the Exodus time describes the great Passover meal during that time of exodus. That Passover time, of course, Jesus used as the basis for fashioning the Eucharist the night before he died for us.
So Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper is to focus, the church says, on three important elements: the gift of the Eucharist, the gift of the priesthood, and the Mon datum – the commandment to follow Jesus’ example of humble service and love.
The gift of the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of the church’s life, is the memorial of his suffering and death. It’s the sacred banquet of his body and blood, his soul and divinity. It is him giving himself as food for our journey that we might be able to completely live in him and be transformed into him. Saint Augustine famously told his flock, when explaining the Eucharist, that they were to become what they celebrate. Be transformed into the Lord. Become true members of his body on earth.
This night also recalls the institution of the priesthood, which perpetuates the Eucharist across time and space. No priesthood. No Eucharist. In a simple command, “do this in memory of me,” Jesus empowers the apostles to be true priests of this new covenant and to celebrate the Eucharist in his memory.
And then he shows them the meaning of this great gift with his commandment of love acted out in the foot washing. “I have given you,” he says, “an example to follow. As I have done so, you should also do.”
Foot washing and ancient Palestine was an act of hospitality for one’s guest. But the master of the house did not perform the act. In fact, it was reserved for the lowest of his slaves. So, Jesus is doing something very surprising, and Peter, of course, objects to it, thinking this can’t be right, but Jesus is the one who came among us in human form. In the form of a slave, a servant, willing to give himself completely for our salvation, even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus says we are to live that same logic of divine love. That’s a hard lesson to follow constantly.
When I was named bishop, I thought about what motto I should choose. Bishops have to choose mottos, and I remember during my priesthood ordination, I had cited this passage for the holy card that depicted the foot washing, and I used the part of the verse that says, “I have done so you must do.” But oftentimes bishop’s mottos are in Latin, and it just didn’t ring or sound very good in Latin to use that part of the verse, so instead, I picked “Exemplum Dedi Vobis,” I have given you a model or example. And every time I think of that, I realize what a challenge that motto is to truly live out this commandment of divine love.
The Eucharist makes present Jesus’ perfect selfless love. The priesthood makes this sacrifice present and is to serve it and model it. The foot washing reminds us that we are to become truly what we celebrate, a community of self-giving charity poured out in loving service.
There’s a story about the famous painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and if it’s not true it should be. We all have seen that painting. We may have a copy of it in our homes. Of course, everybody of course is on one side of the table, in that depiction, and somebody supposedly went up to the great artist and said, “why is everybody on one side of the table.”
His answer was, “Well so that there’s plenty of room for us to join them.”
If it’s not true it should be. That’s a great message, or image for us this evening as we celebrate this Mass of the Lord’s supper. So there’s room for us to join them.
Not too long ago, Pope Francis, in an apostolic letter on how to celebrate the liturgy, notes Jesus’ great desire for us to celebrate this Passover with us. He says in that letter, “Before our response to Jesus’ invitation, there is his desire for us to be with him in these mysteries, and he invites us to meditate on that great desire of the Lord to draw us to himself in these mysteries that make present what’s about to unfold in his life in the next three days. He gives us, at that last supper, this amazing sacrament which contains his suffering, death, and resurrection that is truly his presence among, that is given to us as food for our journey.”
Let yourself, Pope Francis says, “be drawn by the Lord into these mysteries,” and as your Bishop, I echo the Pope’s words. Let yourself be drawn this evening, and at every Mass, into these mysteries where he sowed desires for us to join him. There’s plenty of room around the Eucharistic table for those who respond to Christ’s call. Here we find the whole life of the church summed up. Everything about the Lord’s life and ministry is given to us so that we can be transformed into Him and become what we celebrate.